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Discussing Harrison Smith’s chances at Canton

When it is all said and done, Harrison Smith will be the second No. 22 inducted into the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor alongside the NFL’s interception king, Paul Krause. This past Sunday reminded us that when Smith does hang up his cleats for good, his recognition will go beyond the Vikings organization.

With the offense playing stagnant against the Carolina Panthers, the Vikings needed someone to step up and make a significant impact. That spark came from the second oldest player on the roster, whose time dates back to the final days of the Metrodome. In Carolina, Smith tallied 14 tackles, three sacks, three quarterback hits, two tackles loss, and a forced fumble. He’s the only player in NFL history with this stat line.

Smith’s big plays came up huge for Minnesota in its eight-point victory that took a lot of weight off a team searching for its first victory after three straight heartbreaking losses.

 

At 34 years old, Smith is having a renaissance under newly hired defensive coordinator Brian Flores. He’s tied with Kyle Hamilton for the league lead among sacks by safeties, which also ties a career high for himself. He also leads the league in forced fumbles, and by the end of the 2023 season, he could have one of his most productive seasons as a pro.

Comparing Smith to past safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Here is the resume of the most recently retired NFL safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

Champ Bailey (1999-2013) Retired at age 35.

Statistics: 931 total tackles, 42 tackles for loss, 52 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, 203 passes defended.

Accolades: 12-time Pro Bowler, 3-time All-Pro, All-2000s Team

Brian Dawkins (1996-2011) Retired at age 38.

Statistics: 1,147 total tackles, 59 tackles for loss, 37 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles, 26 sacks, 153 passes defended (since 1999)

Accolades: 9-time Pro Bowler, 4-time All-Pro, All-2000s Team.

Troy Polamalu (2003-2014) Retired at age 33.

Statistics: 783 total tackles, 56 tackles for loss, 32 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, 12 sacks, 107 passes defended.

Accolades: 8-time Pro Bowler, 4-time All-Pro, 2-time Super Bowl Champion, 2010 DPOY, All-2000s Team.

Ed Reed (2002-2013) 

Statistics: 646 total tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 64 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, 6 sacks, 139 passes defended.

Accolades: 9-time Pro Bowler, 5-time All-Pro, Super Bowl Champion, All-2000s Team, 2004 DPOY.

Charles Woodson (1998-2015) Retired at age 39

Statistics: 1,220 total tackles, 54 tackles for loss, 65 interceptions, 33 forced fumbles, 20 sacks, 183 passes defended (since 1999).

Accolades: 9-time Pro-Bowler, 3-time All Pro, Super Bowl champion, 1998 Rookie DPOY, 2009 DPOY, All-2000s Team.

Harrison Smith (2012-present)

Statistics: 974 total tackles, 45 tackles for loss, 34 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, 19.5 sacks, 83 passes defended

Accolades: 6-time Pro Bowler, 1-time All-Pro

If he were to retire today, there’s an excellent case to be made that, on statistics alone, Smith has a better resume than Bailey and Polamalu. What sticks out about Smith’s career so far is 19.5 sacks. He’s only a half-sack away from joining Dawkins, Woodson and Jack Ham, Larry Wilson, Nick Buoniconti, and Ray Lewis in the 20-sack and 30-interception club.

So, what will solidify his case for Canton?

When comparing him to recent safeties, Smith’s lack of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors could haunt his chances at Canton in the same way it impacts Jim Marshall’s case. Fortunately, due to the nature of his position, Smith can and will likely play into his late 30s at a relatively high level.

Dawkins collected a trio of Pro Bowl appearances at ages 35, 36, and 38. Ed Reed made one at Smith’s current age, while Woodson collected two Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro honor after 34. Also, like four of the five safeties mentioned above, a Super Bowl appearance and win for Smith will only bolster his case to be enshrined in Canton.

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