Position Analysis: Middle linebackers

Perhaps the most pressing need for the Vikings is also one that isn't loaded with star power or much depth. We go far in-depth to review the stats, analysis, measurables and projections for the top 10 options, at least one of which should be a Viking by the end of the week.

POSITION OVERVIEW: The middle linebacker position in the classic sense has taken a hit in recent years. The proliferation of the 3-4 defense has taken away the hashmark-to-hashmark responsibility of an old-school middle linebacker and replaced it with two players. In addition, unless an inside linebacker is a dominating tackling machine, the difference between a Tier 1 and Tier 2 MLB/ILB isn't all that much different – with the same being said of the differences between a Tier 2 and 3 player. Coaches believe that a linebacker is a lump of clay that they can develop and there are plenty of third- and fourth-round linebackers in NFL starting lineups. Combine those factors with one of the weaker draft classes in recent years at the position and this could be an interesting position to follow on draft weekend. A case can be made that there isn't a surefire first-rounder in the group, although most analysts believe Manti Te'o will get picked in the first round and there is a growing sentiment that Kevin Minter may quickly follow. If both do go, it's not because of their talent, but because of the lack of depth. By the time the third round begins, you can make an even-money bet that Te'o and Minter will be the only two pure MLB/ILB prospects off the board (we classified Alec Ogletree and Arthur Brown as outside linebackers) – which speaks to the weakness of the Class of 2013.

VIKINGS MIDDLE LINEBACKERS – Tyrone McKenzie, Larry Dean, Audie Cole.

VIKINGS NEED – Read that list again and that should more than answer that question. The Vikings lost Jasper Brinkley, whom many analysts saw as a player that could be upgrade upon in free agency or the draft, leaving a position of weakness in March to a position of big-time need in April. It can be argued that either Te'o or Minter might be a reach at Picks Nos. 23 and 25 and, if the team doesn't address is there, it could be anyone's guess as to what will be left in the later rounds.


Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, 6-1¼, 241 – Fourth-year senior…Started 49 of 51 career games…Finished his career with 427 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 10 passes defensed and seven interceptions – all of the interceptions coming last season…Made international headlines when a hoax involving a dead girlfriend he never met put him in the national news spotlight for all the wrong reasons and led many to overanalyze his involvement in the hoax and even his own sexual persuasion…A two-time Hawaii Player of the Year in high school…As a junior, was a finalist for the Butkus and Lott Awards…As senior, he won the following awards: Nagurski (top defensive player), Bednarik (Defensive Player of the Year), Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker), Butkus (top linebacker) and Walter Camp National Player of the Year – while also finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting…A big-time hitter who stops ball carriers in their tracks…Excellent production – averaged more than 120 tackles a year his final three seasons…Has a low center of gravity and can create explosion in a short area…Has good range to get to plays that don't come his way…Plays with confidence and has the intelligence to make defensive adjustments when he's sees a weakness in the play call…His seven interceptions last year displayed increased field awareness…Has short arms and NFL blockers will get to him much easier than they did in college…Doesn't have top-end straight-line speed, which is a prerequisite for 4-3 middle linebackers…Alabama made him look like a boy among men and that hasn't been forgotten by scouts…Is a victim of his own aggression and he often takes himself out of plays…Maturity questions given his stance that he was unaware that a woman he called his girlfriend was actually a man playing a prank…Didn't lift at the NFL Scouting Combine, but ran a 4.80 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: Can a really bad January make up for four years of good game tape? We'll find out. Te'o becomes an endangered species once Chicago hits the clock at No. 20. After that, all bets are off.

Kevin Minter, LSU, 5-11¾, 246 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 191 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and one interception…Instinctive player who blew up in 2012 with 130 tackles and 15 tackles for a loss…Has good burst and closing speed…Anticipates gaps nicely…Can cover tight ends deep down the middle…Has good upper-body strength and uses it well to finish tackles…Intelligent player who reads formations and makes accurate defensive calls…Will bite on fakes and gets himself out of position too often…Too often runs away from blockers rather than taking them on…Stays blocked when linemen get their hands on him…Too often tries to drag down ball carriers by grabbing their legs as opposed to taking them on high…Doesn't have elite speed to chase plays to the sidelines consistently…Ran a 4.81 40 at the combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A productive player from an elite program, he isn't a classic "light's out" type hitter but was extremely effective as a 4-3 middle linebacker and has a chance to be a first-round pick if a team with a need at inside linebacker (Minnesota, Baltimore, etc.) like what they've seen of him.


