As more teams work toward a 3-4 defense, the question has been posed to the Vikings: Will that give them more opportunity at their own style of linebacker to fit their 4-3 defense?
Linebacker isn't as deep in the draft as some of the Vikings' other needs – wide receiver and defensive tackle – but they might be able to find a better prospect early if 3-4 teams in front of them pass on a linebacker considered a better match for a 4-3 defense.
"The biggest thing, I think, between the 3-4 and the 4-3 teams is those hybrid outside linebackers. Are they designated pass rushers? Are they big enough to hold up and play as a right or left defensive end in a 3-4 scheme? Or are those guys, can they potentially be strongside linebackers for you? Can they play from a stacked position? So, those are a lot of things," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "And there are players that are very good athletes that are coming out in this draft that we'll have a lot of discussions on. Those hybrid types – can they fit what we do or can't they?"
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said it's about a 50-50 split now between 3-4 defenses and 4-3 defense, but admitted the selections are limited.
"There's only so many players who go around, who fit that position," he said.
If the Vikings are looking for an inside linebacker to replace Jasper Brinkley, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, there are three prospects – Alec Ogletree, Manti Te'o and Kevin Minter – who have first-round value, according to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. After that, Mayock said, the talent level drops off.
"I like Minter a lot. He's a better player than I thought when I put the tape on," Mayock said. "I think there are three potential first round inside linebackers and he's one of them. Some people have him higher than Te'o."
NFL teams have to answer the question of trust when it comes to Te'o, who wasn't immediately forthcoming when he found out the girlfriend he spoke of lovingly was an online hoax. With Ogletree, there are the off-the-field incidents that range from a failed drug test, theft charges and, the latest incident, a DUI earlier this month.
The outside linebackers, meanwhile, might hold more value for the Vikings early if they are looking for one that can start in 2013 and perform the coverage skills they are asked. One name that consistently emerges as first-round value for the Vikings is Khaseem Greene.
"If you're talking about the linebacker position, I think the guys that might be there in the 20s, if you're talking about the first round, I think Khaseem Greene, the outside linebacker from Rutgers, makes a ton of sense. He's a fit for today's NFL. He runs, he's explosive. He makes plays. Most will have him as a mid to late first-round guy," Mayock said.
"You might be able to get Arthur Brown from Kansas State in the second round. And, boy, he's a guy that makes a ton of sense. He can run, he's a play maker. I like him a lot."
Many associate the 3-4 defenses of the NFL as looking to pluck the defensive end that can also play linebacker, but Spielman said that's not uncommon for the Vikings.
"Our biggest thing is identifying that undersized defensive end in college, if he can fit and play from a stacked position in our defense or not," Spielman said.
In some ways, that fits the mold of what the Vikings already have in Everson Griffen. But why would the Vikings be looking at that kind of player? Because Griffen, Brian Robison and Jared Allen all have contracts that expire after the 2013 season and Spielman pays attention to contributors whose contracts expire in the next two seasons.
"This is a pretty talented group of defensive linemen, I think, both inside and outside. And there are specific guys that fit the Everson Griffen mode, I believe, that are coming out in this draft," Spielman said.
The Vikings rely on their coaches for input on what qualities they are looking for in their prospects. This year, they may find a top linebacker prospect still waiting for them with their first-round pick and elect to wait on other needs that have deeper talent in this draft.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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