3 Standout Vikings Safeties Included in PFF’s Top 32 Rankings

Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) celebrate a fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

PFF has continued their annual rankings of all position groups heading into the 2024 season, and this time, we’re looking at their top 32 safeties.

Zoltan Buday is the author of this one, and it begins pretty predictably. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Antoine Winfield Jr. kicks things off at #1, and is followed by the Baltimore Ravens’ Kyle Hamilton (did you know the Vikings had a chance to draft him?), the Atlanta Falcons’ Jessie Bates III, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Kyle Hamilton’s fellow Baltimore Raven Marcus Williams (yes, that Marcus Williams) to round out the top 5.

Other big names like Derwin James Jr., Xavier McKinney, and Budda Baker appear before we get to the first representative of the Vikings, so who will it be?

16. Harrison Smith

Vikings Safeties
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) tries to avoid a sack by Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The first of the Vikings trio of safeties making Bunday’s list is ol’ reliable Hitman coming in at #16. We know him, we love him (and his offseason hobbies), and some of us don’t know Minnesota Vikings football without him.

Smith is heading into his 13th season playing for Minnesota after being taken in the first round out of Notre Dame in the 2012 NFL Draft, where then-GM Rick Spielman threw the Baltimore Ravens the 35th overall and 98th overall selections of the same drafted to maneuver to 29 to take the future Vikings Ring of Honor member.

Smith took a pay-cut this off-season to remain a member of the Vikings for year 13, and while already one of the best Vikings safeties of all time, he further solidified his spot as one of the most beloved players to ever suit up in royal purple.

Buday explains:

“At 35 years old, Smith, who is arguably the best safety of the past 10 seasons, might not be the player he once was, but he still plays at a high level. Across the first eight weeks of the 2023 season, he ranked 17th both in PFF overall grade and coverage grade. He allowed just 8.3 yards per reception in 2023, the fifth-lowest mark among safeties.”

19. Josh Metellus

Dec 10, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) warms up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Reed Blankenship of the Philadelphia Eagles and and Alohi Gilam of the Los Angeles Chargers are the safeties that mind the gap between Smith and Metellus at #17 and #18 respectively.

Josh Metellus was the ultimate Swiss-Army knife for Brian Flores and his defensive unit last season, lining up at every single possible defensive position over the course of 2023.

*Not listed is the fact that Metellus even lined up for a snap on the interior of the defensive line, according to PFF.

Josh Metellus burst onto the scene for the Vikings in 2023 after showing some promise in 2022, and proved to be a legitimate weapon with versatility to play every position on to the field. To have a player like that on a 2-year/$13 million deal with only $6 million guaranteed makes him one of the best value contracts in the NFL, and will surely be one that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the cap gurus will be looking to extend before the aforementioned deal’s expiration.

Unlike Harrison Smith, who was a first round selection acquired via trade up, Josh Metellus was a sixth round selection out of Michigan in 2020. The chances that pick was going to hit at this magnitude were slim-to-none obviously, and it makes Metellus easily one of the best sixth round picks out of Michigan in recent memory. I think there was a pretty notable sixth round pick out of Michigan back in 2000, but just can’t remember the name.

Bunday explains:

“Metellus flashed ability on his way to an 85.1 PFF overall grade in 2022 in a limited role, but 2023 represented a new challenge. It was the first time that Metellus logged more than 300 snaps, and immediately topped 1,000. He did not disappoint in an increased role, as he was among the NFL’s more versatile safeties and led the position with 116 pass-rush snaps. He was one of just five safeties to earn coverage, pass-rush, and run-defense grades all above 64.0.”

25. Camryn Bynum

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) reacts after the game against the New York Jets as center Garrett Bradbury (56) looks on at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Movie! Cam Bynum made a name for himself in 2023 after a lackluster-but-promising 2022 campaign, though Ed Donatell’s “Donashell” defense wasn’t really a suitable proving ground for Minnesota’s young players.

Bynum, like Metellus, were later-round picks that worked their way from the bottom of the roster to the top, battling adversity after the Vikings 2022 first round selection of Georgia safety Lewis Cine. Bynum was drafted in the year after Metellus and year before Cine in 2021 with the 125th overall selection in the fourth round.

Bynum is more of a prototypical ball-hawking free safety, patrolling zones in the back of the Vikings defense. This is a natural fit for Bynum, as he played cornerback for his alma-mater Cal Golden Bears.

Bunday explains:

“Although he went through a sophomore slump in his first full season in 2022, Bynum bounced back and finished 2023 as the 22nd-ranked safety in PFF Grade. Bynum’s 85.7 overall grade after the first 14 weeks ranked fourth at the position. He also tied for the most forced incompletions over the season (nine) and could have had an even better season if he capitalized on a league-leading three dropped interceptions.”

Minnesota Has Safeties Aplenty

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell greets safety Camryn Bynum (24) before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how you cut it, the Vikings have the best trio of safeties in the NFL, and the position is in a great spot for the future, even with the inevitable retiring/release after this season (probably) of Harrison Smith, Even with the swing-and-miss on Lewis Cine in 2022 (apologies to Lewis Cine for the strays in this article). The safety room has paid off greatly on the excitement many fans had for its potential as recent as a year ago.

Read the full PFF Top 32 Safeties Ranking by Zoltan Bunday here.