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Updated: April 18th, 2011 7:40pm
Vikings by position, Day 2: Looking to future at middle linebacker?

Vikings by position, Day 2: Looking to future at middle linebacker?

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Each weekday until the NFL Draft begins on April 28, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 2

Linebackers.

On the roster (5)

LB Jasper Brinkley, LB Heath Farwell, SLB Chad Greenway, MLB E.J. Henderson, LB Kenny Onatolu.

Unsigned (2)

OLB Erin Henderson, WLB Ben Leber.

Breakdown

The Vikings placed the franchise tag on Greenway (6-foot-2, 242 pounds), who signed an offer sheet likely to be worth around $11 million and remains on an upward trajectory at age 28. He led the Vikings with 149 tackles last season while playing 96.9% of the defensive snaps and is in line for a long-term deal that would reduce his 2011 cap number once a new labor agreement is finalized. The Vikings also have expressed interest in retaining Leber (6-3, 244). But he's 32 and rarely sees the field in subpackages (51.1% participation), raising the chances they'll move on with a younger, cheaper option. Though coach Leslie Frazier recently mentioned Brinkley (6-1, 252) and Onatolu (6-2, 225) among the players he wants to get on the field, the former is an inside player with limited coverage skills and the latter is a 28-year-old career special teamer. Another option is Erin Henderson (6-3, 244), who received the low restricted tender ($1.2 million). He recovered a fumble in one of his 22 snaps last season before falling out of favor with coaches and needs to show more discipline. Brother E.J. Henderson (6-1, 245) completed his remarkable recovery from a fractured femur by starting all 16 games, playing 94.5% of snaps and making 139 tackles. The question entering the last year of his contract -- which will pay Henderson $4.7 million in base salary -- is how much production remains for a 30-year-old with a long injury history and a metal rod in his leg? Farwell (6-0, 325) is due a 2011 base salary of $1.75 million, which seems steep for a 29-year-old special teamer who recorded a pedestrian 19 tackles on coverage units last season.

One scout's take

"They franchised (Greenway). You'll probably have to do something there one way or the other. Leber's a free agent. I would imagine they'd want to re-sign him. He's not a bad player, and the other kid, (Erin) Henderson, (is unsigned) as well. Maybe (they'll draft an) outside 'backer."
-- AFC personnel director

Draft outlook

Assuming the next labor agreement upholds franchise tags, outside linebacker is at most a "B"-level need worth mid-round consideration for the Vikings, despite Leber's uncertain status. The third linebacker just isn't on the field enough, since Greenway plays virtually every down and coaches prefer E.J. Henderson call the defense in nickel. The Vikings' connection to multiple top inside linebacker prospects, however, suggests they're at least entertaining the idea of targeting Henderson's successor on the draft's second or third days. It's a sensible consideration -- if the team Brinkley's deficiencies in space will always outweigh his strong downhill run traits.

Last 10 drafts

• 2010: Nathan Triplett (fifth round, 167th overall).
• 2009: Brinkley (fifth, 150th).
• 2008: None.
• 2007: Rufus Alexander (sixth, 176th).
• 2006: Greenway (first, 17th).
• 2005: None.
• 2004: Dontarrious Thomas (second, 48th), Rod Davis (fifth, 155th).
• 2003: E.J. Henderson (second, 40th), Mike Nattiel (sixth, 190th).
• 2002: Raonall Smith (second, 38th), Nick Rogers (sixth, 177th).
• 2001: Patrick Chukwurah (fifth, 157th).

Linked in

According to various reports, the Vikings have held a private workout with Fresno State's Chris Carter and hosted official visits with North Carolina's Quan Sturdivant, Illinois' Martez Wilson, Connecticut's Scott Lutrus and Georgia's Justin Houston, who played end in college but may be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

High fives

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Inside linebackers -- 1. Wilson. 2. Colin McCarthy, Miami. 3. Akeem Dent, Georgia. 4. Sturdivant. 5. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU. Outside linebackers -- 1. Von Miller, Texas A&M. 2. Akeem Ayers, UCLA. 3. Dontay Moch, Nevada. 4. Bruce Carter, North Carolina. 5. Jonas Mouton, Michigan.

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Inside linebackers -- 1. Wilson. 2. McCarthy. 3. Sturdivant. 4. Casey Matthews, Oregon. 5. Sheppard. Outside linebackers -- 1. Miller. 2. Ayers. 3. Justin Houston, Georgia. 4. Bruce Carter. 5. Chris Carter.

Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: Inside linebackers -- 1. Wilson. 2. Greg Jones, Michigan State. 3. Sturdivant. 4. Nate Irving, North Carolina State. 5. McCarthy. Outside linebackers -- 1. Miller. 2. Ayers. 3. Houston. 4. Bruce Carter. 5. Mason Foster, Washington.

Up next

Defensive backs.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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