Vikings by position: Hole in middle could mean early action in draft
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Editor's note: Each day until the NFL Draft begins on April 25, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.
On the roster (6)
Jasper Brinkley (signed with Arizona).
The Vikings didn't deem Brinkley a priority in free agency, letting him join the Cardinals on a modest two-year, $3.5 million deal. Instead, they re-signed Henderson (6-foot-3, 244 pounds), who got similar money -- two years, $4 million -- after two seasons starting on the weak side. Henderson has some experience in the middle, too, but he's not an ideal fit there and struggled in coverage last season. Greenway (6-2, 242) is staying on the strong side after arguably his best season and seems to have plenty left at age 30. That could leave the long-levered Cole (6-5, 239) competing inside against whomever the Vikings draft as their mike of the future, with Henderson a fallback option. Mitchell (6-3, 249) took another one-year, minimum salary benefit deal and figures as the top backup outside if he can stay healthy. Dean (6-0, 226) and McKenzie (6-2, 245) were core special teamers last season and probably aren't more than that.
General manager Rick Spielman believes in building through the middle, where the Vikings' most gaping hole happens to lie. It makes sense he'd do his homework on Georgia's Alec Ogletree and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, the two mikes widely projected as first-round picks. A converted safety, Ogletree might be a better fit for the Vikings' Tampa-2 derivative scheme because of his range. But he isn't particularly physical at the point and has been red-flagged by teams for immaturity. Te'o does most of his damage between the tackles, lacks range and will have to overcome perception in a new locker room about the "Catfish" incident in which he has denied involvement. It's impossible to know how they're stacked on the Vikings' board, but if both are gone before pick No. 23, the smart money says Spielman targets another mike in Rounds 2 or 3. The only other middle linebacker widely mentioned as a possible first-round pick is LSU's Kevin Minter. No matter what, expect the Vikings to sign multiple undrafted linebackers for camp depth.
Last 10 drafts
• 2012: Cole (seventh round, 210th overall).
• 2011: Ross Homan (sixth, 200th).
• 2010: Nathan Triplett (fifth, 167th).
• 2009: Brinkley (fifth, 150th).
• 2008: None.
• 2007: Rufus Alexander (sixth, 176th).
• 2006: Greenway (first, 17th).
• 2005: None.
• 2004: Donatarrious Thomas (second, 48th); Rod Davis (fifth, 155th).
• 2003: E.J. Henderson (second, 40th);
The Vikings had Ogletree and Te'o at Winter Park for their Top 30 event, along with Florida State's Vince Williams. They also conducted an interview at the NFL scouting combine with Te'o, who reportedly had dinner with Spielman before his campus workout last month.
• Mel Kiper, ESPN: Outside linebackers -- 1. Dion Jordan, Oregon; 2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU; 3. Jarvis Jones, Georgia; 4. Sio Moore, Connecticut; 5. Arthur Brown, Kansas State. Inside linebackers -- 1. Te'o; 2. Ogletree; 3. Kevin Minter, LSU; 4. Jonathan Bostic, Florida; 5. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers.
• Mike Mayock, NFL Network: 4-3 outside linebackers -- 1. Jones; 2. Arthur Brown, Kansas State; 3. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers; 4. Moore; 5. Chase Thomas, Stanford. 3-4 outside linebackers -- 1. Jordan; 2. Mingo; 3. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss; 4. Michael Buchanan, Illinois; 5. Corey Lemonier, Auburn. Inside linebackers -- 1. Ogletree; 2. Te'o; 3. Minter; 4. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina; 5. Kiko Alonso, Oregon.