The Minnesota Vikings were able to address a lot of glaring needs in this past weekend's NFL Draft. They needed help on the interior of the defensive line, and they got it with Sharrif Floyd early and Everett Dawkins late. They needed a cornerback with big-time potential, and they got one with Xavier Rhodes. They needed a playmaker at wide receiver, and they got one in Cordarrelle Patterson.
But after all the moves the Vikings have made this off-season, both in the draft and in free agency, there's still one spot on the roster that appears to have a bit of a hole, and that's the middle linebacker position.
Yes, there were plenty of middle linebackers available in this year's draft, but very few that seemed to carry the title of a "three down" middle linebacker, which it appears the Vikings are looking for. However, not long before the draft, official Vikings blogger Mike Wobschall put out this interesting statistic about the team's defensive personnel last season.
Many #Vikings fans have expressed concern re: LB position. Keep in mind, it's a nickel league now. We were in 3-LB set just 41.8% of snaps.— Mike Wobschall (@wobby) April 26, 2013
So, if last season was any indication. . .and as the Vikings are still in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler, it probably is. . .whoever the Vikings designate to be their middle linebacker will be on the field about 40% of the time. There are a couple of roads that the team could take with this particular choice.
One of the big theories that's been going around is moving weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson into the middle. The only problems with that are that a) it's not 100% known whether or not Henderson can play the middle linebacker spot full time, and b) even if he can, that just means the team has gone from having a weakness at middle linebacker to having a weakness at weak-side linebacker. We'll have to see if any of the early camps can lend any credence to this theory as a possible solution.
There's the possibility of one of the two linebackers that the Vikings drafted out of Penn State University getting the nod. There are issues with that as well. One is that Gerald Hodges, the first linebacker taken, seems more suited to the weak-side position, and could wind up being the starter there if Henderson does, in fact, kick inside. The other linebacker the Vikings draft, Michael Mauti, comes with good news and bad news. The good news is that he would have been selected late on the draft's first day or early on the second if he hadn't torn his ACL three different times in college. The bad news is that he did, in fact, tear his ACL three different times in college, with the most recent injury coming this past November. At this point, nobody is even sure if he'll be ready to go in time to contribute in 2013.
The third possibility. . .and the one that I think is the most likely. . .is one that Tom Pelissero and Judd Zulgad of 1500 ESPN mention in this video as part of their post-draft coverage. That's the possibility that the starting middle linebacker for the 2013 Minnesota Vikings is not currently on the roster. That means the team would be taking a dip back into the free agent waters to attempt to fill that vacancy.
The two main names on that list at this point are former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and former Arizona Cardinals/Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby. The Vikings have actually been rumored to be interested in Urlacher, who said he was "insulted" by the Bears' final contract offer before being allowed to test free agency. Dansby is slightly younger (31) than Urlacher (who turns 35 in May), and would probably be a better option. . .but, in this case, "better option" also likely means "more expensive." I'm not sure how much a team on an obvious youth movement would want to commit to a 31-year old middle linebacker in terms of time or money.
The Minnesota Vikings have helped themselves a lot this off-season, and look to be contenders in the NFC North and in the NFC again this coming season. However, there is that one hole that needs to be patched, and it remains to be seen just how the Vikings will patch it.
What do you think the Minnesota Vikings are going to do with their situation at middle linebacker?