EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings already have one Pro Bowl safety in Harrison Smith. They’ve got another now vying for similar recognition.
Anthony Harris enters a season as a starter for the first time in his five-year NFL career with lofty goals.
“I think I’ve got the ability to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player,” he said. “That’s all our end goal, to go out and be one of the best. If you’re not really trying to go out there and strive and show you’re one of the best, then you’re kind of cheating yourself. So you’ve got to put some type of goals out there, and one of my goals is just to try to be one of the best.”
Harris’ aim is not unreasonable considering he was ranked the NFL’s third-best safety last season by analytics site Pro Football Focus. Smith, who has made four straight Pro Bowls, agrees Harris has the ability to also get to that level.
“Absolutely,” said Smith, who was Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked safety in 2017 and No. 14 last season. “He’s good at everything. He can blitz well. He tackles well, plays coverage, and he gets to the ball and catches it when he has the opportunity. So he’s got it all.”
Harris slowly has moved up the ranks since going undrafted out of Virginia in 2015. He spent most of that rookie season on the practice squad, but when the Vikings ran into injury problems in the secondary, he was activated and started two games in December.
Harris had three starts in both 2016 and 2017 before taking over as the starter for the final nine games in 2018 not long after Andrew Sendejo was lost for the season with a groin injury. The Vikings elected not to pick up Sendejo’s contract option in the offseason, clearing the way for Harris to take over.
“It’s a title I wanted to have, but that’s not the end goal,” Harris said. “Just because I come in and am labeled a starter doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to be satisfied.”
Harris tied Smith last season for the team lead with three interceptions. He had 43 tackles and six passes broken up.
Harris’ Pro Football Focus ranking of 89.0 put him behind only Eddie Jackson of Chicago (93.2) and Jamal Adams of the New York Jets (89.7). He was ranked ahead of Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers (fifth at 87.8), who was first-team all-pro, and Smith (79.7), who was second-team all-pro.
“I think the film shows my ability,” Harris said of his ranking.
Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards has been impressed with Harris’ steady improvement since arriving as a rookie.
“His attention to detail is the biggest thing, and when he’s had opportunities he’s been able to step up and be able to play at a high level for us,” Edwards said.
Harris is one of three undrafted Vikings who are expected to be starters this season. The other two are right guard Josh Kline and wide receiver Adam Thielen, who goes against Harris a lot in practice.
“It’s not the draft stuff, it’s not the combine stuff, how fast is his 40, how high can he jump. It’s not that,” Thielen said. “It’s can he do his job and can he do it as a high level? Can he make plays when the balls in the air? Can he fit his gaps right? I think he’s a guy that comes out and he works his tail off and he’s always in the right spot, and he seems to make plays when the ball’s in the air.”
Harris re-signed with the Vikings as a restricted free agent in the spring on a one-year, $3.095 million deal. He is due to become an unrestricted free agent next March.
Harris said he has interest in signing a contract extension, but it’s not something he’s worrying about now. He hopes to be with the Vikings for a long time.
“Yeah,” he said. “I started out here. It’s been great. I've gotten the opportunity to climb and grow each year. Right now, I’m just taking it all in and and trying to be the best player I can be.”