Whether fans in Minnesota like Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program, the reality of the Wolverines is that they are producing NFL players in bunches. Early on Day 3, Michigan had hit double digits in the number of players drafted for the first time since 1974, when Hall of Fame head coach Bo Schembechler was just in his fifth season at Ann Arbor.
The seventh of Harbaugh’s players to get drafted was linebacker Ben Gedeon, a fourth-round selection of the Vikings.
Gedeon blew up last season in his first year as a starter, registering 106 tackles, 15½ tackles for a loss and 4½ sacks. He was a relentless tackler who climbed his way up draft boards thanks to his playmaking ability.
He credited the type of program that Harbaugh runs at Michigan – a system that prepares players for the rigors of the NFL.
“The way we ran our program at Michigan was like a pro program,” Gedeon said. “A lot of us coming from Michigan are well-prepared and I’m thankful we were able to play for so many coaches that had NFL experience.”
The question surrounding Gedeon is where his ideal spot will be in the Minnesota Vikings linebacker corps. His only year as a starter was at inside linebacker, but he has versatility and believes he can play at a high level at all of the three linebacker positions.
“I played inside for a couple years and also played some outside at Michigan,” Gedeon said. “I feel comfortable in any of the spots in a four-down (linemen) defense and I feel comfortable at multiple spots.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer shared that sentiment.
He saw a lot of game tape on Gedeon and loved what he saw – a kid who chases plays and blows them up when he closes on the ball. Like Gedeon, he believes he doesn’t have to be pigeon-holed as a just a middle linebacker.
“I think he can probably player either,” Zimmer said. “I like the way he plays. I like the way he’s physical at the point of attack. He’s very instinctive. Our linebackers are asked to play all the different spots. If we have to move some guys around, we will.”
Perhaps nothing improved Gedeon’s draft stock more than his performance at the Combine earlier this year.
He was viewed by many as a great college player, but one who overachieved and may struggle with the speed of the NFL. Instead, he wowed scouts with a 4.13 time in the 20-yard short shuttle – the best among linebackers other than teammate Jabrill Peppers, a projected safety who worked out with linebackers in Indianapolis. He also led all linebackers in the weightlifting portion of the workout with 27 reps of 225 pounds.
“I think it was really important, especially the on-field athletic stuff,” Gedeon said. “I think a lot of teams pegged me as a guy that wasn’t too athletic, so I was able to go out there and prove my athleticism and I think it definitely helped me out.”
What Gedeon’s initial role is sure to be as a special teams ace. He was a core special teams player for his first three years at Michigan and excelled on the coverage teams. He likely is going to get an immediate shot to upgrade that phase of the game for the Vikings.
“He played a lot of special teams in his career at Michigan,” Zimmer said. “I watched him quite a bit. This guy, he’s a football player. He loves to the play the game. Those are the kind of guys we’re looking for here.”
But Gedeon isn’t content with just being a special teams player. He wants more and wants to work his way onto the field for the Minnesota defense.
With the retirement of Chad Greenway and the free-agent loss of Audie Cole, there is an opportunity for Gedeon to win over the coaching staff and work his way onto the field sooner than later, which is his ultimate goal.
Does he think he has a chance to make a big early impression?
“Absolutely,” Gedeon said. “I’m excited to get out there and start competing right away. Obviously, I have a great role on special teams, but I’m ready to go out there and compete.”