Note: For the next four days, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ upcoming draft. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post by mid-morning through Friday.
The issue(s): Linebacker might not be the Vikings most pressing need this season, but it won’t be surprising if they address this area at some point in the draft with an eye on the future. The status of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is unknown as he recovers from a broken leg. Veteran Ben Leber is entering the final season on his contract so the Vikings might look at find his eventual replacement. The team also needs to add some depth here.
What they have: The Vikings starting group is solid with a healthy Henderson. The problem is, it’s still too early to know if/when he will be able to return after suffering a fractured femur in his left leg against Arizona on Dec. 6. Henderson sounded optimistic during a March interview that he will be ready by training camp, but it’s still hard to predict whether his recovery will take longer.
Jasper Brinkley filled in for Henderson after the injury as a rookie and predictably had a mix of good and bad moments. He should be more comfortable in his second season, either as a backup or starter.
Chad Greenway took another step forward last season. He led the team with 127 tackles, tied for team lead with three fumble recoveries and finished second with three interceptions. The Vikings believe Greenway, who is entering his fifth season, has the potential to become a Pro Bowl linebacker and they will need to lean on him until Henderson returns.
Leber does many things that often go unnoticed and is a great locker room presence. He tied for the team lead in pass breakups last season with nine and finished fourth in tackles for loss (6).
What they need: A healthy Henderson for one. He is their captain and emotional leader. They are simply a stronger, more confident defense when he’s on the field. But it’s just impossible to know whether Henderson will be able to become the same player once he gets back on the field.
Brinkley showed some promise as a rookie last season after replacing Henderson. He’s a physical hitter who is stout against the run. However, he needs to improve in coverage and the Vikings believe he will do that as he gains more experience and understanding of offensive schemes.
It remains to be seen if this will be Leber’s final season with the team. Leber is entering his ninth season so the team might look to get younger after this season.
The Vikings also need to establish better depth. Top backup Heath Farwell is a Pro Bowl special teams player and more valuable to the team in that role. Kenny Onatolu’s game also is geared more toward special teams.
Conclusion: The Vikings first priority might be to draft a cornerback, but there are some questions at linebacker, particularly as the team looks beyond this season. It won’t be surprising if they add a linebacker at some point in the draft.