What the Vikings Should Do at the Safety Position

Aug 18, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Harrison Smith (22) looks on prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Smith’s stint on COVID reserve left gave rookie safety Camryn Bynum the chance to impress.

Impress he did.

He actually saw some defensive action the week before in the game against Dallas, but it was when he got the chance to start and burst onto the scene with some style. So, with Smith returning to the fold this week, the idea of the Vikings using all three of their safeties shouldn’t be a pipe dream. The ability to call on three talented safeties is a good thing.

That is why calls for moving on from Harrison Smith just because Bynum has had two good games make no sense to me. The same goes for moving on from Xavier Woods. The Vikings are in a hole with cap space for next season, which must be fixed. I will leave Rob Brzezinski to work his magic rather than speculate.

Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings free safety Xavier Woods (23) and safety Harrison Smith (22). Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As a fan, I want to see the Vikings with three very good safeties. For the rest of this season, Smith, Woods, and Bynum should all remain heavily involved — whether that be in rotation or with three safety sets, which I believe will get the best out of Harrison Smith at this stage of his career. Mike Zimmer hinted at doing so this week.

Harrison Smith has the skill set to be a sort of hybrid player, dropping down into the box more than in the past. At 32 years, old he isn’t going to be the same player he was in previous seasons, but he is still a very good player. He is still physically capable and has the football IQ to be one of the best players on this roster for a long time — if he’s used the right way.

Xavier Woods is having a very good season, including while Smith was absent from the team, thus proving he wasn’t just another safety that looks good playing next to the Hitman [but actually isn’t]. His standard of play so far means bringing him back next season for the $1.7 million he’s earning this year won’t be happening. If financially viable, I’d love to see Woods return next season.

The emergence of Camryn Bynum in the last couple of weeks has been a truly wonderful surprise — not just the flash plays but all-around good performances that give cause for great optimism for the rookie’s future. It’s something that has given the team options for this season and next. Options are a good thing. Recently, the Vikings have gone with two starting safeties and nothing behind them. That is not sufficient depth.

Pro Football Focus grades Xavier Woods 76.8 and the 10th-best safety in the league, and Harrison Smith 74.2 as the 18th best safety in the league. Camryn Bynum currently has an overall grade of 90.5 which is equal to Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans, PFF’s number one ranked safety. Bynum currently hasn’t played enough snaps to be ranked. That could change, and if it does, he looks likely to come in high on that list.

This Sunday’s game against Green Bay will be the first chance to see all three on the field since Bynum’s breakout game against Baltimore. This is where Mike Zimmer needs to earn his money as a defensive head coach. The defense is better this year than last, but it’s still a long way from what it once was.

Coach Zimmer’s reputation as a defensive guru is in serious need of a boost. This trio of safeties should give him ample to work with, coming up with some plays the opposing offense doesn’t see coming.

I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the safeties this Sunday. And I’m hopeful all three can have an impact on the game. The only way to beat Aaron Rodgers is to get consistent pressure on him. The safeties can play a big part in that.

Can the Vikings make that happen? We will see on Sunday.