When Harrison Smith was taken 29th overall in the 2012 draft, he acknowledges that, according to pundits, the Minnesota Vikings might have reached by trading up to snag him. Smith didn’t expect to be taken in the first round, nor did many draft experts think the Notre Dame product would go off the board on the opening night. As a result, several publications were not enthused over the pick.
Smith took the slights personally and has held on to copies of those reports for years following the 2012 draft. “I still have stuff saved in my phone from people who wrote stuff about me back then,” Smith told reporters before the 2015 draft. “I just like to look at it … I like to have it as motivation.”
Tuesday, Smith stood in front of reporters once again to speak about his new contract worth up to $51.25 million and over $28 million guaranteed. Having been driven by the doubters who questioned the Vikings’ gamble four years prior, Smith is once again out to prove general manager Rick Spielman correct. “Rick took me at the end of the first round in 2012,” Smith said. “At the time that might have been a bit of a reach, what people thought. And I always use that. I always wanted to make him right. I think I’ll look at this the same way going forward.”
Smith becomes the third Viking drafted in 2012 to sign a long-term extension with the team, joining Blair Walsh and Jarius Wright. The safety is now locked up through 2021 under a terrific value contract that neither shortchanges Smith nor cripples the Vikings’ salary cap situation. (For more on that, read Arif Hasan’s breakdown.)
For two years under Leslie Frazier, Smith was a ray of light on a below-average defense, and his 2013 season was cut short with a foot injury. Under head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff, however, Smith has blossomed into, as Pro Football Focus grades, the best safety in the league and a 2015 Pro Bowl selection.
Highest-graded safeties last season:
1. Harrison Smith, Vikings
2. Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles
3. Earl Thomas, Seahawks pic.twitter.com/xoNhkPDnQq
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 6, 2016
Smith credits not only Zimmer, but defensive backs coach Jerry Gray and assistant defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon. “There’s so many guys to learn from on the staff, from the head man all the way down,” Smith said. “Just things like getting aligned in the perfect spot, taking the right step, especially as a defensive back, tackling well, knowing where to fit, understanding offenses better. Understanding the entire game of football better is something that Coach Zim focuses on this time of the year, so there’s so much to learn for everybody, and I try to take a piece whenever I can.”
The fifth-year player says he continues to grow into a leadership role as he gains more respect in the Vikings’ locker room. That respect was on display as teammates tweeted out their excitement over Smith’s new deal.
Congrats @HarriSmith22! You deserve it dude! Always good to see the ones that do everything the right way rewarded.
— Kyle Rudolph (@KyleRudolph82) June 6, 2016
The key to gaining his teammates’ respect, Smith says, has been relationship building. “You can’t just walk in and be a good player and not really care about anybody else in the building,” said Smith. “When you start building relationships, guys have a lot of trust in you, you have a lot of trust in them. … They’ve seen enough of me at this point in my career that they can trust me. Guys can come to me and ask me questions about anything, and they know I’ll be there for them.”
The Vikings were without several key figures at Tuesday’s organized team activity. According to vikings.com, Captain Munnerlyn was absent because of the birth of his son. Additionally, Anthony Barr, Alex Boone, Sharrif Floyd and Travis Lewis were not present at the practice field, while Rhett Ellison, Mackensie Alexander and Mike Harris were in uniform but were non-participants.
Of greatest concern is Barr, who has been held out of all three weeks of OTAs with an undisclosed injury. When prodded, Zimmer quipped, “First injury report comes out September 3rd or something like that, so that’s when I’ll give them.”
Former seventh-round pick Edmond Robinson received some first-team reps in Barr’s stead and performed well, making an interception when he jumped in front of a slant.
On the offensive line, without Boone or Harris participating, fourth-round pick Willie Beavers received first-team snaps at left guard with Jeremiah Sirles backing him up. Meanwhile, Zac Kerin got second-team snaps at right guard behind Brandon Fusco.