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Vikings’ Harris ranked No. 1 safety in NFL

EAGAN, Minn. -- According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings have the NFL's top-ranked safety. But his name is not Harrison Smith. Smith has been rated No. 1 at times in recent seasons, but the top guy in the league now, according to the analytic...

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Chicago Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy (15) runs the ball against Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris (41) at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday night. Quinn Harris / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings have the NFL’s top-ranked safety. But his name is not Harrison Smith.

Smith has been rated No. 1 at times in recent seasons, but the top guy in the league now, according to the analytics site, is Anthony Harris.

The four-year veteran hadn’t played enough before Sunday night’s 25-20 loss at Chicago to be considered for a ranking. But he qualifies now after intercepting two passes, defending three passes and being on the field for all 74 defensive plays against the Bears.

With a mark of 94.5, Harris was rated as the NFL’s top safety in Week 11, raising his season rating to 92.5. Smith, who hasn’t been as dominant this year as in past seasons, is No. 22 at 75.5.

“He’s having an opportunity to show what he has and to play his role, and he’s making the most of his opportunities,” Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly said of Harris on Monday. “It’s a feel-good story.”

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In the first five games this season, Harris didn’t play a single snap on defense. Then starting safety Andrew Sendejo was sidelined with a groin injury, and Harris saw his first action as a reserve.

Sendejo has missed the past five games. George Iloka was his primary replacement in the first two games, but Harris has taken over the past three games, playing every snap in the past two.

“Each year, I’ve been making strides in getting better, and increase my role and help this team win and do positive things on the field,” said Harris, who joined the Vikings in 2015 as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia.

Harris had the best game of his pro career in Sunday’s loss. Sitting in his locker Monday were the two balls he had saved from the first multi-interception game.

“I felt pretty good, the opportunity to get my hands on a few interceptions,” said Harris, who had his first career interception Oct. 14 against Arizona and is tied with Smith for the team lead with three. “I would say it would have felt a lot better if we were able to pull out a win, but it’s just something to try to build on.”

With Chicago leading 3-0 early in the second quarter, Harris intercepted a Mitch Trubisky pass at the Minnesota 32, but the Vikings offense was unable to convert the turnover into points.

With the Bears leading 14-0 late in the third quarter, Harris returned an interception 33 yards to the Bears’ 31. This time, the Vikings came away with a field goal.

“It’s a little bit disappointing,” Harris said. “You want to take advantage of all the opportunities you get. But, you know, it’s something, this game of football, there’s going to be adversity.”

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Harris started eight games in his first three seasons, filling in when Smith or Sendejo was injured. During the offseason, Harris added about 10 pounds to get to 200.

“I tried not to bulk up where it would slow me down,” he said. “So I put on a little weight while keeping my mobility. And I worked on my flexibility, being able to move better.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Harris has improved in other areas.

“I just think confidence,” Zimmer said. “He sees things and reacts. … He’s very smart. He’s good visually, kind of understanding what the offense is trying to do.”

Zimmer will need to make a decision on who starts when Sendejo is cleared to return. Sendejo has been the regular starter since 2015 alongside Smith and ranks No. 39 among safeties this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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