Head-to-head: The safety slot

The Vikings have one top-level safety with Harrison Smith, but the value of their draft position at No. 8 could bring safety into play with trade scenarios. The enticement for other teams comes when considering who picks directly behind the Vikings and their needs.

When it comes to draft buzz, things get funny.

Not "ha-ha" funny. More like "this milk smells funny."

But if the Vikings have a strong opinion on one of two safeties in the 2014 draft, it could make things interesting at Pick No. 8. More importantly, if the Vikings are looking for a trade partner to move down a few slots, the last laugh on the "ha-ha" funny side of things could be that the Vikings get a player they want and potentially cash in as part of the process.

In this version of "Head-to-Head," we compare the two elite safeties in the draft – Alabama's HaHa Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor. Both bring a lot to the table in terms of potential immediate impact and value and, whether the Vikings make the pick at No. 8 to take one of them or start playing games that are pitches in Rick Spielman's wheelhouse, there is reason to believe that some team picking behind Minnesota is going to want one of them.

The question may be how low can they go before someone else panics?

The answer may be how high will someone go to get an elite safety?

Most Vikings fans have been focusing on the teams picking in front of the 8th pick, but it may be the two teams picking behind them that hold the golden ticket to the Vikings 2014 draft.

Immediately following the Vikings in the current pecking order of the 2014 draft are Buffalo and Detroit. The Bills suffered a significant franchise blow when safety Jairus Byrd, a true defensive stud, packed his stuff and shuffled out of Buffalo – or, perhaps more appropriately, Byrd flew away in free agency. The Lions were so dismal at safety last year that the burns blistered. And their best hope to save the group was Louis Delmas, who limped to Miami in free agency.

To say Buffalo and Detroit need an impact safety is to say Charlie Sheen needs a designated driver. Uhh … yeah!

In an evolving NFL, the difference between a free safety and a strong safety is blurred. If you have two elite athletes at safety, it makes up for a lot of ills elsewhere on a defense. If the Vikings are interested in a safety – or want to give the impression they might be – they have Harrison Smith in-house already and could be looking for a running mate this election year.

The Vikings potentially have the safety position half-covered (barring injury) for the next several years. Add another elite safety and, it can be argued, the three people who would be cursing the loudest at the announcement of Clinton-Dix or Pryor joining the Vikings would be Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.

Why?

Because they would be sentencing their wide receivers for a crime they didn't commit – crossing over the middle-deep zone of the Vikings defense at their own risk.

But the bigger overall plan for those with riding crops in the draft room may be to attempt to create a safety market in the draft – one predicated on offering up the eighth pick before Buffalo and Detroit get their hands in the cupboard. The Vikings might not have a legitimate interest in either of them, but that's not to say teams behind them – Tennessee, the Giants, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Dallas or Baltimore, the six picks on the immediate back side of the Bills and Lions – may be interested to put some sweetener into the pot to checker-jump the two teams most clearly in need of a safety.

So what do Clinton-Dix and Pryor bring to the table?

The case for Clinton-Dix: You can't help notice him on game film. On a Crimson Tide team with an elite defense at all three levels, HCD was a big reason why. When it comes to safeties, there is an "It Factor" that comes into play. Troy Polomalu had "It." Ed Reed had "It." Clinton-Dix has "It." It's a hard-to-define quality, but scouts know it when they see it. He is a difference-maker who has a knack for making the big play at the big time. If not for limited production – he started just 18 of 31 games he played over the last two years, he seems to be the football equivalent to Michael Jordan of North Carolina vintage. The only coach in history who could ever consistently limit Jordan's productivity was Dean Smith. Give Mike Zimmer safeties like Smith and Clinton-Dix and he can devise schemes that would turn what has been a lengthy team weakness into a strength. Clinton-Dix has all the intangibles to be an immediate impact player – a rarity in the NFL. A couple of months ago, he was viewed as a second-half-of-the-first round prospect. Since then, he has kicked in the door on the top 10 and the only question now is this: 10, 9, 8…?

The case for Pryor: A tackling machine at Louisville, he was All-Big East as a sophomore in 2012 and an All-America in 2013. He started 32 of 38 career games and finished with 218 tackles, seven picks and nine forced fumbles. Back when ESPN's Tom Jackson endorsed concussion-inducing big hits with a weekly Monday night segment, Pryor was the kind of guy who would be a regular visitor. He hits big and has impressive closing speed. When he smells blood, he's on it. He'll draw his share of penalties, like Smith has done in the past. It's his style. He's old school and a lot of the teams behind the Vikings in the draft (New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Baltimore) consider themselves to be old school. Some scouts believe he's the "safer" pick because he's shown it too consistently on tape to argue what his ceiling as a pro player can be.

Whether or not the Vikings have any interest in taking a safety with the eighth pick is up to debate. But it can't be argued that the Bills and Lions definitely need to upgrade the safety position because both are in relatively dire straits in that regard.

There are only two safeties in the 2014 draft viewed as the "Day One starter" types and they are Clinton-Dix and Pryor. They could easily go with Picks Nos. 9 and 10 and nobody would blink an eye. Both picks would make sense.
The true value of the eighth pick might be what someone will offer to get up to the No. 8 spot. Seeing as neither Buffalo nor Detroit is looking at quarterback with that pick, any team looking to move up to No. 8 will be doing so to get a player that might not be on the board at No. 11. It would appear that position could only be safety.

Let the trade talk commence. Come in, boys, the water is fine.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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