The Minnesota Vikings have 18 players that are set to hit free agency on March 13 and, as you'd expect from a team that went 3-13 this past season, there aren't a lot of them that make you say, "Oh, man, we really, really need to sign that guy." But there's one, apparently, that might have to be placed under such a heading.
Fourth-year linebacker Erin Henderson had his best year as a professional in 2011, largely because he actually got an opportunity to get on the field as a linebacker rather than playing exclusively in a special teams role. He responded by putting together a season good enough to get himself placed on Pro Football Focus' list of the best outside linebackers available in free agency this off-season. In fact, not only is he on the list, he's at the top of the list.
Henderson the Younger turns 26 on July 1 and, as PFF notes, doesn't have a whole lot of wear and tear because he had hardly played at the linebacker spot until this season. Here's what they had to say about him.
I’m not sure there was a more surprising player in 2011 than Henderson. He had hardly taken a snap in his first three years behind his brother (E. J. Henderson), Ben Leber and Chad Greenway. Yet, when he did get his opportunity, he seized it with both hands. Overall, he graded negatively just twice all year, quite a remarkable feat for a first-time starter. What will have NFL front offices eagerly competing for his favor this offseason is simply the fact that he still has a lot of room to grow, having had such little experience. Some might say that’s a negative (he could be a one-season wonder) but his level of play in 2011 was so high, we find that beyond unlikely.
If the Vikings can only sign one of their in-house free agents, it would appear that Erin Henderson would be the one to make sure they secure before he has a chance to hit the open market. This is a rebuilding team, after all, and a 26-year old coming off of this sort of year would certainly qualify as the sort of player to build around.
As long as we're talking about linebacking Hendersons, it's worth nothing that E.J. Henderson (or Henderson the Elder) is listed as #6 on PFF's list of inside linebackers. I know we've had our debates around here about whether it would be beneficial to the Vikings to bring him back, and he might warrant a much closer look than initially thought.