Why Harrison Smith is the ultimate dark horse defensive back to win DPOY

Can Vikings Harrison Smith be the next DB to win DPOY?

By: Ladarius Brown

Since the NFL draft is over, many analysts are giving their favorites for the various awards such as MVP, ROTY, (Rookie of the Year), and OPTY (Offensive Player of the Year). However, I want to focus on a race that will be interesting in my eyes: the Defensive Player of the Year Award (DPOY). You have your usual list of players such as the L.A. Rams DE Aaron Donald (3x and reigning DPOY), Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett (6th in the NFL with 12 sacks), and the Miami Dolphins CB Xavien Howard (led the NFL with 10 interceptions). To me, there is a player that could be a strong contender at the season’s end for the award: Minnesota Vikings All-Pro safety Harrison Smith.


Entering his 10th season in the league, Smith is a very aware and composed game-changer who makes intelligent reads on the football field. He assesses the action adeptly then uses his solid speed and size (6’2”, 214 lbs.), and wingspan to either tackle those holding the ball or intercept passes. Smith owns an amazing all-around package of instruments to play secondary. Last season, he was tied for 2nd in the NFL with five interceptions.


Why do I feel strongly about his chances of winning DPOY? As mentioned earlier, he possesses all of the necessary tools for the safety position. Another one that is he is on the field on nearly every defensive snap. In 2020, he played 1,030 snaps, or 95.9%, of all the Vikings defensive snaps and the 7th most amongst strong safeties.


Overall, the Vikings’ defense was nothing to write home about as they were 27th in the league in total defense. However, Smith was a bright spot as he led the team in interceptions and 5th on the team with 54 tackles. This team is young on defense, which can benefit Smith because of his experience.
Most NFL teams exploit youthful defenses by throwing it more when the secondary is as young as the Vikings. Smith may not necessarily have the same lateral movement as he did a few years ago but his nose for the ball is still there. He had five QB hits (no other secondary had more than one). As this defense continues the youth movement, HC Mike Zimmer and co-defensive coordinators Adam Zimmer & Andre Patterson will be leaning heavily on Smith to make plays in every facet.


If the reports are true and Zimmer switches to a 4-2-5 defense, it fits what Smith can do. In a 4-2-5 defense, the free safety plays centerfield. The strong safety lines up as an “overhang” defender on one side of the box, and the Star (Safety) or Nickelback (not the band..I think) is on the other side.
The star or Nickelback defender, who may or not be Chad Kroeger, is an additional safety: someone who can play in coverage but is, as well, a superb tackler and productive in run defense, and who can also be a successful blitzer. Smith fits the role of that additional defender because of his superb tackling and productivity in run defense. Throw in the fact that he will have more opportunities to blitz and acquire more sacks.


Over the last ten years, defensive lineman has won the award the most. Defensive backs have won the DPOY two times in that span (SS Troy Polamalu – 2010 & CB Stephon Gilmore – 2019). If he continues to play between 95-96 of the defensive snaps as he did last season, he will be a contender to be the 3rd defensive back to win the award in eleven years.

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