Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Postmortem Discussion: The case for a speedy linebacker (or two)

Postmortem 1 from me. Postmortem 2 from PV. Postmortem 3 from TBird.

It used to be that the Vikings couldn't pick a productive defensive end to save their life. Chris Clemons. Derrick Alexander. Michael Boireau. Kenechi Udeze. Erasmus James. The list was long and undistinguished. Then the Vikes found a gem in the 2006 draft in fourth-rounder Ray Edwards. The club has since followed that up by drafting Brian Robison (4th round – 2007) and Everson Griffen (4th round – 2010). 

But just as the Vikings seem to have found the golden touch in drafting and developing quality defensive ends, they've lost their way doing the same with linebackers. Yes, 2006 first round pick Chad Greenway has been a solid, durable pro. But other than selecting E.J. Henderson in the second round of the 2003 draft, Minnesota hasn't hit on the linebackers its drafted.

Recent picks Ross Homan (2011 draft – 6th round) and Nate Triplett (2010 – 5th round) didn't even make the team. And who can forget stellar picks like Rufus Alexander, Dontarrious Thomas, Rod Davis and Raonall Smith?

All those missed draft picks, and the fact the Vikings haven't drafted a linebacker higher than the fifth round since 2006, has left the Vikings very, very, very thin at linebacker. And other than selecting Audie Cole in the 7th round, the Vikings didn't address it in the just completed college draft or during free agency.

That strikes me as a problem. What the Vikings really need is a linebacker who can run and cover these Aaron Hernandez-type wide receivers who masquerade as tight ends. They don't have one. Greenway is just OK in coverage. It looks like Jasper Brinkley will start at middle linebacker in 2012, yet he's viewed as a two-down player who will come out in passing situations. Erin Henderson is probably the best cover guy of the starters, which is faint praise indeed.

As TBird pointed out in his postmortem, with teams employing more scatbacks and hybrid wide receiver/tight ends, you need linebackers who can run and cover. The Vikings need a Jacquian Williams. 

Not familar with that name? I'm not surprised. Williams was a rookie last year and he didn't even start. But if you watched the New York Giants Super Bowl run, you might have noticed a player wearing #57 who kept on breaking up passes intended for elite tight ends like Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, San Francisco's Vernon Davis and, in the Super Bowl, Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. That player was Williams, a 6'2, 225-pound whippet who might not be the stoutest against the run, but boy can he cover.

The Vikings starting linebacking unit (and for that matter, the reserves) do not, collectively, have the skill set to match up with today's multiple receiver sets. And the fact the Vikings didn't address this weakness during the offseason means you can expect to see a lot of tight ends catching 20-yard passes down the middle of the field, and plenty of dump-offs to backs and slot receivers turning into first downs against the Vikings.

You can't address every need in a seven-round draft. But the Vikings didn't seem to try very hard in this case, either.

2 comments:

  1. I wonder if the Vikings will address the position this year or if they'll opt to see what they have in their current corps again this season. I've read about how much they love Smith, and it got me thinking that perhaps their goal is to do right by the secondary this year, and wait until year 2 of the rebuild for LB.

    I agree, though, they need a speedy cover LB. Maybe they'll try converting one of their bazillion DBs?

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    1. PP:

      I've read that the Vikings could use Smith as kind of a hybrid safety/linebacker type. At 217 pounds or thereabouts, he's not much lighter than the Giants Williams and they are listed as both 6'2 (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The Vikings also signed LB Tyler Nielsen from Iowa who went undrafted but was highly regarded by some. He will be somebody to watch out for. I was kind of hoping the Vikings would draft Terrell Manning from N.C. State. But the Packers got him.

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