Why Harrison Smith is the NFL's best safety
On Monday morning, the Vikings announced an extension for safety Harrison Smith worth $15.2 million fully-guaranteed, with an annual average salary of $10.25 million, making him one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. This news should not come as a major surprise, as Smith received the highest grade at his position this past season, and the second-highest in 2014—and is only 27 years old.
Smith has been an outstanding player in coverage throughout his career, as opposing QBs have had an NFL passer rating of under 68.0 when targeting him in coverage in three of his four pro seasons (43.3 in 2015). For his career, he has yielded just 68 receptions on 120 targets for nine touchdowns, with 12 interceptions and 12 passes defended.
Smith has also graded positively against the run each of the past three seasons, and over the past two years, has combined for 25 total pressures on just 80 pass-rush attempts (best in the NFL in pass-rush productivity at the safety position in 2015, third in 2014).
While arguments can be made that Kansas City’s Eric Berry and Seattle’s Earl Thomas are better pure-cover safeties, or that Miami’s Reshad Jones is a better run-defender, Smith is the only safety besides Philadelphia’s Malcolm Jenkins to finish in the top-10 in both run defense and coverage last year. He is also the only safety with positive grades in all three major categories (coverage, run defense, and pass rush) in both 2014 and 2015.