Vikings by position, Day 8: Recent misses have left linebackers thin
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
Each weekday until the NFL Draft begins on April 26, 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.
On the roster (7)
Kenny Onatolu (signed with Carolina).
After sitting out last season because of hip surgery, Brinkley (6-foot-1, 252 pounds) is healthy again and stands to get his long-awaited shot to start at middle linebacker. He has downhill run traits and a reputation as a big hitter, but dropping into coverage has never been his strength. E.J. Henderson (6-1, 245) turns 32 in August, battled swelling in his left knee all of last season and might be finished after nine seasons, at least in Minnesota. That could mean an expanded role for brother Erin Henderson (6-3, 244), who primarily played on the weak side in the base defense in his first season as a starter but also held up well in turns as the nickel mike. A one-year deal that maxes out at $2 million gives Henderson a chance to cash in if he keeps ascending and shows he can be disciplined. Greenway (6-2, 242) led the Vikings with 174 tackles (104 solo) last season but wasn't as impactful and had issues in coverage (77.9% completions, five touchdowns, 120.8 rating) after signing a five-year, $41 million contract before the opener. Having Fred Pagac back as co-linebackers coach should make a difference. Dean (6-0, 226) is the only other linebacker on the roster who appeared in a game for the Vikings last season. He primarily played on special teams and had 14 tackles. Elimimian (6-0, 227) was a Canadian Football League all-star before the Vikings signed him to a two-year deal with no guarantees in January. He could get a look at all three spots. Mitchell (6-3, 249) is a career special teamer who has appeared in 71 games over five seasons with New Orleans and Miami. He's on a one-year contract and figures to take Onatolu's place if he makes the team. McKenzie (6-2, 245) spent all of last season on the practice squad and returned on a futures contract. He's 26 and last played in a regular-season game in 2010 with Tampa Bay. Adibi (6-2, 242) just ate up a roster spot last season and is gone.
The Vikings have selected four linebackers over the past five drafts and only one of them (Brinkley) has even become a contributor. That has left the position in need of an influx that could begin on the draft's second day, barring a significant trade down in Round 1 that might bring Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly into play. More likely, they'll take a mike linebacker in the middle rounds and perhaps add another body late.
Last 10 drafts
• 2011: Ross Homan (sixth round, 200th overall).
• 2010: Nathan Triplett (fifth, 167th).
• 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).
The Vikings have had no known visits with linebackers.
• Mel Kiper, ESPN: Inside -- 1. Kuechly. 2. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama. 3. Mychal Kendricks, Cal. 4. Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State. 5. Bobby Wagner, Utah State. Outside -- 1. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. 2. Lavonte David, Nebraska. 3. Shea McClellin, Boise State. 4. Terrell Manning, North Carolina State. 5. Demario Davis, Arkansas State.
• Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Inside -- 1. Kuechly. 2. Hightower. 3. Kendricks. 4. James-Michael Johnson, Nevada. 5. Tank Carder, TCU. Outside -- 1. McClellin. 2. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina. 3. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois. 4. David. 5. Andre Branch, Clemson.
• Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: Inside -- 1. Kuechly. 2. Hightower. 3. Kendricks. 4. Johnson. 5. Audie Cole, North Carolina State. Outside -- 1. Upshaw. 2. Ingram. 3. Zach Brown, North Carolina. 4. David. 5. Cam Johnson, Virginia.