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The Vikings seemed to play in a nickel package a majority of the time as passing has become more dominant and teams are using three receiver sets more often. If that continues, it leaves to question what the role of inside linebacker will be in the future. Will the role stay as it was with Brinkley?
There are multiple talented inside linebackers in this year’s draft, and the three best all have second-round grades from ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay. If this is where the players will be going, the Vikings have to decide if they are willing to spend a second-round draft pick on a player who may be on the field for less than 500 defensive snaps during the year, especially since this year’s crop of inside linebackers is expected to be deep.
“Inside linebackers, off-line guys, Denzel Perryman, to me, is right there with Benardrick McKinney and Eric Kendricks from UCLA. So Perryman from Miami, McKinney from Mississippi State, and Kendricks from UCLA all have grades in the second round,” McShay said in a conference call Monday. “And I think this is kind of a deep group if you’re looking for off-the-line linebackers.”
If the Vikings choose to wait longer in the draft to address the inside linebacker position, a player they could target is Stephone Anthony from Clemson. He is projected as a two-down type of player, coming off the field in obvious passing downs.
“Stephone Anthony is another guy who could be early third-round range, who I think is a really good player.” McShay said. “Two-down player who has really good straight-line speed, has some quickness, but does everything well except kind of open up and run. So I think there’s a pretty deep inside linebacker group compared to some other years.”
No matter what round the Vikings choose to address the inside linebacker position, it will be addressed – if not in the draft, then in free agency. They need to tighten up the middle of their defense. They ended the regular season with the 25th-ranked run defense, and you can be sure that is not something they wish to happen again.
The question then becomes how much do the Vikings value the inside linebacker position compared to their other positions of need, and whether or not inside linebacker will continue to be used on a limited basis. If that continues to be the case, you may see the Vikings wait until the middle rounds to bring in a player. But if they feel there is a linebacker that could contribute in passing situations, as well as run defense, you may see them address the position in an earlier round.
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