Over the next few weeks, Zone Coverage will break down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group and take a stab at which players make the team.
Today’s focus: Linebackers
With their core members back, the Vikings should again be strong at linebacker … presuming nobody gets hurt. There are backup jobs up for grabs after the team let veteran Emmanuel Lamur walk in free agency. A suspended third-year player could also complicate matters entering Week 1.
Departures: Emmanuel Lamur
Additions: Garret Dooley, Devante Downs, Brett Taylor, Reshard Cliett
Returning: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Kentrell Brothers, Eric Wilson, Antwione Williams (from practice squad)
THE LOCKS: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks
Just as one might wonder which receiver the Vikings value most — Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen — the same could be pondered about their top two linebackers. Barr is a former first-round pick entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he’s said his agent is negotiating an extension with the team. Kendricks, the former second-round pick, may not have a ceiling as high as Barr’s, but he was given an extension in April ahead of his former UCLA teammate.
Bottom line: Both are valuable. And it seems like these two will remain together for years to come, barring a hangup in Barr’s contract talks. As the primary A-gap blitzers and nickel-defense stalwarts, they remain integral to Mike Zimmer’s defensive plans.
THE “SOPHOMORES”: Ben Gedeon, Eric Wilson
As a rookie, Gedeon took an early lead in training camp for the team’s third linebacker job and never looked back. While he played less than a quarter of the defensive snaps, he was rarely a liability, doing good work against the run. His position might have been in jeopardy, however, when the team hosted free agent Mychal Kendricks, but Kendricks opted to play for the Cleveland Browns.
Wilson, a UDFA, was a special teams warrior in 2017, which kept him active on all 16 game days. Though he didn’t play a defensive rep, his status may be elevated early in the coming season in light of a suspension to our next player.
OUT FOR FOUR GAMES: Kentrell Brothers
Brothers was the first of two Vikings to get pinned with a four-game PED suspension in April along with WR Cayleb Jones. Like Wilson, Brothers was all over the place on special teams last year but was not a part of the defensive rotation (sans nine snaps in Week 15).
Because the Vikings are shallow at linebacker, Brothers may not lose a job over his transgression, but he’ll need to show up in preseason to prove he deserves to be thrown back in the mix when Week 5 comes around.
ROSTER CONTENDERS: Antwione Williams, Garret Dooley, Devante Downs, Brett Taylor, Reshard Cliett
Realistically, two players out of this group could make the roster, considering the Vikings usually keep six linebackers.
Williams, a former fifth-round pick of the Detroit Lions, seems to have favor at the moment. He stuck with the Vikings practice squad most of last season and got some first-team reps at OTAs when Barr was absent. Having started three games for the Lions in 2016, Williams has more seasoning than any of the other competitors on this list.
Seventh-round pick Downs may have an inside track because he’s a draft pick, but the former California linebacker is still recovering from a knee injury his senior year.
Dooley was an extremely productive outside linebacker at Wisconsin his final two college seasons, while Taylor put up big numbers at FCS Western Illinois. Either one has a chance to leapfrog Downs, whose health concerns could slow him in game action.
Reshard Cliett is a career-long practice squad body, having spent time with six teams in the previous three seasons. He’s a long shot.
Making the roster: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Eric Wilson, Antwione Williams, Garret Dooley
Released: Devante Downs, Brett Taylor, Reshard Cliett
Suspended: Kentrell Brothers