Over the next couple weeks, Zone Coverage will break down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group.
Today’s Focus: Linebackers
With the retirement of Chad Greenway, the Vikings will be looking for a new emotional leader at the linebacker position. While the nickel package is squared away with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, Minnesota is still looking to find a new starter in its 4-3 base and will likely have a crowded competition for the role throughout the preseason. The Vikings have kept anywhere from six to eight linebackers under Mike Zimmer, so it’s anyone’s guess how many they keep in 2017.
Let’s take inventory.
Departures: Chad Greenway (retired), Audie Cole (JAC)
Arrivals: Ben Gedeon, Elijah Lee, Shaan Washington, Eric Wilson
Already rostered: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Emmanuel Lamur, Edmond Robinson, Kentrell Brothers
THE LONG SHOTS: Shaan Washington, Eric Wilson
The Vikings’ two undrafted free agents at the position will have ground to make up to make the roster, but with very few established players beyond Barr or Kendricks, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Vikings take a flier on Washington or Wilson. Washington played four years for Texans A&M and recorded 20 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks. Wilson played three years for Cincinnati with 14.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Both would likely have the flexibility to move inside or outside, depending on where the Vikings prefer putting them.
A FIVE-MAN BATTLE: Emmanuel Lamur, Edmond Robinson, Kentrell Brothers, Ben Gedeon, Elijah Lee
The most common question in Mankato this August will likely be, ‘Who’s the new Vikings starting linebacker today?’ Of this quintet, which contains a pair of rookies and three returning Vikings, only Lamur played snaps for the Vikings defense a year ago — just 38 of them. The competition for the third linebacker seems like virtually a clean slate heading into 2017.
Who the Vikings choose in this battle will probably come down to where they opt to play Kendricks, who has played middle linebacker each of the last two years but could also be used on the weak side. If they like him at the “Mike,” then backers with better outside skills like Lamur, Lee or Robinson might have the edge. If Kendricks transitions to “Will,” then Gedeon and Brothers may be a better fit.
Prepare to see every imaginable combination and be thrown for many loops. And don’t put too much stock on the Training Camp Day 1 starter. It may be Lamur because of his veteran status, but nothing will be cemented until the preseason concludes.
THE LOCKS: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks
Even though the Vikings picked up Barr’s fifth-year option, this is still very much an audition year for the former first-round pick. Barr will need to improve off of a Year 3 regression — where he was non-descript at best and a liability at worst — for the Vikings to either honor his option or discuss an extension. It’s possible he was playing injured last season and has said he worked on a lot of things in the offseason. Meanwhile, Kendricks’ impressive Year 2 might have vaulted him to best-linebacker-on-the-team status.
Despite Barr’s down year, the long-term vision is still to have these two former UCLA Bruins manning the nickel for a long time.
Making the roster: Barr, Kendricks, Robinson, Brothers, Gedeon, Lee
Practice squad potential: Washington
Possible cut: Lamur