Edmond Robinson was drafted in 2015 by the Vikings in the 7th round. At 6’3 245 he has the build of your typical WILL linebacker. While also running a 4.61 at the combine, he has the athleticism you want for a guy on the perimeter. He played D2 football but didn’t excel against the lower competition levels. He needs to add strength but his ability to move in space is what intrigued the Vikings into selecting him with every intention of giving him time to develop. Though he’s shown flashes of his potential, he can often be a liability in coverage.
So, while these two positions co-exist today in the NFL, the Vikings might already have their replacements on the current roster. However, if the Vikings were to look towards the draft to add help, what are their options? In a defensive class this deep, Mike Zimmer is probably itching to get his hands on quite a few of these guys. He loves his corners and believes you can never have enough of them. Lucky for him this is one of the deepest cornerback classes of the decade. PFF has 18 corners listed on their top 100 board, while others have as many as 24. This means the Vikings can likely get quality talent at the position in the 3rd/4throunds. But if they choose to take a corner earlier, it won’t be a good sign in their confidence in alexander. But if there’s anything we know about Mike Zimmer’s philosophies, he doesn’t ask his rookies to do much at the cornerback position. He wants to give them time to develop and when he feels they understand their job, he gives them chances to prove their ready. Expect them to draft a corner for depth and to learn.
As far as linebacker, PFF only has 4 ranked in their top 100, Only 12 in the top 200. Others have as many as 7 in their top 100, and 13 in their top 200. Not a deep class to say the least. Especially for guys who fit the Outside linebacker mold. Two top guys who fit the Vikings should they fall are Rueben foster whose stock is dropping due to off field issues and injury concerns, and Zach Cunningham who has been projected as high as 18 and as low as 51 in most mocks. But is OLB really a priority for the Vikings at 48? Are 15 snaps a game worth a high draft pick with so many other needs in the trenches? Do the Vikings take Best Player Available, or Best Player Available at a positon of need. We are days away from finding out. But look for the Vikings to go elsewhere at 48 and grab their guy in the later rounds. Though Zimmer has been tough on his rookies, the linebackers have been the ones he’s leaned on early(Barr, Kendricks). A few names to keep an eye on in the middle rounds are Duke Riley, Blair Brown, and Elijah Lee.
Duke Riley from LSU was a late bloomer, bursting on the scene as a senior. He has limited starts under his belt but took full advantage. Leading the team with 93 tackles, 9 for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception. He stands at 6′ ft weighing 232 pounds. Ran a 4.58 40 time. While Riley’s straight line speed is intriguing, he’s not exactly a freak athlete. He struggles against running backs out of the backfield, can struggle getting off blocks, and has a lot of learning to do in the second level. He does however burst through gaps, diagnose zone reads, and blow up plays underneath with ease. Riley has a lot of untapped potential. He has a lot of similarities to Eric Kendricks in not only his play style, but his build. They both have identical height and weight coming out, Riley just a little faster (Kendricks 4.61) Expect riley to go between late 2nd-late 3rd round.
Blair Brown from Ohio has built up a lot of steam around his name as of late, leading the team with 128 tackles, 15 for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. At 5’11 238 pounds, Brown ran a 4.65 40 time. He plays with the urgency you want from a linebacker at the NFL level. Very instinctive, trusts his reads as plays develop, and gets to the line of scrimmage quickly. He closes in on gaps and drives through his blockers. He ranked number 1 in all FBS in tackling efficiency. While he excels in the run game, he is a liability in coverage. The last two season he has ZERO passes defensed. He tends to underestimate speed to the outside and take poor angles. He can get lost in zone coverage underneath. His coaches at Ohio praised him for his ability to learn and while athletically he has all the intangibles, he’s definitely going to need some coaching. Expect Blair to go in rounds 4-5.
Elijah Lee from Kansas state has received the most attention from the Vikings. After receiving first team All BIG 12 honors, Lee somehow did not receive an invite to the combine. He drew attention from MIN, MIA, LA Rams, LA Chargers, NYJ, ARI, WASH, ATL, PHI, TB, SEA, DET, SF, JAX, CAR. Lee recently stated the Vikings had shown the most interest in the Linebacker. Lee stands at 6’3 228 pounds and Ran a 4.72. A real rangy Linebacker, who closes in on the line quickly. Has the quickness to get to the outside and cut guys off on the edge. Takes correct angles and excels in space. Meets running backs at the hole, and though he’s light in the weight department, he’s shown when he uses his hands correctly he can get off blocks quickly. He does need to add some lower body strength in order to succeed. He tends to wrap and throw/drag guys down rather that wrap and drive. Would like to see him use his shoulders more. But he’s the most intriguing prospect out of these three because of his potential. He has the highest ceiling and we’ve see what Zimmer is capable of doing with helping Athletic guys put it all together. Expect lee to go in the 4-5th rounds.
With all this being said, there is one guy who is the ultimate wild card Jabrill Peppers. At Michigan, Peppers played Safety, Corner, Linebacker, Running back, and was a return man. Though he has been listed as a “master of none’ hybrid, its his versatility that makes him an intriguing prospect for the Vikings. At 5’11 215 pounds, Peppers build will allow him to come in at WILL linebacker in sub-packages. Add that with a 4.46 40 time, he has the speed you want for a guy on the perimeter. He can line up and guard slot Receivers, and play safety. He excels running spys on running backs and quarterbacks. He has all the desired traits you want for a guy who will play in space. He flows from sideline to sideline with fluent hips. He is capable of blitzing off the edge, or on a stunt. Like Mackensie Alexander, a lot of questions flowing around Peppers are based off his lack of ball production. With only 10 passes defensed and 1 interception, he does need work in coverage, but its still interesting to see what Zimmer could do with a guy like him. Expect him to go late 1st-Mid 2nd.