E.J. Henderson: What Others Are Saying

What other media are saying about the Vikings' second-round draft pick, linebacker E.J. Henderson.

Notes: Did not run at the Scouting Combine. Redshirted in 1998. Started the last two games in '99 and all but one game in both 2000 and '01. Missed one game in 2000 with a sprained knee and was demoted for a game in '01 as punishment for violating team rules. Had 39 tackles, two tackles for loss and a half a sack in '99; 109-13-2 in 2000; and 150-26-6 with four passes broken up, an interception and two blocked kicks in '01, when he was the Atlantic Coast Conference's Defensive Player of the Year and a Pro Football Weekly first-team All American. Injured his back late in the '01 season or probably would have entered the '02 NFL draft. Instead, underwent surgery in April 2002. Returned to action in the fall and led the team in tackles (175), tackles for loss (19?) and sacks (8?). Also had two interceptions. Was winner of Bednarik Award as nation's top defensive player. Also won Butkus Award as nation's top linebacker.

Positives: Henderson is a big, strong, active, physical, aggressive, instinctive linebacker with excellent vision, awareness and game speed. He anticipates well and knows just when to hit the hole to get into the backfield and make plays for negative yardage. He covers much more ground than his speed would indicate and is a nonstop hustle guy. He can stack and shed at the point of attack, uses his hands well to shed and has a short, explosive burst to the ball. A quick-twitch type of athlete, he is adequate in pass coverage and can blitz. He can also get outside at times. Is willing to play hurt.

Negatives: Will play out of control at times and will gamble and freelance quite a bit. Doesn't always play with good leverage. Lacking speed to the sideline. Coverage is OK, but he struggles on longer routes and against very quick running backs. Doesn't backpedal well. Shows some stiffness and lacks suddenness and speed. Doesn't have long speed.

Summary: A decent 40 time and clean bill of health would be enough to make Henderson the top linebacker drafted in April. He won't wow you with his test numbers, but Henderson plays faster than his timed speed and has outstanding instincts.

Henderson's production is a product of his tremendous instincts and nose for the ball. He lacks great speed, but plays faster than his 40 time will indicate. He is a terrific form tackler, not missing many opportunities. He reminds me a lot of former Ohio State and New York Giants star Pepper Johnson: an outstanding middle linebacker who will start on first and second down. When there is a big play to be made, he always seems to be in the middle of the aciton.

Vs. inside run: Is most comfortable when between the tackles. Has the ideal combination of size, strength, and quickness. Shows great instincts. Excels at reading keys. Has trouble at the point of attack at times when not playing with leverage, but is big and powerful enough to take on and stand up lead blockers. Excels at using hands and shedding. Is tough and plays with a mean streak. Grade: 8.5

Vs. outside run: Lacks great top-end speed, but is quick and instinctive. Never stops hustling. Plays faster than his 40-time. Takes great angles to ball carriers. Excels at using hands to sift through traffic. Is an adequate open-field tackler. Grade: 8.0

Blitz/coverage: Has great instincts and timing as a blitzer. Has outstanding up-field qualities and is most comfortable when turned loose to chase. Shows good closing burst and some big-play flair on the pass rush. Is only average in coverage. Clearly better moving forward than going backward. Lacks elite speed and hips are somewhat stiff when turning. Grade: 7.8

Run/pass recognition: This is his biggest strength. Excels at reading and reacting. Rarely takes false steps. Is disciplined and aggressive at the same time. Grade: 8.6

Pursuit/tackling: Makes plays all over the field despite marginal speed. Is a powerful tackler. Has great closing burst in the short area. Is a search-and-flow defender. Grade: 8.1

Bottom line: Henderson is the top linebacker in this class. His value has fluctuated a bit because of a 2001 back injury that slowed him down last spring, but he should be ready to start immediately in the NFL.

Viking Update Top Stories