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Appraoching The Draft: Middle Linebacker

CURRENT STATUS: E.J. Henderson has developed into one of the better linebackers in the NFL. Prior to his injury last season he was creating quite a few highlights, including the patented “vampire tackle” (when he flies over the center and the fullback for a great sack on the QB) which has become a patented favorite in my household.

As long as Henderson faces no major hitches in recovering, which Childress said he probably could’ve played at the end of last season, then he should be secure in the starting position. Heath Farwell is thought of as Henderson’s primary backup at this point, with David Herron also thrown into the mix.

The Vikings let Napoleon Harris and Dontarius Thomas both leave in free agency, but seeing as they were both mid-season signings, there may not be much impotence to re-sign or replace them. However, if the Vikings learned anything from last year, it is the importance of having quality depth at the linebacker position.

ROUND ONE: Ray Maualuga from USC is widely regarded as the best inside linebacker in this year’s draft. While he’s almost sure to go in the first round, there is a small chance that he is available when the Vikings select at #22. While the Vikings are happy with the play of E.J. Henderson, picking Maualuga at #22 would by no means be a reach or a bad thing. He’s a great football player who appears to be a pretty complete linebacker. If there’s a knock on him, it’s that he struggles with covering the slot receiver, but what middle linebacker doesn’t?

WHO THEY SHOULD TARGET: One of those things that scouts try their hardest to look for, but can’t always recognize, is the “heart” a player has. In other words, how badly the player wants to succeed and win ball games. A player with a great amount of heart is Ronnie Palmer of Arizona, who is projected to go undrafted. He had 70 tackles for Arizona last season, has a knack for intercepting passes that is rare in linebackers, and has good size (6’ 3”, 245 lbs). Palmer has all the necessary tools to make a serious run at being an NFL linebacker, and if he does indeed go undrafted (which I think is insane) then the Vikings need to get on the horn with him the minute the draft ends.

LEAST LIKELY TO BE TARGET: Michael Tauilliili of Duke has been an absolute monster on the field. He’s generated an amazing 140 tackles this last season, 13 of which were for a loss. Unfortunately, he comes with a long rap sheet and will probably go undrafted because of it. The Vikings have made a real effort to become a more character-driven team and I don’t see them risking a P.R. disaster because of an undrafted, third string linebacker.

MOST LIKELY TO BE TARGETED: Florida State’s Derek Nicholson will go undrafted because of concerns surrounding a torn ACL. The upside here is that the injury occurred two years ago and he has started in 25 consecutive games ever since. He’s a hard worker that notched 76 tackles, 15 for a loss, and possesses the size and speed to contribute in depth and on special teams. This is exactly the type of lunch pail player that slips through the cracks and 10 years from now everyone says “How the heck did he go undrafted?”

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