As the roster is currently constructed, the Minnesota Vikings only have five linebackers on the team, and three of them have seen very little action in the team’s defense. Beyond stars Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, the depth chart for the linebacking corps is a little on the green side for the Vikings. So, it stands to reason that the team will be adding another one at some point on draft weekend.
What sort of linebacker? Well, that depends on what they want to do with Kendricks. If they want to keep him in the middle, they need a guy to fill the weakside position vacated by Chad Greenway’s retirement. If they decide to move Kendricks into that spot, then they need someone to man the middle on first and second down. There’s no shortage of players to be had at the position, and we’ll take a look at some of them here.
With the Vikings not selecting until #48 overall, I would expect that they’d have no chance at Takkarist McKinley of UCLA or Haason Reddick of Temple. In addition, I think that Alabama star Reuben Foster is going to fall because of a recent drug test, but I don’t think he’s going to fall far enough for Minnesota to get their hands on him. If he did, however, he’d certainly be a serious consideration.
With that, let’s take a look at some linebacker prospects, shall we?
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt - I have a feeling that Cunningham is going to be off the board before Minnesota’s selection in Round 2, but he would be an outstanding selection if he did find his way to #48. He could line up at the outside linebacker spot and be an outstanding player from Day 1. He is solid against both the run and the pass and has the ability to get to the passer. He’s also as sure a tackler as there is at the linebacker position in this draft.
T.J. Watt, Wisconsin - The range for Watt being selected is anywhere from the end of Round 1 to the end of Round 2. I’m not sure if he’s the sort of player the Vikings would target, as he might be best suited as an outside guy in a 3-4. If the Vikings selected him, they’d likely have to ask him to bulk up and play defensive end. Still, you’ll hear his name a lot on draft weekend.
Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State - Wu-TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG! If the Vikings want a player that could potentially be a force at middle linebacker, McMillan is someone they should keep an eye on. He consistently brings the hammer in run defense, and is athletic enough to not be a complete liability in coverage. He actually reminds me of E.J. Henderson, and wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like that in the middle of the defense again?
Duke Riley, Louisiana State - Riley is a very good coverage linebacker, and has the ability to be a playmaker at the position at the next level. He’s a bit undersized, however, and wouldn’t be as solid against the run. Still, he’s one of those players that always seems to be around the football.
Alex Anzalone, Florida - Anzalone is someone that could slot right into the weakside linebacker position on Day 1. The biggest issue he had in college was his durability, as he’s dealt with numerous injuries and only had ten career starts for the Gators. Injuries aren’t something that can be projected, obviously, but they are a matter of concern.
Tyus Bowser, Houston - Bowser is one of the better pure athletes in this year’s draft. A former basketball player, he’s shown the ability to both get to the quarterback and drop back in coverage. He missed several games this past season with injuries, and is still a bit unrefined, but all of the tools are there.
Ryan Anderson, Alabama - Anderson is a “high-motor” sort of player that has shown a knack for getting after opposing quarterbacks. His coverage skills need some refining, and he’s a bit on the short side, which could limit him at the NFL level, but his on-field effort will get him a contributing role very early on.
Jarrad Davis, Florida - A pure inside linebacker, even though he’s a bit undersized at the position. Talent-wise he should probably be higher than this, but like his teammate at Florida, Alex Anzalone, injury issues are likely going to push him down a bit.
Anthony Walker, Jr., Northwestern - Walker is another inside linebacker type who would likely have trouble turning and running with tight ends at the NFL level. However, he plays with an aggressive edge and could be the quarterback of a defense in short order.
Elijah Lee, Kansas State - Lee is undersized as well, but has shown the ability to be very good in coverage from the weakside linebacker position. His lack of size is going to go against him in run defense, and he might need a little time to adjust to the physical nature of the NFL.
Later Rounds (Rounds 5-7)
Connor Harris, Lindenwood - Harris holds the NCAA all-division record for tackles in a career with 633. A converted quarterback and free safety, he displays solid athleticism and would likely make a big contribution on special teams immediately. Playing at a small school, however, means he would likely need significant time to adjust to the NFL game before making significant contributions on defense.
Kendell Beckwith, Louisiana State - Beckwith is a classic, two-down middle linebacker with the ability to be a big time player against the run. However, he tore his ACL in November, and any team that drafts him may have to give him a “redshirt” year before they get any contributions from him.
Hardy Nickerson, Illinois - Much like his father, Nickerson is an undersized middle linebacker that has made a name for himself with hustle and sure tackling. Because of his size, however, his contributions in an NFL defense will likely be limited, leaving him to do mostly special teams work.
There are probably quite a few linebackers that I managed to miss that will get their names called over the course of draft weekend. If I missed your favorites, or if there’s someone you particularly like, you can hype them up in the comments section.