With the NFL draft rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at the four worst position groups for the Minnesota Vikings and how they can be fixed.
By Jordan Wright
For this article, I averaged the player grades from Pro Football Focus for each position. All players who are on the roster and saw the field last season (therefor given a player grade by PFF) were taken into account. The averages also factor additions and subtractions to the roster, so for example Mike Wallace’s grade doesn’t affect the wide receiver’s overall average, while Alex Boone’s player grade will be factored into the offensive guard’s average.
To recap, coming in at the fourth worst position was offensive guard, which was only slightly better than the third worst position group, the tight ends. There wasn’t much separation between the guards (66.28) and the tight ends (65.48). Unfortunately, the next group on this list is considerably worse than the previous two.
As I was going through all the information, this group was by far the biggest surprise to me. I never would’ve guessed the linebacker position was the second worst on the team. With Anthony Barr graded as the second best linebacker in the entire NFL, my assumption was his grade would alleviate the lower grades placed upon Greenway and Kendricks. However, that wasn’t the case, as the linebackers have an abysmal average of only 58.68.
My initial thought was the rest of the NFL must have some pretty low grades as well, because there is no way the Vikings’ linebacking corps is one of the worst in the NFL. After running the numbers, the Vikings come in at number 20 as a team, which is considerably lower than I anticipated.
So why are the Vikings’ linebackers rated so low? There are a number of reasons, but the biggest reasons are Eric Kendricks’ coverage grade (36.6) and Chad Greenway’s run defense grade (29.7). The good news is that Kendricks was a rookie and showed positive signs of improvement throughout the season. Chad Greenway had a down year by his standards, but he will hopefully see the field less and less as the Vikings play Kendricks more and more.
The Vikings attempted to improve their linebackers this offseason by signing a couple young free agents in Travis Lewis and Emmanuel Lamur. Travis Lewis brings in a PFF grade of 63.1, good for third best of any Vikings’ linebacker. However, Lamur has the lowest grade of any linebacker, bringing a 39.7 player grade with him from Cincinnati.
If the Vikings look to the draft to improve their linebackers, they will have plenty of options. My favorite option would be Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame. Smith injured his knee in Notre Dame’s bowl game last season, and there is a possibility he won’t play in 2016. However, had he not gotten injured, Smith was projected to be a top 5 player in this year’s draft. The Vikings would be a perfect landing spot for Smith, since Greenway is coming back for one more season, allowing Smith to sit this year and learn from some of the best.
Some other options available to the Vikings in the first couple rounds are:
Darron Lee from Ohio State, who has plenty of speed and athleticism but can’t seem to put it all together. Lee was asked to cover more than any other linebacker from Ohio State, and the results were a mixed bag.
Reggie Ragland from Alabama is my definition of a thumper, more suited to the middle linebacker spot in Zimmer’s defense. Ragland has just enough speed that he wouldn’t be a liability in coverage, but if he were compared to Barr or Kendricks he would look like he’s stuck in molasses.
Su’a Cravens from USC is a safety/linebacker hybrid player. In today’s NFL, the line between safety and linebacker is becoming blurry. Cravens has the speed you want in a linebacker, but does he have the size and strength to take on and shed blocks?
Scooby Wright III from Arizona is similar to Ragland in that he is fairly slow but has great instincts that allows him to anticipate better than more linebackers. Wright would strictly be a middle linebacker.
Joshua Perry from Ohio State is another linebacker who does everything fairly well but nothing great.
Nick Kwiatkowski from West Virginia is a player who hasn’t gotten much hype this offseason, but he has a realistic chance to be one of the best linebackers from this draft class. He is my sleeper, a player who will be drafted late in the draft but outperform many players taken ahead of him.
Tune in next week as I reveal the worst position group on the team.
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