Harrison Smith is a rising star and an All-Pro caliber safety, but the Minnesota Vikings haven’t been able to find a capable player to form a good duo with him. Anthony Harris and Antone Exum showed a bit of promise during the past season, but the performances of Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton as primary starters over the last couple of seasons has left a lot to be desired.
Safety has to be regarded as a position of need for the Vikings at some point during the offseason, and Duke‘s Jeremy Cash stands out as a solid option that should be on their radar during the 2016 NFL Draft.
After the first day of this week’s Senior Bowl practices, Pro Football Focus posted an article highlighting some of the standouts. Cash was atop the list, and he was rated as their No. 1 player at his position against the run and as a pass rusher during the 2015 season.
PFF, not surprisingly, went a bit further in their breakdown of Cash. He was given merely an average pass coverage grade by the site during the 2015 season, but that is possibly due to barely lining up as a traditional safety. Just two percent of Cash’s snaps last season came at safety, compared to 41 percent as a slot corner and 57 percent as an outside linebacker.
Cash will draw quick comparisons to Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals, who was a college safety who is now deployed as a linebacker. While the skill set looks comparable, Cash’s size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) may prevent him from becoming a functional linebacker at the next level.
I expect Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to have a big hand in any interest the team has in Cash, and it will be worth noting if he comes to Minnesota for a pre-draft visit/workout. Those concerned about a perfect scheme fit, and Cash’s possible shortcomings in coverage, should look no further than current Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. Barr was a widely criticized pick when the Vikings took him ninth overall in 2014, but he was put in position to succeed immediately and has now developed better all-around skills. If Zimmer likes Cash as a fit alongside Smith, that is a positive sign that shouldn’t be questioned too much.
Cash is ranked as the No. 1 strong safety in this year’s draft class by CBSSports.com, and they have him regarded as a second-round pick. A case could be made for the Vikings to take Cash with their first-round pick (No. 23 overall), which I’m not quite ready to do, but when it’s their turn in the second round (No. 54 overall), Cash could easily be the best player available on Minnesota’s draft board.