Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Vikings will target a Linebacker in the Draft

Is the linebacker position an area the Vikings will look to improve in the 2014 NFL Draft? Who will the team target? Daniel House explains the situation and unveils a Vikings mock draft that will excite many fans.

The Vikings focused their attention on developing a fearsome front seven, while patching a porous secondary in free agency. Many believed the team would try to patch the holes that developed at the linebacker position last season. Instead, it appears Minnesota will either add talent in the draft, or develop the prospects they drafted last season.

The Vikings linebacker corps struggled in coverage last season and with Erin Henderson as the man in the middle, this position group really underachieved. Chad Greenway is back to lead the group, but his performance on the field has caused many to wonder if he is as valuable as we may think. Was Greenway overcompensating for Erin Henderson's miscues? This could be the case and in Mike Zimmer's system, he will find his role. The Vikings spent two draft picks on linebackers from Penn State in last season's draft, but both failed to see the field last season.

Mike Mauti is a tenacious linebacker who isn't afraid to stick his nose in the pile. After repeated knee injuries in college, he was trying to recover last season and reports indicate he feels he is 100% healed for the first time in 3 years. The Vikings should start Mike Mauti in the middle of the defense, keep Chad Greenway at strongside linebacker, while playing Audie Cole on the outside. Jasper Brinkley will be rotating at mike and strongside linebacker this season, leaving the remainder of the linebackers as special teams players.

Are the Vikings really as weak as we think at linebacker? I don't think the team is in bad shape at this position. The Vikings invested the 2014 draft in the linebacker position and with three very young linebackers that are capable at the position, the focus should be placed into the secondary for this draft. I'm not against drafting a linebacker if the right situation aligns and the team can draft one with a high value index. Who are these prospects and what instances would I be elated with the selection of these player? I outline several prospects on my "watch-list" for this team.

Khalil Mack- University of Buffalo:

Projected Top-5 pick

Analysis: Mack is a playmaker that can rush the passer better than any linebacker in this draft class. He would slide in very nicely to the Vikings defensive scheme as a strongside outside linebacker. He has incredible upper body strength and rushes the passer with skills similar to a defensive lineman. Mack has brilliant size and crazy pursuit skills, but needs to learn how to tackle in tight spaces. If Khalil Mack was available at the Vikings eighth selection, Mike Zimmer would be doing cartwheels down the halls of Winter Park and the pick would be a no-brainer. He has a freak skill-set that can instantly improve a defense. Don't get too excited though, he will likely be selected by the Jaguars with the third pick of the draft.

Anthony Barr- UCLA

Projected Top-15 pick

Analysis: Barr best fits inside a 3-4 scheme, but with Mike Zimmer's hybrid sets and ability to rotate linebackers, he could be an option for this team. He is an incredible tackler and has stellar size and athleticism on the field. I'm not sure he would be the best fit in the Vikings defensive system, but the skills that are just waiting to be polished might be enticing to the front office brass. The Vikings will have better value at their selection and Barr will land with a team like the Tennessee Titans in the middle of the first round.

Ryan Shazier- Ohio State

Projected Late First/Early Second Round Pick

Analysis: Ryan Shazier is an incredible athlete and could be the most rangy linebacker prospect in this draft class. He is very aggressive, which sometimes gets him into trouble (especially in coverage). He has great size at 6'1", which is very attractive when looking for valuable defensive assets. Shazier was a very solid tackler during his time at Ohio State. He led the Big Ten conference with 143 tackles and is a fearless blitzer. He could play on the strong or weak side and would provide nice tackling abilities to a group that has struggled in this category. He can rush the passer, which is something that Mike Zimmer has taken great pride in during his career. Rick Spielman could draft him if he falls to the Vikings 40th selection, or use our extra third round pick to trade into the first round and select the Ohio State product.

Kyle Van Noy- BYU

Projected Late First/Second Round Pick

Analysis: Boy, do I love Kyle Van Noy for the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of this draft. The bad part is he may be unavailable for the team in the second round. This doesn't mean the Vikings couldn't take their second round pick and the extra third rounder to move into the late first round and select the BYU product. He is incredibly athletic and is extremely instinctive at reading the offensive progressions. He is a tackling machine, but can blitz and rush the passer off the edge of the line of scrimmage. Van Noy could instantly could improve the pass coverage abilities in the Vikings linebacker corps. He is fluid in this avenue and his body allows him to pursue and maintain perfect leverage in many different situations. Chad Greenway and Van Noy on the outside of the defense would be a huge upgrade for this team.

C.J. Mosley- Alabama

Projected Top-25 Pick

Analysis: Mosley would be an immediate "plug-and-play" linebacker for the Vikings on the outside of their linebacker corps. He is a solid tackler and is great in coverage situations, but he has a history of being unable to close on interceptions. He is a fluid player that can blitz and rush the passer with some of the best in this draft class. He has a high football IQ, which could be enticing to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Minnesota would only consider Mosley if they traded down and accumulated more picks in the draft. In the event this doesn't occur, the team could still add him with the 8th pick, but this seems more unrealistic.

Chris Borland- Wisconsin

Projected Second/Third Round Pick

Analysis: Borland doesn't have much size and athleticism, but has one of the strongest motors you will see from a linebacker. He is solid in coverage and isn't afraid to put his helmet on the ball and force turnovers. He has solid speed and the tenacious abilities Mike Zimmer likes in a linebacker. Borland could play on the outside with Chad Greenway and be a tackling machine. I like his nose for the football and think he could be a nice option for the Vikings in the second round or the early portion of the third.

As you can see, I have provided my best option at linebacker in this mock draft below. This is sure to change, but I think this is the best direction at this point.

Vikings Mock Draft:

Round 1- Pick 8: Johnny Manziel QB: Texas A&M
TRADE: Round 1: Pick 25 (from Chargers)-: Kyle Van Noy- OLB: BYU
Round 3- Pick 96: Jaylen Watkins- CB: Florida State 
Round 4- Pick 104: Jonathan Dowling- FS: Western Kentucky
Round 5- Pick 136: Aaron Murray- QB: Georgia
Round 6- Pick 168: Rashaad Reynolds- CB: Oregon State
Round 7- Pick 200: Cody Hoffman- WR: BYU

Vikings sent pick #72 (3rd round) and pick #40 (2nd round) to the Chargers for the 25th selection in the first round. 

Below is the depth chart of starters if the following draft scenario occurred for the Vikings:

Depth Chart -
WRGreg Jennings
TEKyle Rudolph
LTMatt Kalil
LGCharlie Johnson
CJohn Sullivan
RGBrandon Fusco
RTPhil Loadholt
WRCordarrelle Patterson
QBJohnny Manziel
FBJerome Felton
HBAdrian Peterson
LDEBrian Robison
LDTSharrif Floyd
RDTLinval Joseph
RDEEverson Griffen
WLBKyle Van Noy
MLBMike Mauti
SLBChad Greenway
CBXavier RhodesJaylen Watkins
SSHarrison Smith
FSRobert Blanton

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