For Vikings, linebacker isn’t a big draft need

Published 7:24 am Friday, April 21, 2017

By Mark Craig, Star Tribune

For a position that’s not high in need, there sure are a lot of question marks swirling around the Vikings’ linebackers.

Who will replace the retired Chad Greenway in the base defense? Should Eric Kendricks move to the weak side in the base? Can Kentrell Brothers make the leap from rookie special-teamer to starting middle linebacker in the base? Will Anthony Barr stop coasting and start playing like a future All-Pro once again? Can Barr and Kendricks stay healthy and play together for all 16 games for the first time? Will Emmanuel Lamur continue to struggle in his second season with the Vikings? Can promising young Edmond Robinson evolve into a challenger on the weak side or is he strictly a backup on the strong side?

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In free agency, the Vikings lost Audie Cole, who would have competed for a starting job in the base, and signed no linebackers. The team needs another linebacker but probably won’t be looking for one with its first three picks (Nos. 48, 79 and 86).

With Barr, a former first-rounder, and Kendricks, a former second-rounder, locked in as 25-year-old three-down players with Pro Bowl to All-Pro potential, look for the Vikings to wait until Day 3 of the draft before they take a linebacker. General Manager Rick Spielman has selected a linebacker in the seventh round in each of the past five drafts (Cole, Michael Mauti, Brandon Watts, Robinson and Stephen Weaterly, who later was moved to end).

Projected starters: SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Kentrell Brothers, WLB Eric Kendricks.

Don’t forget about: Robinson. Coaches have loved this guy’s atypical height and length, skill set and work ethic since taking him out of tiny Newberry College with the 232nd overall pick in 2015. He has been Barr’s backup on the strong side, starting there twice as a rookie. Can he, in Year 3, evolve into a competitor for playing time on the weak side now that Greenway is gone?

Level of need: Moderate.

Five prospects to remember: Day 3 options: Steven Taylor, ILB, Houston; Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU; Jimmie Gilbert, OLB, Colorado; Marquel Lee, OLB, Wake Forest; Hardy Nickerson, OLB, Illinois.

Our best guess: Spielman will make at least one trade that will garner at least one extra seventh-round pick. Then he’ll use one of those seventh-round picks on a college linebacker for the sixth consecutive season. The first five all made the team. Only Watts fizzled.

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