Each day this past week, we have broken down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we conclude the series with a look at the linebackers.
When it comes to analyzing the Vikings’ current roster and guessing breaking down what they’ll do in the 2015 NFL draft, no position is more intriguing and confounding than linebacker.
On the one hand, they have promising youngsters they really like as Chad Greenway’s eventual heir apparent (Gerald Hodges) and Jasper Brinkley’s replacement (Audie Cole, Casey Matthews or dark horse candidate Michael Mauti).
On the other hand, the temptation of linking them to a dynamic, three-down playmaker to use alongside potential All-Pro Anthony Barr seems too irresistible.
University of Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman has been called a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine who could be available in the second round. Washington’s versatile Shaq Thompson, who could play three downs inside and eventually replace Greenway as an outside starter, is a first-round possibility, but more likely a target if the Vikings trade down from No. 11.
But would it be all that bad if the Vikings stood pat?
When Cole was asked to start at middle linebacker at Green Bay as a rookie in 2013, he had 18 tackles and a sack in his NFL starting debut. When asked to start outside in last year’s finale, he had 14 tackles. He also has ideal size and strong instincts.
Meanwhile, in a start against the Jets, Hodges made one of the top two defensive plays of the year, leaping for a one-handed interception and returning it for a touchdown 12 seconds into the game.
The Vikings also like Mauti, haven’t fully given up on Brandon Watts and quietly signed Matthews, who started 11 games in Philadelphia a year ago.
So the Vikings certainly are prepared to stand pat. But can they resist the temptations?
PROJECTED STARTERS: SLB Barr, MLB Cole, WLB Greenway.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: Matthews’ signing wasn’t a big splash or much of a ripple. But don’t be surprised if the 26-year-old former Eagle ends up being Brinkley’s replacement. He made 11 of his career 16 starts at inside linebacker in Philly’s 3-4 defense last year.
LEVEL OF NEED: Medium with an asterisk. There are intriguing youngsters throughout the depth chart. But if a dynamic playmaker is sitting there on Day 1 or 2, it will be difficult for the Vikings to take a pass. The second round appears to be the hot spot for temptation.
FIVE PROSPECTS TO REMEMBER: Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Washington’s Shaq Thompson, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, Miami’s Denzel Perryman, TCU’s Paul Dawson.
OUR BEST GUESS: Unless Beasley falls to them (very unlikely) or they trade down, the Vikings won’t be tempted on a linebacker until the second round. But we think they’ll look elsewhere in Round 2 because they invested mightily in that position last year (Barr) and already have young players they really like.