Over the past few weeks, Zone Coverage has broken down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group and taken a stab at which players will make the team.
Today’s focus: Safeties
The Vikings seem to be set at safety after a quiet offseason at the position. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo begin their fourth year as the presumed starting duo, while their top two backups appear to be the same.
Additions: Tray Matthews
Returning: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Jack Tocho (from practice squad)
THE STARTING PAIR: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo
Smith was the top safety in football last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and it wasn’t particularly close, but a poor NFC Championship Game performance left a sour final impression. Nonetheless, his positioning, reaction time, tackling and sure hands have turned him into a formidable presence on the back end.
Speaking of formidable, Sendejo adopted the ‘enforcer’ role last season. He frequently dove into the box to stuff the run and occasionally left pass-catchers woozy with hits between the hash marks (sometimes illegally). He exited both of the Vikings’ playoff games with injuries, however, and did not participate in spring practices with an undisclosed injury.
If Sendejo’s play deteriorated — for health-related reasons or otherwise — and the Vikings were forced to make a tough decision, he could be released with no cap penalty. But there’s probably no need to panic unless Sendejo is still missing time in the preseason.
THE BACKUP TANDEM: Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse
While he doesn’t have the savvy of Smith or the physical framework of Sendejo, Harris has become a highly-effective backup safety. His forced fumble against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 11 was a game-changer, and his third-down tackle in the NFC Divisional Round playoff game made the Minneapolis Miracle possible. He signed a one-year free-agent contract in March.
Kearse has played just 106 defensive snaps in his two seasons, but he remains a strong special teamer. Kearse is young, inexpensive and has potential — the type of player the Vikings need to supplement their roster with an increasing number of big-contract stars.
THE LONGSHOTS: Tray Matthews, Jack Tocho
The Vikings have typically kept just four safeties, so the odds are stacked against UDFA Matthews and former seventh-round pick Tocho. Plus, veteran corner Terence Newman took some snaps at safety in the spring and may be a more reliable option if a safety is needed.
After one season at Georgia, Matthews was kicked off the team before finishing his career at Auburn. He made five collegiate interceptions.
Tocho was converted to safety from cornerback last year, but it seems like the team isn’t sure how to view him. He is listed as a cornerback on the Vikings’ website and a safety on reporters’ rosters. If the team intends to switch him back to corner, it could mean they weren’t happy with him at safety.
Making the roster: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse
Released: Tray Matthews, Jack Tocho