OLB depth could be a Vikings target

The Vikings needed to dig into their reserves at outside linebacker last year, making the position one they could target in free agency. Although a starter isn’t likely to be nabbed, there are plenty of backup/special teams options.

The Minnesota Vikings’ depth at the outside linebacker position was tested late last season. There were injuries suffered by Anthony Barr, Chad Greenway and Brandon Watts. In the final game of the season, all three players were injured and Audie Cole – usually a middle linebacker – was forced to play on the outside.

This offseason, the Vikings likely will look to add depth at the outside linebacker position either in the draft or free agency. It probably won’t be a player who would earn a starting role as the Vikings already have their starters in place in Barr and Greenway – possibly even Gerald Hodges if something were to happen to Greenway. Instead, an addition at outside linebacker would be one who would add depth in case the Vikings suffered injuries like they did in 2014.

Like the other free agents that the Vikings are likely to target, the outside linebackers the Vikings will look at will likely be under the age of 30.

One player who the Vikings could target is Marcus Benard. He has spent the last two seasons playing with the Arizona Cardinals after playing for the Cleveland Browns his first three seasons. Benard played in 12 regular-season games last season but did not see the field much. In those 12 games, he recorded just nine tackles and one sack. If the Vikings were to sign him in free agency it is likely he will have a similar role, and primarily be a special teams contributor.

Another outside linebacker that the Vikings could pursue is Jonathan Casillas. He has bounced round the league a bit in his young career. From 2009-2012, Casillas was a member of the New Orleans Saints and then joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. Then in 2014 he started out the season with the New England Patriots but ended the season playing back in Tampa Bay. In 2014, he played in 13 games and recorded 37 tackles.

Larry Dean is another player who could be targeted by the Vikings and is a player who is already familiar with Minnesota. He began his career in 2011 and was with them through 2013. Then during the 2014 offseason he signed with the Buffalo Bills. Dean played in 13 regular-season games and recorded 10 tackles. If he were to come back to Minnesota, his role on defense would likely remain a limited one.

One final player the Vikings could target in free agency would be Spencer Paysinger. He has received a lot of experience in his first four seasons in the NFL, playing in either 15 or 16 regular season games in each season. In 2013, Paysinger played in 15 games and recorded 15 tackles. His tackle totals increased each of his first three seasons with the Giants, but then took a sharp downward turn in 2014.

There are a multitude of linebackers in both free agency and the draft that the Vikings could use to add depth to their roster. Most likely, these won’t be any flashy players in free agency and the moves will likely fly under the radar because the players will not fill starting roles or see the field very often in 2014. But last season the Vikings’ depth was tested a bit, and it will be important for them to address that this offseason with a nod toward the future.

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Still to come: Running back | Wide receiver |
OFFENSE: Quarterback | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker |
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