NFL Combine: DL, LB workouts begin, what positions do Vikings need?
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Each day of NFL Scouting Combine workouts we'll highlight one or two positions that will work out and are also of need for the Minnesota Vikings.
Defensive linemen and linebackers will compete in the NFL Scouting Combine on-field drills on Monday. Offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists wrapped up on Saturday while 'skill' players in quarterbacks, running backs and receivers completed their drills on Sunday. Defensive backs are slated to close out the Combine on Tuesday.
Vikings' current situation: Regardless of what system first-year head coach Mike Zimmer implements for the Vikings defense, he'll need extra bodies at linebacker. Weak-side and nickel linebacker Chad Greenway turned 31 in January and exhibited a visible decline in performance while playing through a fractured wrist last season. Linebacker Erin Henderson was cut earlier this month and fill-in Audie Cole is a work in progress. The Vikings drafted two linebackers in 2013 with Gerald Hodges (120th overall) and Michael Mauti (213th overall), but could use an immediate difference maker if the right quarterback isn't available at No. 8.
Who to watch: The Vikings have one pick in each round of May's NFL Draft, with exception of a second third-round pick (96th overall). Here are three linebackers to watch on Monday.
Khalil Mack - Projected by most draft experts as the top linebacker in the 2014 class, Mack is a viable option for the Vikings at No. 8 if the right quarterback isn't available. Checking in at 6'3" and 245lbs, Mack set FBS records with 75 tackles for losses and 16 forced fumbles in his career at Buffalo. NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock went as far to say he'd take Mack over the likes of consensus top-five pick and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
C.J. Mosley - Mayock's second-ranked linebacker in the 2014 class, Mosley is a two-time BCS National Champion with the Crimson Tide and led Alabama with 107 tackles in 2012 as the weak-side linebacker. At 6'2" and 232lbs, Mosely could be the Vikings' answer as a nickel linebacker alongside Greenway as he excels in pass coverage - deflecting 18 passes in his Alabama career. Mosley suffered a gruesome knee injury in the 2012 championship game and had dislocated his elbow the year before.
Anthony Barr - A potential 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, Barr checks in at 6'5" and 244lbs. His physical attributes offer unique versatility as he switched to an outside linebacker at UCLA in 2012 after spending his first two seasons as a running back. Barr racked up a few highlight hits during his time as a Bruin and could be a good fit for a Vikings defense desperately in need of a disruptive force.
Position: Defensive line
Vikings' current situation: Even if the Vikings ultimately resign defensive end Everson Griffen, that still leaves them with two ends under contract. Jared Allen seems destined to test the free agency waters for the first time in his NFL career and the Vikings will need to stockpile depth along the defensive line. After drafting Sharrif Floyd with their first-overall selection in 2013, the Vikings still leaned upon 33-year-old Kevin Williams more than they had planned at the three technique. Now Williams, defensive tackle Fred Evans, Griffen and Allen are all free agents when the new league year starts in March and the Vikings will need an injection of youth along the line.
Who to watch:
Trent Murphy - Stanford product Trent Murphy is Mayock's fifth-ranked defensive end in the 2014 class even though that's not his fulltime position. Murphy played outside linebacker for the Cardinal and was set to lineup as a defensive end at the Senior Bowl before switching back the day before the game. Murphy is the type of hybrid pass rusher the Vikings could use as they look to nail down their defensive scheme. Listed at 6'6" and 261lbs, Murphy was a load to handle for PAC-12 opposing offensive linemen. A consensus All-American selection and first-team All-Pac-12 pick, he led the FBS with 15 sacks in his final season at Stanford and recorded at least one sack in 10 of 14 games.
Ra'Shede Hageman - The Gophers product is another physical specimen, checking in at 6'6" and 311 pounds. Hageman finished tied for third among all defensive linemen with 32 reps of 225lbs in the bench press at the Combine - 10th among all Combine participants, while Clowney could only muster 21 reps. Some pointed to Clowney's arm length as the issue, but Hageman (34 ¼") only trails Clowney (34 ½") by a quarter of an inch in that department. He may not have the technique to play on the outside, but he could provide some relief on the inside if Griffen is resigned and needs to lineup fulltime at defensive end.
Kony Ealy - Ealy ranks as Mayock's second-best defensive end available in the draft and depending on who is available at No. 8, Ealy could be the prototypical Zimmer defensive end that he had in Cincinnati. Each of the three defensive line prospects listed here are 6'5" or taller and that's the type of player Zimmer cultivated with the Bengals in 6-foot-6-inch Carlos Dunlap and 6-foot-7-inch Michael Johnson, who is a pending free agent. Ealy tallied eight sacks in his final season at Missouri and is projected to be a first-round draft pick in May.