Minnesota Vikings Position Battles: Safeties

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

Over the last couple weeks, Zone Coverage has broken down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group.

Previous stories: 
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line

Today’s Focus: Safeties

The Vikings have one of the toughest roster decisions to make at this position. With most of last year’s players returning, plus the addition of a draft pick, the front office has a logjam of players, though not a whole lot of quality depth. They’ll need to decide who gives them the best shot if one of the two starters goes down.

Departures: None
Arrivals: Jack Tocho
Already rostered: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Anthony Harris, Antone Exum Jr., Jayron Kearse

Minnesota just came to terms Tuesday with Tocho, the last of their 11 selections in the 2017 draft. A 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback in college at North Carolina State, Tocho will play safety with the Vikings, perhaps because his 4.54 40-yard dash reflects a lack of speed. He is not necessarily a long-shot to make the roster, though, despite his seventh-round status. The Vikings have two expiring contracts at safety, plus the team’s recent history suggests it is determined to find value at this position (with the exception of Harrison Smith, of course, who was taken in the first round).

Andrew Sendejo was undrafted. Anthony Harris was undrafted. Jayron Kearse was a seventh-round pick. Antone Exum Jr. was a sixth-round pick. For all the talk of Minnesota needing to find a better companion to pair with Smith, the Vikings have had ample opportunity to select safeties higher and have refused to do so, likely saying something about Spielman and Zimmer’s drafting philosophy.

Tocho has a great chance to steal a spot considering he has a four-year rookie deal, and other safeties on the team have expiring contracts. As long as he can play special teams — and takes well to his new position — he could stick around.

PICK ONE: Anthony Harris, Antone Exum Jr., Jayron Kearse
Harris and Exum own the two expiring contracts referenced earlier. That makes Kearse the safest bet to stay, especially because he stood out in preseason last year and possesses intriguing physical gifts. He won’t be a lock, however, if he hasn’t shown improvement. Kearse didn’t look good when given a chance to play against the Chicago Bears last Halloween.

The common thread with each of these players is that they have all been given opportunities at safety, and none have come away looking great. Exum rotated in during the 2015 season but was unreliable at times and dealt with injuries. He spent the 2016 season on injured reserve. Harris looked decent late in the 2015 season as an undrafted rookie but had issues last year when asked to fill in for Sendejo or Smith, as did Kearse.

The Vikings have not kept more than four safeties under Zimmer, so it’s entirely possible two of these guys are dropped on cut day. The decision will likely come down to Harris, who is more refined, versus Kearse, who is fascinating and under contract through the 2019 season.

THE LOCKS: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo
Fans may be coming around on Sendejo, who was definitely the team’s second-best safety last season. Clearly, the Vikings liked him enough to extend him for four years last March, and they made no dramatic moves to threaten Sendejo this past offseason. He and Smith shape up to be the back-end tandem once again.

Making the roster: 
Smith, Sendejo, Harris, Tocho
Practice squad potential: Kearse

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