There are several players who are expected to take on significantly different roles in the 2017 Minnesota Vikings offense and defense. Among them are the rookie class of 2016, which was relatively nonexistent last season.
Names like Laquon Treadwell and Mackensie Alexander are getting the most discussion as picks that need to up their role on their respective sides of the ball, but one name that isn’t getting mentioned as much and could end up being a significant contributor: linebacker Kentrell Brothers.
Brothers was a dynamo in the SEC his final two seasons at Missouri, leading the conference with 273 tackles in 26 games and a guy who just made plays. If he was bigger, his measurables would have had him off the board long before he was. He played both outside and inside for the Tigers, but his role in the NFL was expected to be on the inside only – whether as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or the middle linebacker in a 4-3, like the Vikings run.
For Brothers, the 2016 season was reminiscent of when he first arrived at the Mizzou campus in 2012.
“I realized I had to make a lot of improvements to my game,” Brothers said. “The jump from high school to college was big. There are a lot of really good football players at the next level. I thought I was ready to play right away, but it didn’t happen and I know now why it didn’t. I was ready to contribute, but there were experienced guys in front of me and I had to wait my turn.”
Simply sitting back and watching was an option he had to accept. He knew that schools from his home state of Oklahoma weren’t willing to step up to land him as a high school recruit because he was undersized.
He faces much the same challenge in the NFL.
He was small for major college football – a problem that only gets greater at the NFL level. But he is familiar with the challenge.
“I’ve been dealing with that for a long time,” Brothers said. “All I’ve ever done is just play football. I don’t listen to the outside noise. I just look for my chance to help my team win games and make plays. If I do my best, that’s all I can ask when I get the chance.”
Brothers made his bone as a rookie as a core special teams player and occasional defensive substitution, much in the same way he did as a freshman at Missouri.
He didn’t take it as an insult – most fifth-round picks are moderately delusional to think they’re going to be first-year starters in Year 3 of a coaching regime. He views his growth as a player as paying his dues and improving.
“I learned something new every day,” Brothers said of his rookie season. “In a lot of ways, it’s the same as when I came to college. You want to get better and you can get better if you push yourself.”
What role Brothers will play in 2017 is still up to debate. Ideally, he seems like a run-stopping inside guy, but Eric Kendricks has played well in that role and it’s hard to imagine asking someone who has done his job at a high level to move out of his natural spot.
There has been an indication that Brothers may be in contention to replace the role played by Chad Greenway as the weakside linebacker. Earlier in the offseason, Brothers was listed on the roster of the team’s official website as an outside linebacker – a designation that has since been changed, but, at the time, he was one of the few linebackers given more than simply the “LB” designation.
Whether it’s playing inside, outside or spending another year as a core specials teams player, Brothers is ready to take on any role asked of him.
“I just want to play, man” Brothers said. “I don’t care what role they want me in. I’m ready to do whatever [the coaching staff] wants to me to do to help this team win.”