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OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Outside Linebacker

[For more previews of this nature, click on the “2010 Offseason Tracker” tab at the top of this screen.]

2009 Season

Besides the occasional lapse in pass coverage, the Vikings saw great production out of their starting outside linebackers in 2009.

Chad Greenway led the Vikings with 80 tackles.  He also had a forced fumble and three interceptions.  He did, however, lead the team with 12 missed tackles.  This was problem early on that seemed to get fixed by mid-season.  Greenway ended up being an alternate for the Pro Bowl.

On the other side, Ben Leber impressed the heck out of me this season and I personally thought he should have been worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.  Leber ended the season with 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.  It should also be noted that he played a big part in filling the void left by E.J. Henderson because he often played middle linebacker in nickel situations.  In the post-season, Leber led the team in tackles and also registered the team’s only interception.

The production and durability of these two guys kept reserves like Heath Farwell, Erin Henderson, and Kenny Onatolu from seeing any significant playing time.

Current Roster

When it comes to outside linebacker starters, the Vikings are not at a crossroads this season.  But a very large crossroads is on the horizon.

Both Chad Greenway (age 27) and Ben Leber (age 31) are entering their contract season.  Re-signing former first-round pick Chad Greenway to a long term deal will doubtless be a priority for the Vikings in the next year or so, but things are a little less clear for Ben Leber.  Leber’s age could play into a Vikings decision, and so could the perception that Leber is a starter that is easily upgraded (I disagree heavily with that perception).

In fact, there are no Viking linebackers that are set to be free agents (unrestricted OR restricted) this offseason and it could be assumed that the same crew will be back for training camp this year.

Unrestricted Free Agency

I am hard pressed to find a free agent outside linebacker that should get anyone too excited, especially for a 4-3 defense.  Keith Bullock is probably the best option available, but his ACL tear in 2009 leaves plenty of question marks.  Scott Fujita is a decent run stopper but does not offer any more talent or youth than Leber does.  I don’t even want to joke about seeing Joey Porter in purple.

Restricted Free Agency

Even in restricted free agency, there is very little to get you excited enough that you want your team to give up draft picks to obtain them.

Shawne Merriman, Rocky McIntosh, Thomas Davis, Tyjuan Hagler, and Clint Ingram are all solid players with injury concerns.  No clear upgrade over Leber in this bunch either.

Draft Possibilities

It is reasonable to suspect the Vikings will draft at least one outside linebacker in the upcoming draft. 

Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri) is widely regarded as the top 4-3 outside linebacker in the upcoming class.  He is expected to come off the board towards the end of the first round or beginning of the second, however, I think his leadership abilities and intelligence could ensure he gets drafted long before the Vikings have a shot at him.

Behind him sit A.J. Edds (Iowa) and Navorro Bowman (Penn State) who project as starting quality linebackers that could fall because of a lack of demand for 4-3 linebackers.  Also, Bowman has had some legal troubles involving disorderly conduct and marijuana… which means Brad Childress may want to go smell some cars before making a decision.  These two guys will warrant some attention when the Vikings choose in the second round and will be hard to pass up if one of them falls to the Vikings in the third round (the more I see of some of these second and third round picks at most positions the more I would be pleased to see the Vikings trade back.  There is some great value in this draft).

I suspect the Vikings will most seriously consider an outside linebacker later in the draft.  Some mid-to-late round guys to keep an eye on are Roddrick Muckelroy (Texas), Dekoda Watson (Florida State), and Stevenson Sylvestor (Utah).

Trade Possibilities

I don’t see the Vikings wanting to trade away either Leber or Greenway and I don’t see them as desperate enough to find Leber’s replacement that they would make a blockbuster trade to acquire someone else.

Any trades involving outside linebackers will probably revolve around reserves, and I don’t think any of those will even happen.

Projections

Chad Greenway is deserving of a long term, big money deal and he will eventually get one.  However, until the CBA is decided on the Vikings may hesitate to commit a large sum of money to any player, including Greenway, until they know what rules they need to play under.  If the CBA talks drag on for a very long time, then it is possible that the Vikings resort to simply applying the franchise tag to him after the upcoming season.

If Ben Leber can play as well in 2010 as he did in 2009 then he may play himself into a new contract with the Vikings that will take him to retirement.  If his production slips, however, then I suspect he will be playing his last year with the Vikings. 

I don’t really see much need to do anything drastic at outside linebacker.  If the best player on the Vikings board happens to be an outside linebacker, whether it be in the first round or seventh round, then the Vikings should not hesitate to pull the trigger.

I suspect we’ll see them stand pat at outside linebacker, with the exception of a possible pick made in rounds four to seven.


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4 Responses to “OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Outside Linebacker”

  1. Ole says:

    big improvement in the LB position compared to a couple of years ago when we had Nap Harris and his band of unforgetables (including Smoot)

  2. Ole says:

    former Viking great Wally Hilgenberg’s nephew, Kelsey Nakanelua, held the title of “Hawaii’s Fastest Man” for several years

    Never met Wally, but his nephew is an egomaniac

    ….. and is no longer “Hawaii’s Fastest Man”

  3. Fragile Freds says:

    You’re a bad bad man Ole.

  4. Todd Flaxton says:

    Mister From Oahu- You’d better clean up your act. I know you are freinds with my nemesis Mister Random. He is nothing but trouble na dnever goes to church. Your friend, Todd Flaxtom

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