Vikings’ 25 and under top 10: Gerald Hodges

His role for this year and beyond isn’t determined yet, but Gerald Hodges has shown promise as a part-time starter.

Gerald Hodges was the Vikings’ fourth-round draft pick back in 2013 and the first pick by the Vikings after they took three players in the first round. In his first two seasons, Hodges has had to wait in order to get a starting job. He has not yet earned a Day 1 start but has seen the field when injuries arise.

In 2014 he became a replacement as a weakside and strongside linebacker when Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr missed time with injuries. When he was given the chance to start, he proved that he has the ability to be a contributor at the NFL level and has the skills to make big plays – note the interception returned for a touchdown against the New York Jets.

He played in 14 games last year and started seven of them, including the final four games. During those games he was able to record 66 tackles, half a sack, one interception that was returned for a touchdown and seven passes defensed. That is a dramatic increase from the five tackles that he recorded in 11 games as a rookie. Increased experience is being met with opportunity.

At 6-foot-2, 236 pounds, Hodges is an ideal size for an outside linebacker in the NFL and he has good speed to go along with that. He ran a 4.70 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine before he was drafted and you usually want your outside linebackers to run the 40 in 4.80 seconds or faster. He is also able to play well in pass coverage and appears to understand the concepts being taught to him.

Right now Hodges appears to be the favorite to replace veteran linebacker Greenway, who hinted he might be retiring after the 2015 season. And the performance that Hodges put on while replacing Greenway and Barr for injury reasons should have further solidified his possibilities as the future replacement for the weakside linebacker. But Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer made an interesting comment this offseason when he said the team is hoping Eric Kendricks – a middle linebacker they drafted in the second round – could one day move over and be the team’s weakside linebacker.

If they decide to move Kendricks from the middle to the weak side, there is not much room left for Hodges unless they move him to middle linebacker. Hodges will be entering the third year of his four-year rookie contract and since he was drafted in the fourth round there will be no fifth-year option on his contract. That means that these next two seasons will be a very important for him since there will be decisions involving him coming soon after his contract expires.

If Greenway does decide to retire after this season, the Vikings will need to decide if they feel comfortable having Hodges taking over as the full-time starter or if they want Kendricks to move outside and create an opening at middle linebacker. But if Kendricks wins the starting middle linebacker spot this offseason and performs well in that role, it does not make much sense to move him.

That is why it will be important for Hodges to perform well this offseason and in practices throughout the season – and then if injuries occur as they did last year, once again fill in and prove he can play well. If he is able to do that and Kendricks proves he is able to play middle linebacker in the NFL, then the Vikings likely will work to keep Hodges in Minnesota.

But if the team continues to stick with the notion of having Kendricks move to the weak side one day, then Hodges would either have to compete for a job in the middle, resign himself to a backup duty again, or consider other teams once his contract is up.

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