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The future of the Vikings, part 7: The linebackers

Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending.

Here are parts 1-6:

the quarterbacks

 running backs

wide receivers

 tight ends 

offensive line

defensive line

Now onto the part 7, the linebackers..

Mike Zimmer relies on his linebackers as much as any head coach in the NFL. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr both played over 90 percent of total snaps this season and rookie Ben Gedeon was in on 25 percent. The LBs played a significant role in the Vikings No. 1 ranking in yards and points, especially contributing with their ability to slow down opposing running backs and tight ends. Minnesota ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed per game to TEs and No. 1 to RBs. They also kept teams contained in the running game. Opponents averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.

The Vikings have a strong group set through next year, but there are still decisions to be made….

The results

Anthony Barr

The Vikings’ former first-round pick had a tremendous start to the season, grading positively by Pro Football Focus in his first nine games. The most noticable part of Barr’s game that was improved from 2016 to 2017 was his tackling. This season opponents broke only 8.2 percent of Barr’s tackles, which was way down from 22.2 percent last year. That number speaks to the possibility he was battling injury in ’16. Barr didn’t have many “splash” plays. He did not have an interception and picked up only one sack, but he did stuff eight runs for negative-22 yards.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Barr’s play faded in the second half. Over the final nine games (including playoffs), Barr registered five negatively graded games by PFF. Overall he finished 44th in the NFL by PFF measures and 38th in coverage – a vast improvement from last season but not to the level of 2014 and 2015.

Eric Kendricks

Slowing running backs in passing game has been key to Vikings’ success on defense

After a slow start to the season, Kendricks returned to being one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL. His lateral quickness made life difficult on opposing running backs on checkdowns and screen passes. Kendricks finished 19th of 77 linebackers in coverage and 37th overall. He dropped down from 4.0 sacks in his rookie year to just 1.0 sack, but he created more pressures this year than in 2015. Kendricks set a career high in stuffed runs and total tackles.

Ben Gedeon

The Vikings drafted Gedeon in the fourth round from Michigan in the 2017 draft with an eye on having the hard-nosed linebacker win a job as a run-stuffing rotational player. Things worked out according to plan as he picked up 37 tackles and ranked in the top 25 by PFF against the run. Gedeon will still have to improve his ability in coverage in order to take on a bigger role.

Emmanuel Lamur

When the Vikings signed Lamur from Cincinnati it appeared he would have bigger role than he’s carved out, but he filled in admirably for a handful of snaps and played around 40 percent of special teams snaps.

Kentrell Brothers

The Vikings drafted Brothers in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He has become one of the team’s most valuable special teams players. As an intelligent and tough player, there’s a possibility he could carve out a bigger role going forward.

Eric Wilson

Wilson won a job out of camp and played nearly 70 percent of special teams snaps.

The options

— Both Kendricks and Barr are heading into the final year of their contracts. Considering the Vikings have ranked fifth, sixth and first in points allowed with them playing nearly every snap over the last three years, it stands to reason the Vikings will want to keep both. Barr could seek money that would rank among the highest paid inside linebackers in the NFL. The Los Angeles Rams had a comparable situation last year. They signed Alex Ogletree to a deal with an average annual value of $10.5 million through 2022 and Mark Barron to a contract worth $9 million AAV through 2021.

— The Vikings could look to add another linebacker who can rotate in or take Barr or Kendricks’ spot if they suffer an injury. Chargers free agent Korey Toomer, for example, played 266 snaps in Los Angeles and scored an 80.3 (out of 100) rating from PFF. They could also bring back Lamur.

— Signing both players to long-term deals is not a complete lock. There is a chance that Barr or Kendricks’ price tag is too high. That wouldn’t affect 2018, but it would force the Vikings to sign a free agent or draft a linebacker high next season.

The bottom line

At least for this year, the Vikings’ linebacking situation is one of the best in the NFL. Barr and Kendricks have played under Mike Zimmer for their entire careers and have complete comfort in his system. One thing that will be interesting to watch is whether Zimmer makes changes after being torched by the Eagles. Will the Vikings use dime packages on third downs instead of always having Barr and Kendricks on the field? Will they rush Barr off the edge more often next season in search of increasing their sack totals.

  • Gordon Guffey

    If I had to pick one today I would go with Kendricks ~ He has proven he should have been drafted in the middle first round IMHO ~

    The Vikings dont have anyone who could replace Kendricks or Barr ~ Do they draft someone high this year in case they do lose one to injury or FA in 2019 ~ ??? That would give the rookie player a year to set and learn ~
    Hopefully they can both resigned ~

    Eric Wilson is my sleeper pick ~ I love what little I got to see of him in the preseason and this past year ~
    Enough can not be said for Brothers on ST ~ Some believe he is talented enough to start if needed ~ I’m not sure so I will leave to the coaches ~ I’m mixed on Gedeon ~ Some days I felt like he should be on the field more and then there are days when I fell like he shouldn’t have been on the field as much ~ But he does seem to have that {{{ It }}} factor and he was a rookie so I’m ~

  • Gordon Guffey

    Anyone think Spielman will trade back into the 2nd round ~ ???

    • linus

      You mean trade back from round 1? I doubt it, ‘cuz he really likes having that fifth-year option. I could see him trading down in round 2 though, ‘cuz he also likes having extra picks.

      • Gordon Guffey

        Good point linus ~ Thanks for that reminder ~ !!!!

  • badzeitgeist

    In general, while this series has been good, in its “Options” sections it has undervalued players we already have who are young. It is as if their inability to break into starting — on a division champion team — means they will never be good enough. For players like Stacey Coley, Jaleel Johnson, Eric Wilson and Tashaun Bower I don’t think that is the case at all. They are good options – perhaps the best options – going forward.

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  • Cman

    Coller, Barr did have a INT if you count the one he had in the Divisional round on Brees.

  • Topgunn

    If I had to choose between Barr or Kendricks, I guess I would take Kendricks. He’s just more consistent. I think the Vikings should have been using Barr more as a pass rusher on 3rd downs and go with a dime package for a long time. That’s what makes it hard to get a handle on Barr’s value. He’s been very good, but I feel like he could have been even better. By the way, I still think $25-$30 million for 5 years for Cousins is doable without losing any other key players.

    • Jake Johnson

      Picking up a $12.3M option on a guy who is outside of the top third pff, goes MIA or is a flat out no-show on occasion, would give me great pause, to say the least. He’s already made set for life money from his 7.5M signing bonus, and sometimes his play reflects it. I don’t think he’s worth that kind of money, and for sure, not long term.

  • cka2nd

    I’d like to see both Barr and Kendricks rotated off the field more, which might help Barr’s consistency and Kendricks’ run defense. Unfortunately, neither Gideon nor Brothers will probably ever have the speed and quickness to handle the coverage responsibilities in Zim’s defense. Lamur, who I would think could be re-signed, was supposed to be able to play a fair number of coverage snaps, and he did play better this year than last, but do Zimmer and Edwards think he can get to the point of playing at least as many defense snaps as Gideon and giving Barr a rest? Wilson is still pretty much a blank slate, but he did beat out a guy in Edmond Robinson whose height, weight and speed were prototypical for Zimmer’s system and who had looked like he might be a rotational player on defense. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lamur back, or another mid-level free agent brought in, and not just a special teamer. A Day 3 OLB draft pick also makes all kinds of sense.


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