Eric Wilson doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of love that Anthony Barr or Eric Kendricks do. That makes sense because he only took over a starting job last season when Ben Gedeon got hurt and hasn’t been anywhere nearly as consistent as those two studs.
However, Wilson has a knack for making big plays on the field and is a magnet for the football. He potentially could have a more productive season than both Kendricks and Barr, and here are some reasons why:
He put up big numbers with limited opportunity
Wilson came into the league as an undrafted free agent back in 2017. He played sparingly in his first two years, primarily as a standout on special teams, but he got worked into the defense in Year 2, accumulating 336 snaps on defense. After Gedeon suffered multiple concussions, Wilson took on a starter’s role and saw his snap count increase to 379. He flourished in that role and ended his 2019 season with 62 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks.
Those were impressive numbers. Wilson has a knack for making impact plays which is something the team just didn’t get from Gedeon. His production last season was very impressive, even moreso when realizing he played about a third of the snaps that Kendricks and Barr did.
In the six games that Wilson started, he had 38 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks. When projecting that over a 16-game season, he would’ve finished with 101 tackles, eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Those numbers would’ve made him the team leader in sacks and tackles for loss, and just nine away from the lead in combined tackles.
Having Wilson start from Day 1 producing at the pace he did last year would have arguably already made him the leader of this linebacking unit.
He can play inside or out
Another factor that benefits Wilson and makes him a strong candidate to be the team’s most productive linebacker in 2020, is the fact he can play inside or out. His versatility allows him to not only hold the starting weak side linebacker job but to be the primary backup to both Barr and Kendricks. This only creates more opportunity for Wilson to produce.
In Mike Zimmer’s defense, more is asked of the strong side and middle linebacker. They are the ones who make the majority of the plays, and if Wilson and his athletic gifts find themselves at one of these positions, there could be more chances to rack up sacks, tackles and tackles for loss.
There has been talk that Zimmer will be mixing up his looks this year, so perhaps Wilson gets moved around even if there isn’t an injury to a starter. Zimmer could try to use Wilson inside and send him up the A-Gap, or try him outside and see if he can get to the quarterback coming off the strong side. Wilson’s versatility and past production could lead to a major increase in snaps this upcoming season, which will, in turn, lead to a large uptick in production.
He’s in a contract year
Not only could Wilson see more snaps this year and be used in multiple roles, but he’s also got that motivation of playing in a contract year. Wilson is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and will do all he can to earn himself and his family a huge payday. If Wilson puts up numbers around that 100 tackle mark with a handful of sacks and over 10 tackles for loss, other teams will take notice.
Not every linebacker out there can play all three spots, make splash plays and provide the consistent production that Wilson can. Factor in that he’s 25, and Wilson will get some pretty big offers that will set him up for life if he can reach that potential.
The downside of all of this is that Wilson will likely play himself out staying in Minnesota.
It has been reported there will be adjustments to the salary cap due to the projected loss of revenue from playing with no fans due to COVID-19. These adjustments will result in a lower cap number, negatively impacting every team. This will make it hard for the Vikings to afford Wilson if he has the type of breakout year he’s capable of.
The Vikings likely realized they wouldn’t be able to re-sign Wilson at seasons’ end and took Troy Dye in the fourth round in the draft this year, so they have a young and exciting option waiting in the wings. While it will be bittersweet to see Wilson leave, Vikings’ fans should take pleasure in watching this guy make plays all over the field for the team in 2020 and helping the Purple make a playoff push.