For the next several weeks I will be breaking down the Viking’s roster, evaluating the players and letting you know what to expect from each position.
By Jordan Wright
If you have any questions or comments feel free to write me at jwright3030@ gmail.com, follow me on Twitter @SkolJWright or find me on Facebook at Jordan Wright. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless noted otherwise.
Linebacker is a position that is finally getting a rebuild after too many years of mediocrity. For as long as I can remember, the Vikings have not had great linebackers, which I always wondered about, because to me linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. Linebackers are usually the ones calling out defensive plays and relaying information from the sideline. Linebacker is a very important position on defense and it’s great to see a coaching staff who believes that.
Chad Greenway has been a staple in the Viking’s linebacking corp since his second year in the league. Greenway was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, then immediately tore his ACL in the preseason and missed his entire rookie season. Since returning his sophomore season, Greenway has started 122 of a possible 128 games. Last season, Greenway was rated 38 out of 40 outside linebackers, but he was dealing with a lot of injuries throughout the season.
Anthony Barr was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Barr played in only 12 games last year before he was placed on injured reserve because of a knee injury, but before that Barr had amassed 70 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. Barr was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in week 8, and was in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year before the injury. Barr ranked eighth in the NFL for outside linebackers last season.
With Greenway and Barr locking down the two outside linebacker spots, the Vikings went out and drafted Eric Kendricks in the second round of this year’s NFL draft. Kendricks is by far my favorite draft pick from this year, and I think he has a good chance to come in right away and start at middle linebacker. While he may be on the smaller side as far as linebackers go (six-foot, 232 pounds), he is very quick and is always around the ball. Kendricks also played alongside Anthony Barr in college, so there is a familiarity there, which will help the learning curve.
Right now the Vikings have 11 linebackers on the roster, but they will only keep six at the most, so while the starters are set, there will be eight linebackers playing for the remaining three spots. Audie Cole is a fan favorite and a good bet to make the team. Cole is entering his fourth season and is probably known best for his back to back pick sixes during a preseason game. Another player who is almost guaranteed to make the roster is Gerald Hodges. Hodges is entering his third NFL season and has performed well when Greenway was injured, ranking ninth (one spot behind Barr) in outside linebacker rankings last season.
On the bubble:
The Vikings have a lot of depth on the roster and that means they will have some hard decisions to make in the upcoming months. With three starters basically set in stone and two backups who are a lock to make the roster, that leaves six linebackers battling it out for the last roster spot. My personal favorite is Mike Mauti, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. Had it not been for his knee problems, Mauti would have been drafted a lot higher and when he is healthy, there is no doubt Mauti can be an effective linebacker in the NFL. The problem is he is never healthy. The other linebackers battling this offseason are: Josh Kadd, Casey Matthews (brother of Clay Matthews), Brandon Watts, Brian Peters and Edmond Robinson.