Safety Xavier Woods off to a strong start in first season with Vikings

As is often the case, Pro Football Focus has a Vikings safety with a top-five ranking. But this time it’s not Harrison Smith.

Through two games, the analytics site ranks Xavier Woods as No. 5 among all NFL safeties. Meanwhile, Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated safety in 2017 and No. 3 in 2015 and 2019, comes in at a modest No. 45.

“It’s not really my focus,’’ Woods said of his ranking. “I came her wanting to win, and we’re 0-2. So that’s all that matters, getting that win. I’m desperate for a win.’’

The Vikings will try to get that elusive first win in Sunday’s home opener against Seattle. If Woods has another strong game, that certainly could help matters.

After four years with Dallas, Woods was signed last March as the replacement for Anthony Harris, who signed with Philadelphia after the Vikings showed little interest in bringing him back. Woods was coming off a sub-par season with the Cowboys, but that wasn’t apparent when Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen first saw him.

“From the first day he got here, I remember going through (spring) practices and being like, ‘Yeah this guy’s pretty dang good,’’’ Thielen said. “I (went) up to Harrison and (said), ‘Man, this guy’s really, really good.’ And just how he plays the game, how he’s able to see the field, how he’s able to take away certain things that we’re trying to do. And then now for him to go in there and show it on game day.’’

In two games, Woods has an interception, two passes defended and nine tackles. The Vikings lost 34-33 at Arizona last Sunday, when the Cardinals were able to overcome Woods’ interception.

With 3:43 left in the third quarter and Arizona leading 31-30, Kyler Murray threw a pass on second-and-nine at the Vikings 38 that was picked off by Woods and returned 27 yards to the Minnesota 31. That led to a 52-yard field goal by Greg Joseph for a 33-31 Vikings lead. But the Cardinals soon regained the lead at 34-33, and Joseph missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt on the game’s final play.

“The post (route) was on my side, so I just did my job of covering the post, and the D-line did a great job of putting pressure on the quarterback and making him throw a shorter ball and a line drive,’’ Woods said of the interception. “And I was able to make a play on the ball.’’

Murray said the throw might have been a touchdown had he not been hit in the helmet by Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly, but no penalty was called. So it went down for Woods as his sixth career interception and another play this season that impressed his head coach.

“He’s done a nice job,’’ said Mike Zimmer. “I think him and Harrison work together back there, they communicate things pretty well. You know, he’s been a help with really everything, with the corners, the front guys, and he’s tackled well.”


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