The Minnesota Vikings had the option to re-sign incumbent middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley in free agency and allowed him to be the one starter that got away. Brinkley signed a three-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, leaving a hole in the middle of the Vikings defense.
There were options to replace that void in the free agent market with available players like Brad Jones, Philip Wheeler, Barrett Ruud, Rey Maualuga and even Brian Urlacher, who is still available. However, the Vikings aren't known to have shown a serious interest in any of them. Instead, their attention seems to be focused on filling the one remaining hole on defense through the draft.
Of course, there is one big name that even casual college football fans know when it comes to middle linebackers looking to make the step up to the NFL level. Manti Te'o has been the talk of draft gossipers since the girlfriend he claimed to have was discovered to be an online hoax. Teams grilled Te'o about that at the NFL Scouting Combine, but there was a more serious football matter, too, when it came to Te'o's relevance as a first-round prospect – could he move fast enough to be a reliable every-down player in the NFL? Running in the 4.8-second range for the 40-yard dash wasn't a good start to proving his critics wrong when it came to his ability to cover offensive players, despite him having seven interceptions last year at Notre Dame. Interestingly, however, that was the same area in which LSU's Kevin Minter ran, and he has proved to be a rangier defensive player.
So how does Te'o stack up with some of the other top prospects at inside linebacker? STATS LLC took a look at several categories from the prospects' final college season.
Snap counts: Te'o, Minter and Arthur Brown (Kansas State) are all in the conversation as potential first-round picks and each of them earned it through extensive play. Minter led the way with 849 snaps last year, Brown had 845 and Te'o had 799, with each of them playing more than 93 percent of their team's defensive snaps. Brown was the most effective when on the field, according to STATS LLC's category of "successful snap percentage difference."
Comprehensive performance: Minter easily led the group with 12 tackles for loss, followed by Brown at six and Te'o at three, but Te'o led the trio in passes defensed with 11, further complicating his evaluation in pass coverage. Minter and Brown both had six.
Pass rush performance: While the Vikings haven't asked their middle linebacker to be a regular pass rusher, Minter was the best in that category, providing four sacks, five more pressures, five hurries and five knockdowns. Te'o had 1.5 sacks, nine more pressures, three hurries and eight knockdowns. Brown didn't experience much success in that category, with one sack, three pressures, a hurry and three knockdowns.
Tackling: When it comes to big plays in the tackling game, Minter and Brown were the winners, while Te'o was more consistent. Minter was credited with 10 stuffs (tackles for negative yardage) and 13 impact tackles (tackles for one or two yards that don't result in a first down or touchdown), but he was also credited with 16 missed or broken tackles, the most among the group. Brown had six stuffs, 15 impact tackles and 12 missed or broken tackles. Te'o, meanwhile, had only three stuffs and eight impact tackles, but he also had only four missed tackles.
What does it all mean? Among the first-round prospects at middle linebacker not named Alec Ogletree (the most athletic among them but a character risk), Minter and Brown are the flashier players, but Te'o keeps himself in the conversation with consistency, even if he lacks sideline-to-sideline range.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stacking the middle linebacker prospects
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