This is the sixth in an eight-part series reviewing the 2016 Vikings and looking ahead by position. Previously: OL / RB, TE / WR / QB / DL
Anthony Barr, the former ninth-overall pick, played more than ever in his third NFL season, but didn’t make the same splash plays Vikings followers became accustom to seeing from the linebacker.
Instead, second-year linebacker Eric Kendricks stood out as the group’s playmaker. Moving forward, the Vikings should want more from their linebackers as expectations increase for Barr and Kendricks while pursuing a third option to replace Chad Greenway.
Under contract in 2017: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Emmanuel Lamur, Edmond Robinson, Kentrell Brothers
Pending free agents: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole
Grades are based on a 1-5 scale, with ’5′ marking an excellent season, ’4′ for above-average, ’3′ for average, ’2′ for below-average and ’1′ for failure to perform. Players who did not accrue a season (weren’t on the active roster for at least six weeks) or played in three games or fewer are not graded. Based on game and practice observations, weekly film reviews and interviews. QB pressures and missed tackles provided by Pro Football Focus analyst Trevor Lynch.
Eric Kendricks (3.5): Had a solid start and finish to his second NFL season, leading the Vikings in combined tackles (109) for a consecutive year. Played 869 snaps [84%]. Stood out as the defense’s best playmaker at linebacker with a team-leading six tackles for a loss, a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown in Tennessee and a forced fumble against Green Bay. Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after the Titans game. Had a strong day in the Week 16 loss at Lambeau with a team-leading 11 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and two run stops. An instinctual defender with little reaction time when he’s got room to work. Deflected nine passes in coverage, trailing only Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes on the team. Still disappeared at times, struggling the week prior against the Colts as their backs and tight ends combined for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. Missed one start due to a concussion. Knocked out of the Washington loss early after injuring his hip on a collision with Anthony Barr. Missed 10 tackles (down from 12). Did not draw a flag. Could move from middle to the weak-side role in the base defense assuming Chad Greenway retires.
Anthony Barr (3.0): Played a team-high and career-high 1,025 snaps [99%], finishing with 70 combined tackles — fourth on the team. In a quiet season, Barr set career-low marks in sacks (2) and forced fumbles (1). Used more in blitzes, but fell off a bit with a quarterback pressure every 6.4 pass-rush snaps, down from being 2015′s most effective rushing 4-3 linebacker (one pressure every four rushes). ‘Coasting’ was how head coach Mike Zimmer described Barr’s play at times late in the year. Barr said he noticed offenses accounting for him more in protection schemes. Stayed relatively healthy, adding to his enigmatic season. Didn’t always seem to show the same explosiveness as a wrecking ball, as he did when knocking Giants TE Larry Donnell from the game on a blown up run in a Week 4 win. Tied the team lead with 12 missed tackles (up from eight). Flagged four times. Has shown the potential to be a force prior to this season and will still likely see his fifth-year option picked up this spring.
Chad Greenway (2.0): One of four player-voted team captains in what is expected to be his 11th and final NFL season. Played 403 snaps [38.9%] in his second year as a role player. Finished with 41 tackles, two for a loss, and an interception off Matthew Stafford in the overtime loss to the Lions. Missed seven tackles (up from one last year) during his age 33 season. Beat in coverage for a 27-yard touchdown, the first of Colts tight end Erik Swoope’s NFL career, in the Week 15 loss. Not flagged. Fourth-time nominee by the Vikings for Walter Payton Man of the Year. Turned 34 this month and may announce his retirement this year.
Audie Cole (2.0): Led an active linebacker group in special teams snaps with 275, finishing with 12 combined tackles. A key cog on many return and blocking units. Flagged once. Played 35 snaps on defense [3.4%]. Pending free agent.
Emmanuel Lamur (2.0): Signed a two-year deal last spring and was active for 16 games on special teams. Finished with 13 combined tackles, most coming on 262 special teams snaps. Not flagged. Played 38 snaps on defense [3.7%].
Kentrell Brothers (2.0): Drafted in the fifth round (160th overall) out of Missouri. Inactive for six weeks before making his NFL debut in Chicago. Contributed for the final 10 games and turned some heads on special teams. Not flagged. Finished with nine tackles on 182 special teams snaps.
Edmond Robinson (2.0): Earned a roster spot again in his second NFL season. The former seventh-round pick was active for 12 games and played 160 special teams snaps. Had just two combined tackles.