While all of the focus around the NFL will be on the draft next week, teams still will be scrambling after the draft to sign college free agents who weren’t selected.
And the Vikings of all teams know how important that is, considering that two of their best players, Adam Thielen and Anthony Harris, were both undrafted free agents.
Vikings great Harrison Smith said that when it comes to the development of fellow safety Harris, there was never any question about his determination to be great.
“It is one of those things where he’s a guy that is working every day,” Smith said. “So there’s never one moment where you see it. It’s a collective and a tribute to him as a person and as a player and as a competitor. He has always tried to do everything at the highest level since he has got here. Whether it is special teams, before anyone was talking about him, or whatever, that is why he’s in the position that he’s in.”
The position that Harris now finds himself in is making $11.4 million in 2020 after receiving the franchise tag. That makes Harris the fifth-highest paid player on the team after going undrafted out of Virginia five years ago.
Smith, a 2012 first-round pick out of Notre Dame, was asked about an undrafted player becoming a star.
“There are so many different guys with different stories. Whether you were a high draft pick, undrafted, late round, whatever. At the end of the day, if you’re not making any plays you are not going to stick around long,” Smith said. “The guys that are late-round picks and [undrafted] free-agent guys, normally you just don’t have as many chances. It doesn’t mean you’re not playing well. Those stories are normally cooler, just a little more to them.”
Harris has quickly become one of the best safeties in the league, tying for the NFL lead last season with six interceptions and recording a career-high 60 tackles while starting 14 games.
Pro Football Focus rated him the NFL’s best safety.
But just as important as his play is that Harris has started taking on a leadership role with other young defensive backs — who could play big roles with the Vikings secondary so thin after free agency.
Kris Boyd, the cornerback out of Texas who was drafted in the seventh round in 2019 and recorded 20 tackles last season, said Harris was one of the most helpful mentors on the team.
“Anthony Harris sat me down, we came in for two weeks in a row and after the games we would come into the facility and we would sit down and watch film and he would break it down on how he watches film,” Boyd recalled. “He would ask me how I watched it and he would give me advice and tips to look at when I’m watching film to help me.”
Will Vikings trade?
But while Harris has become a big part of this club, and his franchise tag was the first the Vikings gave out since Chad Greenway in 2011, there are still rumblings that Harris could be traded because it is unusual to have so much money tied up at safety, which is not usually a high-salaried position.
It will be interesting to see how General Manager Rick Spielman targets the trade market for Harris — especially after the team already lost players such as Trae Waynes, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly and Xavier Rhodes to free agency.
The fact is that this club needs to fill a lot of holes, and if you could add a solid player and a draft pick in a deal for Harris, maybe you do it.
Spielman got a great return for receiver Stefon Diggs, who was sent to Buffalo along with a seventh-round pick for the Nos. 22, 155 and 201 picks this year and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
For a team seeking salary-cap space not only this season but for the next few years, the Vikings might just trade Harris if they get a great return for him.
PFF on U prospects
Pro Football Focus has an updated NFL draft big board, and it projects four Gophers being selected over the course of 255 picks next weekend.
PFF rates safety Antoine Winfield Jr. as the No. 38 prospect, wide receiver Tyler Johnson at No. 48, linebacker Carter Coughlin at No. 145 and linebacker Kamal Martin at No. 232.
When it comes to its mock draft of the first three rounds, PFF has Winfield going No. 50 to the Chicago Bears and Johnson going No. 102 to Pittsburgh.
PFF explained why Johnson’s would be a great fit with the Steelers: “The Steelers have coveted sudden route-runners over the years, and that is Johnson to a T. He was the highest-graded receiver in college football last year and finished top-10 in yards per route the past two seasons.”
PFF projects the Bears adding Winfield to bolster the defensive backfield with a player who could contribute right away: “Winfield’s seven interceptions didn’t happen by accident. He’s yet another ballhawk who the Bears add to their secondary. They could target offense in the second round, but returning their defense to its dominant 2018 form is their quickest route to Super Bowl contention.”
Before the NCAA shut down spring sports, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said he was excited that his coaching staff was finding so many players in international areas.
The Class of 2020 includes defensive end Melle Kreuder of Germany, punter Mark Crawford of Australia and Canadian offensive lineman Tyrell Lawrence, who played his senior season at Clear-water Academy International in Florida.
Fleck said he takes pride in his staff finding players from any location around the globe.
“We do pay attention to Canada and internationally,” Fleck said. “Obviously [junior offensive lineman] Daniel Faalele came over to the States, but he’s Australian and we can go onto other guys that we are recruiting this year that could be international students.
“There is a little bit different process of getting them admitted to the school in terms of the way the education systems work in other countries. But the NCAA and compliance have a great way of being able to do that in a way for everybody to understand it. I think it’s important to be able to recruit everybody. Football is becoming a worldwide sport.”
One of the questions that certainly will come up when the NCAA is operating again is how it handles international recruiting going forward, especially if different countries have different rules for when players can travel in and out of their home country.