Bleacher Report Finds New Roster Weakness for Vikings

Oct 13, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on before the start of a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Normally in analyses like these, the Minnesota Vikings are skewered for offensive line futility. A longstanding tradition effectuates each September, showcasing a Vikings offensive line that stinks via pass protection while doing just enough to get by with run-blocking.

For at least four months, that pessimism will retreat to the cellar. Why? Because general manager Rick Spielman has constructed a biologically conscious version of the offensive trenches. The 2021 NFL Draft enabled the Vikings to — once and for all — string together five homegrown starters upfront named Christian Darrisaw, Wyatt Davis, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, and Brian O’Neill. None of those men have ever done anything with free agency, nor have they played for any teams besides the Vikings. It’s an organic offensive line for the first time in eons.

Therefore, for now, the pitchfork people can pipe down about the offensive line. You know the bunch — those that claim that Spielman and Vikings blatantly ignore the trenches. That claim is false. Some of the leadership’s decisions — like tapping Dakora Dozier to start in 2020 — are not very bright. But on the whole, Spielman has systematically built the offensive line brick by brick during the last four drafts.

And that means a different sect of the roster needs criticism. For Bleacher Report, that is the safety position. BR‘s Alex Kay authored a piece on Thursday detailing every NFL team’s flaw that needs attention. In Minnesota, that’s Harrison Smith, Xavier Woods, and the men that fill out the depth chart at safety.

Kay notes:

The Vikings had some major needs along their offensive line going into the draft, but they did great work filling in these gaps on Day 1 and 2. They picked up a tackle in Christian Darrisaw and guard in Wyatt Davis and boosted their slumping pass rush with Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson. However, they didn’t manage to fix their issues at safety in the draft. They found a quality starter next to Harrison Smith in Xavier Woods, but both players will be free agents next year, and the Vikings lack young talent and depth at the position. A handful of available players could both be developed and rotate in at the position, with safeties like Kavon Frazier and Tre Boston currently unsigned and likely obtainable for cheap.

If the safety room needs more bodies, Frazier and Boston aren’t the only men available. These men are unsigned, too:

  • Jeff Heath
  • Malik Hooker
  • Bradley McDougald
  • Will Parks
  • Andrew Sendjeo
  • D.J. Swearinger
  • Kenny Vaccaro

To be sure, if Kay thinks the safety group is bad, he should’ve had a peek two months ago when the Vikings had not yet signed Xavier Woods from the Dallas Cowboys. The situation was direr then.

But Woods is the wildcard for this assessment. If he breaks out alongside Harrison Smith — like players tend to do with Mike Zimmer’s tutelage — well, the safeties are not in bad shape. Should he underwhelm or fall victim to injury, indeed, things will get dicey.

After Smith and Woods, the depth chart rounds out with Josh Metellus, Myles Dorn, and Luther Kirk. Harrison Hand — a rookie cornerback from 2020 — showed some safety-life qualities last season and could probably slide over to help in a pinch. However, Kay is correct that depth is skimpy after the Smith-Woods one-two punch.

This is all a byproduct of veteran safety Anthony Harris leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles in March.

The other crucial nugget to this “weakness” talking point is the Zimmer scheme. When the aforementioned Harris was at his pinnacle — the year was 2019 and he led the NFL in interceptions — he was considered a perk inside the defense rather than a lifeblood piece. Much like his philosophy on three-technique defensive tackles, Zimmer often “gets away with” not employing Pro Bowl safeties opposite Harrison Smith. Before Harris’ rise to prominence, Zimmer plugged Andrew Sendejo into the starting lineup [for years]. Sendejo was never a standalone superstar but rather a benefactor of Zimmer’s respected defensive prowess.

Minnesota likely doesn’t need a 2019 Harris perfromance from its free safety, yet a sturdy 2021 showing from Woods would be cake icing.

But Kay is correct that the depth chart is thin at safety.