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NFL Minnesota Vikings

Predicting Minnesota Vikings’ Week 1 Breakout Performer

Harrison Smith

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are just hours away from starting the 2013 season with an away game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions have one of the best passing attacks in the league with Mathew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, which begs the question, who will step up for the Vikings and help them get this key first victory?

While star running back Adrian Peterson is likely to lead the way for the offense of the Vikings, the breakout performer is someone else who will instead be helping the team from the defensive side of the ball. Harrison Smith will be key in the Vikings’ gameplan this Sunday as he will be in charge of stopping Stafford and Johnson from connecting on any deep passes.

With Johnson being one of the biggest and most physical wide receivers in the league, the Vikings will likely be double-teaming him most of the day with Chris Cook and Smith. While Cook hasn’t proven much over his injury-riddled career, Smith showed fans last year he is a hard hitter and can make a difference in the secondary.

Listed at 6-foot-2, Smith is tall for a safety, but with Johnson listed at 6-foot-5, it will be tough for Smith to contend for the deep ball. He instead will be making his impact lowing his shoulder and putting a hard hit on Johnson and other receivers upon catching the ball, which could result in a fumble or dropped pass.

If the Vikings are to win on Sunday, they must be able to limit the passing effectiveness of Stafford as the Lions are a pass-heavy team despite bringing in running back Reggie Bush, who will be catching balls out of the backfield as well as receiving handoffs. Although Smith plays deep in the secondary, he showed the ability last season to read and make plays near the line of scrimmage which will help the defense limit Bush’s catch-and-run ability.

Smith had a great rookie season last year and now entering his second season, the pressure is on to perform again and show some improvement. This first game will be a huge test for the secondary, but I fully expect Smith to stand up to the pressure and come away with a solid performance in his first game of the year.

Nick Baker is a contributing writer for Rant Sports and you can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and add him to your network on Google.