Minnesota Vikings fans have enjoyed excellent safety play in the teams now 60 year history, and the last eight years with Harrison Smith are no exception to that. Smith, a first round pick in 2012 has been a starter since day one, and has only 14 games since then. He’s been a pro-bowler ever season since 2015 and has made one All-Pro team as well.
I, for one, absolutely love Harrison Smith. My dad bought me a Harrison Smith jersey for christmas in 2013, and has bought himself one since. It will be a sad day for both of us when it’s time to move on from the Hitman. However, I think that ending is coming. It’s not here yet, but it is on the horizon in the next probably five years. Luckily, I think they have Smith’s replacement already on the roster.
The man that I suggest replacing Smith with is none other than rookie linebacker Troy Dye out of the University of Oregon. Dye, a four year starter for the Ducks, was taken by the Vikings in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft. In college, he recorded 391 total tackles (234 solo,157 assisted), 13 sacks, 41.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and five interceptions.
Dye is a freak athlete and a tough player. He played a good chunk of 2019 with a broken thumb, but only missed one game. Despite not participating in the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, due to surgery on his thumb, Dye was projected to go between the second and third rounds.
If he had been able to participate in a pro day and show off his athleticism more, he likely would have risen even more before the draft. However, the Covid-19 pandemic happened and the Vikings selected Dye with the 132nd overall pick, the tail end of the fourth round.
At Oregon, Dye played linebacker, but he’s a bit undersized, 6’4” and 224 lbs, for the position at the next level. He also came out of high school as a safety, but made the transition to linebacker. The Vikings would be better off both in the immediate future and long-term to stick Dye behind Smith and have him relearn the ropes from one of the NFL’s best of the last decade.
Smith can teach him the nuances of the position at the pro-level and how to translate his excellent pursuit skills into ball skills when everybody is a great athlete. He can also help teach Dye how to translate his leadership skills to the next level. Dye was a great communicator on Oregon’s defense and he could be the next generation leader of Mike Zimmer’s system.
Dye will likely be able to hold a roster spot entering this season because his athleticism should afford him success on special teams. In fact, I can see him taking the Jayron Kearse/Kris Boyd role of special teams x-factor. He certainly has the nose for the football for it and the intensity.
Getting Dye in the late fourth is going to be a steal either way. He could pack on a few more pounds and try to become a replacement for Barr or possibly Eric Kendricks, but those guys both have a ton of tread left on their tires. Smith isn’t being pushed out the door, but he’s looked a bit slow the last couple of seasons, and there really needs to be a plan in place for when he decides to hang it up or when the team decides they don’t want to pay him any more.
There’s also the intriguing option this gives the team in the case of Anthony Harris. Harris has signed his franchise tag for this season, but there’s no long-term deal in place. If Dye comes out and is a lot better than expected, it gives a bit of leverage to the team. At the very least, it gives them options at a position that seems to be extremely important to Mike Zimmer’s plan.