Nico Johnson, Alabama, 6-1¾, 248 – Fourth-year senior…Started just 20 of 50 career games…Finished his career with 163 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions…Has excellent size and is very muscular…Consistently takes good angles and hits the hole with aggression…Is a big hitter who looks for contact and delivering the big hit…A hard worker who was a leader by example…A durable player who hasn't missed time due to injury…Is not an every-down player and typically came off the field on third down or in passing situations…Isn't a technique tackler, he tends to wrap around ball carriers and twist them to the ground…Is often a step late when the ball is in the air…Gets sucked in on play-fakes and misdirection…Wasn't asked to blitz often…Did not work out at the combine while recovering from sports hernia surgery. PROJECTION: Was a role player on a great defense where he was surrounded by talented players. He was a team leader who has an excellent football mentality, but his lack of starting experience may play against him and drop him into the late second or early third round.

Kevin Reddick, North Carolina, 6-1½, 243 – Fifth-year senior who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia…Started 43 of 50 career games, recording 275 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss 8.5 sacks and two interceptions…Has good size and musculature…Has excellent instincts and game smarts, always seeming to predict where a play is heading in and filling the hole…Is a thumper who takes on blockers and ball carriers head on…A three-down linebacker who rarely came to the sideline…A hard worker who was praised by his coaches for his dedication on and off the field…When blockers get their hands on him, he has a tendency to give up on plays…Will slide down the body of a ball carrier too often in the open field…Doesn't chase plays consistently to the sideline and only seems to move at full speed on plays coming directly at him…Wears down late in games and will lose focus…Doesn't have great burst or explosion and needs a few steps to get to full speed…Didn't compete in the high jump or shuttles at the combine after suffering a hamstring injury during the workout, but ran a 4.66 40 with 23 reps and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: An every-down inside linebacker who had good production, he takes way too many plays off or gives minimal effort in chasing down plays. There are few things coaches and scouts hate more than a player who runs hot and cold with his effort. As a result, Reddick, who should be a second-round prospect, is likely going to drop into the third round.

Kiko Alonso, Oregon, 6-3½, 238 – Fifth-year senior…Suspended for 2010 season after being arrested for DWI…A one-year full-time starter who had 81 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, one sack and four interceptions last season…Was arrested in 2011 and charged with a home burglary and was sentenced to two years probation…Suffered a torn ACL during spring practice in 2011…Is very aggressive and plays with a mean streak…Has good athleticism and is a playmaker…Has the agility to take tight ends deep down the seam and stick to them like glue…Has long arms and uses them well to wrap up and tackle…Times his blitzes well and hits the hole with speed in the run game…When a blocker gets him locked up, he struggles to get loose…His significant character questions that will turn off some teams…Plays a little too out of control at times…Doesn't have great strength at the point of attack and teams prefer to run straight at him than away from him...Has a history of injuries, both significant and minor ailments…Did not work out at the combine. PROJECTION: A solid athlete who loves the game. His bad decisions have haunted him in the past and may haunt him again this month because he doesn't have the elite talent that his run-ins with the law can be ignored. He will be on the board late in Day 2 and may not come off until the final day of the draft.

Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers, 6-1, 240 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 237 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions in that span…A durable player who played 50 straight games and made 40 consecutive starts…Has good instincts and reads and reacts quickly…Has very strong hands and uses them to jolt blockers and secure tackles…Has the type of body capable of bulking up and adding another 10 pounds of muscle…Makes good defensive calls and reads offenses very well…Has difficulty protecting his legs in traffic and ends up on the ground too often…Doesn't go head-up in contact with blockers, typically preferring to spin around them or avoid them…Doesn't have the straight-line speed to chase plays to the sidelines…Needs to work on his tackling technique because if he doesn't initiate contact, he tends to slide off of ball carriers…Has trouble taking backs and receivers down the field…Ran a 4.79 40 at the combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: An intelligent player with toughness, he has physical limitations in terms of speed and tackle strength that will likely drop him into the final day of the draft.


