Scout's take: Many versions for MLBs

The Vikings could be looking for a middle linebacker after the release of Erin Henderson. If they aren't convinced on Michael Mauti's health or Audie Cole's abilities, there are plenty of different options in the draft. NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas explains the strengths of some second-day possibilities.

Erin Henderson is gone, released after two arrests for driving under the influence. After him, the Vikings have some promise but little proven experience at middle linebacker.

So what if they decide to take the plunge in the early rounds of the draft to find their next quarterback of the defense just in case Mike Zimmer and his staff aren't sold on Audie Cole or Michael Mauti?

There are players in the first two days of the draft that would make some sense for the Vikings, even if there are other needs that appear more pressing early in the draft. The top middle linebacker in the draft is Alabama's C.J. Mosley, but not everyone is convinced he is the right fit as the middle linebacker of a 4-3 defense.

"If I'm going with a 4-3, I'm playing Mosley on the outside. I think the best 4-3 middle linebacker out there is Yawin Smallwood," said NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas of NFL Draft Report, a service that supplements scouting for NFL teams. "He's a really good fluid guy; he's probably the best defensive product that school has ever produced."

Somewhere around 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, Smallwood led Connecticut with a 118 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss and four sacks, nine passes defensed and two force fumbles. While he might not be imposing with his size, he is with his quickness and acceleration to the ball and has the ability to disengage from blockers quickly, too.

Most consider Mosley, the experienced on-field quarterback of the Crimson Tide's imposing defense, the top middle linebacker in the draft, but there are other solid options besides him and Smallwood.

Chris Borland of Wisconsin has the ability to play multiple positions and has experience with different schemes, too, but unlike Smallwood, he has shorter arms and isn't always able to get off blocks. Yet he is still the career leader for forced fumbles in Badgers history and led the team with 111 tackles in 2013.

"You might cringe when you see him with his shirt off … but you put this kid out there and it's like watching (Luke) Kuechly all over again," Thomas said.

Thomas called Shayne Skov of Stanford the most well-rounded middle linebacker, but there is another one that has Thomas' interest, as well – Christian Jones.

Jones, the Florida State product that is 6-4, 234, had 56 tackles in 2013 but was used more as an edge rusher later in the season, where he excelled with eight tackles for a loss and two sacks.

"The kid that's really got my curiosity piquing, especially if I'm the Pittsburgh Steelers, is Christian Jones out of Florida State because he's got experience inside and outside," Thomas said.

The options in the middle are many, even if it isn't in the first round. There is the heady and instinctual Borland, the more athletic versions in Smallwood and Jones, who have different skill sets, and the well-polished Skov.

If Mike Zimmer and the Vikings are looking for another middle linebacker, the first two days of May's draft offer plenty of options.

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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