As they usually do at this point in the offseason, the folks from Pro Football Focus are going through each team and naming a "Secret Superstar," or a guy that might not be getting a lot of attention from the football-watching public at large but could play a big role in the team's success during the upcoming season. Their selection for the Minnesota Vikings is a guy that a lot of us know about, but few others do.
Well, Geno Smith knows, that's for sure. Besides him, I mean.
PFF named linebacker Gerald Hodges as the Vikings' secret superstar for this coming season, and with good reason given the year he had in 2014.
An unfortunate knee injury to Anthony Barr in Week 13 handed Hodges another opportunity, and this time he excelled. Hodges earned a +7.5 overall grade over the final four weeks of the season, third among 4-3 outside linebackers in that span. He graded average or better in run defense and pass coverage in each game. When all was said and done, Hodges finished the season with the ninth-best overall grade among 40 qualifying 4-3 OLBs, just behind Barr. He ranked sixth and ninth in run defense and coverage, respectively.
After going through a real dearth of talent at the linebacker position for a few years, the Vikings may have turned it into a strength. . .or, at the very least, something that isn't a glaring weakness any more. Second-round pick Eric Kendricks has been drawing raves in camp so far, and appears to be poised to start at middle linebacker. Barr, though still recovering from last year's injuries, has shown plenty of promise at the other outside linebacker position.
The biggest question that this team will have at the linebacker position going forward is how they're going to handle Chad Greenway. Greenway took a pretty significant pay cut to come back for a tenth season in Minnesota, and hasn't looked quite the same over the past few years. He was rated by PFF as one of the worst 4-3 outside linebackers in the league, and you'd have to think that the Vikings will be cutting his number of snaps, at the very least. I also don't think he's going to be on the field in sub-packages as he's been over the past few years, as I'd be surprised if the team didn't go with Barr and either Kendricks or Hodges in that role.
Players like Hodges and Audie Cole, who came on strong at the end of 2014 as well, will provide very good depth in the event of an injury to Barr, Kendricks, or Greenway (provided Greenway remains a starter). But in the case of Hodges, who didn't do a whole lot as a rookie but had a pretty solid finish to his second year, perhaps he should already be ahead of Greenway on the depth chart. Given the way that Mike Zimmer seems to be running things thus far, he'll likely have every opportunity to make that jump during Training Camp.