The Vikings are halfway through their 2020 schedule at 3-5. Every day leading up to Monday night’s game in Chicago, we’ll break down how each position has fared so far.
WLB: Troy Dye, Ryan Connelly
MLB: Eric Kendricks, Hardy Nickerson, Todd Davis
SLB: Eric Wilson, Nickerson
IR: Anthony Barr
Depth? Who needs depth, right? Former UCLA teammates Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr were expected to keep right on lining up next to each other as three-down backers throughout their sixth NFL season together. In their five seasons as professional teammates, Barr and Kendricks had missed six and five games, respectively, due to injuries. Kendricks was the reigning Associated Press first-team All-Pro middle linebacker. Barr was a four-time Pro Bowl pick — a steady, albeit unspectacular statistical force, in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Special teams standout Eric Wilson, who started six games a year ago, would more than make up for the loss of Ben Gedeon (concussions) as the third linebacker in the base defense, which Zimmer uses sparingly.
Where they are
They have six linebackers, not counting Barr, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Three of them – Hardy Nickerson, Ryan Connelly and Todd Davis – were acquired from various scrap heaps after training camp began. A fourth linebacker – rookie fourth-round draft pick Troy Dye – has started at weak-side linebacker in the base defense with Davis on the Reserve/COVID-19 list the past two games. But there is good news, starting with the fact Kendricks is still one of the best all-around middle linebackers in football. As the defense has crumbled around him, Kendricks has continued to be just as fluid, instinctive and effective as ever. Meanwhile, the underrated Wilson has taken his game to an even higher level while playing every snap since Barr was injured. The Vikings have nine takeaways in eight games. Wilson has five of them, including three interceptions.
Player to watch
Wilson. His contract year is going so well, he probably hears “CHA-ching!” every time he creates a turnover. Flashy takeaways aren’t the only way to judge a player, especially in Zimmer’s schemes. But five in eight games is head-turning. Barr, the ninth overall pick in 2014, has never had more than three in one season. And that came when he had three fumble recoveries his rookie year. Barr has two interceptions and five fumble recoveries in 87 games, all starts. Wilson has three interceptions and three fumble recoveries in 56 games, 17 of them starts. If Wilson keeps making plays this year, someone is going to pay him a lot of money. Do the Vikings let him walk? Or do they untangle themselves from what’s left of Barr’s five-year, $67.5 million deal? Barr’s cap number will be $15.1 million in 2021. Cutting him would shave more than $7 million off that.
1980: That was the last year the Vikings had a linebacker make first-team All-Pro before Eric Kendricks did so last season. The late Matt Blair, another pretty good second-round draft pick in Vikings history, got the honors in 1980. Since the start of last season, Kendricks ranks second in passes defensed by a linebacker. He has 15. Seattle’s K.J. Wright has 17. Kendricks also ranks third in the NFL in tackles this year. He has 84, trailing the Giants’ Blake Martinez (92) and the Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith (89).