Jon Bostic, Florida, 6-1, 245 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 113 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one interception in that span…A tightly wound body with excellent lower body strength to dig in and deliver the big hit…Has good field instincts and flies into the hole to make plays…Has good closing speed and hits with a pop…Has good agility to mirror plays to the side without losing a step…Times out his blitzes well…Is not overly physical when dealing with blockers…When a lineman gets hold of him, he struggles to disengage…Has shorter arms that most middle linebackers and will have trouble keeping blockers from getting into his body…Gets too aggressive and will take himself out of playing by over-pursuing the ball…Tends to plant his feet before he makes a hit and elusive runners can make him whiff and lunge at air too often…Ran a 4.50 40 at the combine with 22 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A big-play producer who leaves too much production out on the field by being a victim of his own aggression. He is a blue-collar middle linebacker who won't provide the "wow factor" in the NFL but will get the job done. His limitations will make him available in the final day of the draft.

Vince Williams, Florida State, 6-0½, 247 – Fifth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt in 2009 with a back injury…A two-year starter who had 113 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one interception in that span…A fireplug type player who is muscular with a low center of gravity…Seeks out contact and enjoys delivering the big hit…Has quick acceleration into the hole and has good closing speed…Has a stunning hand punch and uses it effectively to drive blockers away from him…Has a mean streak on the field and was an emotional leader for the Seminoles in that regard…Doesn't have good straight-line speed and will struggle to get to the edge on sweeps…A half-step slow in reacting to plays and changes of direction…Can get fooled by running backs in space…Plays a little too upright and can get re-directed too easily…Is bad in coverage when asked to take on tight ends or backs by himself…Did not work out at the combine. PROJECTION: A thickly built, high-intensity player, he can only be a two-down linebacker because of his significant coverage problems. Players like him remain on the board until the final couple of rounds and Williams should be no exception.

Michael Mauti, Penn State, 6-2, 243 – Fifth year senior…Missed the 2009 season with a torn right ACL, the final nine games of 2011 with a torn left ACL and the first two games of 2012 when the left ACL injury re-tore after surgery…His father Rich played seven NFL seasons at wide receiver with the Saints and Redskins…Started 11 games in 2012, making 95 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions…A big hitter who times his moves well to fill holes and get in the backfield…Highly productive when he is at 100 percent…One of the better tacklers in the class – when he gets his hands on a runner or a receiver, the player goes down…Flies all over the field and makes plays to the sideline…Has good agility and lateral movement…Doesn't have the pure athleticism to play on the outside…Injuries are a huge red flag – not only has he torn both ACLs and had three surgeries, but he has suffered from several smaller nagging injuries…Is not ideal in coverage and struggles taking tight ends one-on-one deep down the field…Is a good tackler but not explosive and needs to wrap-and-drag ball carriers to the ground…Struggles to get blockers disengaged when they get their hands on him…Did not run or jump at the combine while recovering from a knee injury, but did 28 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Had he stayed healthy, Mauti likely would have been viewed as a second- or third-round prospect, but, coming off of three surgeries that have never allowed him to start a full season, he could remain on the board well into the final day.

Nick Clancy, Boston College, 6-2, 233 – Fifth-year senior…One-year starter who had a whopping 145 tackles, four tackles for a loss and 10 passes broken up in 2012…Plays with a lot of passion…Excellent production when he became a starter…Flies around the field and always seems to be around the ball…A blue-collar work ethic that has impressed coaches…Is good in coverage and times his jumps well to break up passes…Doesn't have good upper body strength and needs to bulk up…Very limited experience – he has just 42 tackles in his first three seasons (30 games)…Is not a playmaker behind the line of scrimmage and doesn't create turnovers…Plays at high speed and takes himself out of too many plays with his own aggression…Once blockers get their hands on him, he struggles to disengage…Was not invited to the combine. PROJECTION: Not being invited to work out in Indianapolis speaks volumes about how NFL scouts think of Clancy, but he has a passion for the game that can't be measured in a 40 time or the bench press. He may be a candidate for Mr. Irrelevant, but if he ends up on a training camp roster he will make it difficult for a team to cut him.


Will Compton, Nebraska, 6-0¾, 232
Brandon Hepburn, Florida A&M, 6-2½, 240
Doug Rippy, Colorado, 6-2, 245
Albert Rosette, Nevada, 6-2, 245
Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M, 6-3¾, 242
Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech, 6-1¼, 234
Tom Wort, Oklahoma, 6-0, 235

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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