For the second straight year, the Vikings in 2015 used a high draft pick on a linebacker from UCLA. This time it was Eric Kendricks, former roommate and college teammate of Anthony Barr. Those two have injected youth, speed and athleticism into the position for coach Mike Zimmer.
Kendricks was a part-time player at the start of the season but became an every-down player when the Vikings surprisingly traded starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges to the 49ers in early October. His play was up and down, but Kendricks led the team in tackles and showed promise.
Barr, meanwhile, made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in his second season.
With those two in the mix, veteran Chad Greenway was supposed to play significantly fewer snaps as the third linebacker. He played 16 and 19 in back-to-back games in September. But due to injuries to Barr and Kendricks, Greenway ended up playing nearly 60 percent of the defensive snaps.
Greenway played better in his second season under Zimmer and the coach raved about his leadership after the season. But the 2015 campaign could be Greenway’s last with the Vikings, as the 33-year-old is a free agent.
Vikings free agents: Led by Greenway, the Vikings have four free agents at linebacker. Audie Cole, Casey Matthews and Jason Trusnik are the others.
Level of need: Moderate. Zimmer and the Vikings drafted four linebackers in the past two drafts, including late-rounders Brandon Watts and Edmond Robinson. But they will likely have to draft at least one more to help round out the depth at the position. If Greenway is not re-signed, the Vikings could look to bring in a part-time middle linebacker to play on running downs and slide Kendricks over to Greenway’s weak-side position.
Stat that stands out: 1.24 — passing yards allowed per coverage snap for Kendricks in 2015, per Pro Football Focus. He flashed the movement skills and instincts to play well in coverage. But his 1.24 yards allowed per coverage snap were fifth-most among qualifying inside linebackers.
Burning question: Will Greenway get his wish and get another season with the Vikings? Greenway has stated a number of times that he wants to play one more season, preferably in Minnesota. And one assumes that he isn’t looking for a significant payday. But the Vikings could decide to move on from Greenway and go with a young player in the starting lineup. They would be losing one of their best men and biggest leaders. But younger defenders will need to emerge as leaders, too, sooner or later. So this decision will likely come down to whether or not Zimmer and the Vikings think Greenway can still play. We are going to find out soon enough.
Check out the Access Vikings blog tomorrow for a look at the secondary.