Linebacker options best explored early

Khaseem Greene (Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

If negotiations with the Vikings' free-agent linebackers don't work out, there are options that make sense for the Vikings early in the draft, according to analyst Mike Mayock.

If the Vikings are unable to sign their free-agent linebackers – or unwilling to meet their price point for new contracts – there are options to backfill with youth.

Outside linebacker Erin Henderson and middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley are both scheduled to be free agents, but the Vikings are meeting with the representatives for all of their free agents at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week. However, if they are unable to come to terms on a contract extension before the start of free agency on March 12, you can be sure the Vikings will be relying on some information they gather on the rookie candidates this week.

There are options on the inside and outside linebacker spots in the first few rounds. According to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, there are three first-round possibilities at middle linebacker and then the talent pool starts to drop off. The cream of the crop, in Mayock's estimation, is Alec Ogletree, Manti Te'o and Kevin Minter.

"You could give all three of them a first-round grade," Mayock said. "After that, there is a dropoff. You have Kevin Reddick, Kiko Alonso, (Jon) Bostic. So you're either going to get one of those top three guys or wait a couple rounds and get into the third and fourth round and pick up some of those other guys.

Ogletree will be grilled by NFL teams about his arrest for drunk driving earlier this month, and how he responds to that and other questions in interviews with the teams will help shape his draft value.

"If he was clean off the field I'd be banging the table for a top-10 pick. When you start talking about medical issues or off-the-field problems, you get a risk reward scenario, and every team is different with how they assign risk versus reward," Mayock said. "I think most of the teams are going to look at him and say, ‘OK, multiple drug issues and now a D.U.I., we have to account for it somehow. Some teams may say he's off our board. I don't think many teams will, but some teams may say he's off the board.

"… Until teams get to look him in the eye, spend time and grind him as a person, they're just going to discount him now for a while until all of the facts come out. Until they get a better feel for him as a kid, it's going to hurt him a half round, a round. It depends on the team."

Value is in the eye of the selectors, but at this time of year it is also in the eye of the analysts in the media. Those opinions can, at times, vary wildly. Case in point: LB/DE Barkevious Mingo of LSU. NFL Draft Scout has him as a top-five overall draft pick at defensive end. Mayock has him valued much lower and as a linebacker.

"He's 230 pounds. He's got a little stiffness to him. He obviously runs very fast. When the ball goes away from him, he's fantastic. He's a run-and-chase linebacker. He's got upside as a pass rusher," Mayock said. "There is nothing about the kid I don't like. I just don't see a top-10 guy today. To me, I'd feel much more comfortable with him as a developmental 3 4 outside linebacker, somebody that would go somewhere between 25 and 40. I know everybody's got him in the top 10, but I just don't see it right now."

If the Vikings end up looking for an outside linebacker that can cover, there are couple possibilities with their pick at No. 23.

"If you're talking about the first round, I think Khaseem Greene, the outside linebacker from Rutgers, makes a ton of sense. He's a fit for today's NFL. He runs, he's explosive. He makes plays. Most will have him as a mid to late first-round guy," Mayock said.

"You might be able to get Arthur Brown from Kansas State in the second round. And, boy, he's a guy that makes a ton of sense. He can run; he's a playmaker. I like him a lot."

Linebacker certainly isn't a position that most associate with the Vikings in the first round, but if they are looking for a starter, they may have to grab one in the first round and wait for positions that have great depth, like receiver and defensive tackle for the second and third rounds.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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