Vikings look into versatile defender

Mike Zimmer likes his versatile defenders, and the team is working out one that is being looked at for several different positions.

The Minnesota Vikings’ hunt for defensive help continues.

They visited with Michael Johnson, and expressed interest in Adrian Clayborn and George Selvie, and all of those defensive ends signed elsewhere.

At linebacker, however, they were able to add an important piece, signing Casey Matthews after losing Jasper Brinkley to the Dallas Cowboys in free agency.

No doubt, the Vikings are also investigating some of the better defenders that will selected in the first two days of the draft, but their search is going further, as they are working out North Dakota State’s Kyle Emmanuel on Monday, according to WalterFootball.com.

Emmanuel is a versatile player, listed as an outside linebacker in Scout.com’s rankings, but at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, he could also be viewed as a defensive end. Scout has him as the 15th-ranked outside linebacker and a sixth-round value.

But if Emmanuel is selected with the expectation that he plays linebacker, there would be an adjustment period.

“If I am asked to drop and play outside linebacker, something like that, it’s something I haven’t done in a long time so there’s always going to be that little transition period if I’m asked to do that,” he said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But other than that, it’s just the technique, there’s always something different. Coming from high school to college there was something different there, I had to learn and it’ll be the same going to the next level.”

He said teams that employ a 4-3 defensive scheme, like the Vikings do, are looking at him as a strongside linebacker, the spot where 2014 first-round pick Anthony Barr excelled as a rookie and and 2013 fourth-round pick Gerald Hodges was the backup.

But Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer likes his versatile defenders and Emmanuel appears to be just that. He could be a small-school (North Dakota State) find in the later rounds.

“When I say North Dakota State, people know,” Emmanuel said. “People have heard of that school and a lot of times it’s, ‘Oh, four national titles.’ I think NDSU’s reputation has really grown over the last four years, especially at the national level.”

The Philadelphia Eagles worked him out as a middle and outside linebacker. He has a visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Jacksonville Jaguars looked at him as a potential fullback, according WalterFootball.com.

“I’ve dreamed of being a professional athlete for a long time. I played everything as a small-town Nebraska kid, so one day I would want to be a professional baseball player, the next day I’d want to be a professional basketball player, the next day, football,” Emmanuel said. “I just loved sports my whole life and it’s just an unbelievable opportunity to be here and have a chance to play in the NFL.

“I started playing contact football I think in third grade. Yeah, really young. You know, in Nebraska, football is everything down there. I’ve been throwing around a football forever.”

At the Scouting Combine, Emmanuel met formally and informally with several teams, some of which attended his pro day on Thursday to see him work out at a few different positions.

“I like the interview process, they can see what kind of person you are, whether you’re well-spoken or not, you can always communicate your values and stuff like that,” he said.

But the key will be finding a position that works for him in the NFL, or maybe several positions where his versatility is an asset. His measurements – from height, weight and arm – are some of the smaller ones among defensive ends, the group he worked among at the combine. But his speed was among the best at that position, including his times in the 40-yard dash (4.77), 20-yard shuttle (4.25) and three-cone drill (7.10).

Among linebackers, however, those would be viewed as only average. Perhaps that’s why teams are spending extra time with him in an attempt to determine where he best fits on an NFL roster.

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