Picking 53: The Vikings’ Middle Linebackers Will Play Important Role

Oct 28, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is pressured by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (97) and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) at State Farm Stadium. Nfl Green Bay Packers At Arizona Cardinals

Few could argue that middle linebacker is as important as corner or edge rusher. That being said, it’s a position that will get new life in the Donatell defense. Indeed, the Vikings will be hoping their middle linebackers make a ton of plays in 2022.

Eric Kendricks, of course, is the main name that stands out. Beyond him, there is Jordan Hicks – a free agent signing – and a lot of young guys. Will the unproven players be enough depth? It’s a question the team will be asking themselves throughout the remainder of their offseason program.

Vikings 53-Man Roster: Middle Linebackers Will Play Critical Role

Kendricks is an incredible player who should thrive in Donatell’s defense. The front four – led by Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, Danielle Hunter, and Za’Darius Smith – will command so much attention that the veteran LB should be able move relatively freely. I don’t buy the trade rumors. He’ll remain in town as one of the key leaders for this team. It’s hard to envision a scenario where the defense bounces back without him being excellent.

Jordan Hicks will complement Kendricks well. The recently-signed LB ought to be used a fair bit as a blitzer. Hicks was sent on blitzes 49 times last, which is actually a significant decline from previous years. He blitzed 89 times in 2020 and 86 times in 2019 (for context, Kendricks got sent on 67 blitzes last year). Despite the relatively modest blitz totals, Hicks got 4 sacks and generated 8 pressures. He had a 74.3 pass rush score on PFF, a grade that was 4th overall among qualifying LBs.

The other names to consider include Brian Asamoah, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, Blake Lynch, Ryan Connelly, and a handful of others. Apparently, the rookie Asamoah is generating some positive reports, largely because of his speed. Since Asamoah’s undersized, it’ll be critical to see how he battles through blockers. As a third-round selection, Asamoah is a near guarantee for the job.

Lynch and Dye are special teams contributors and both have great length. The other name to consider here is Chazz Surratt, who was a third-rounder only a season ago. Unfortunately, he didn’t contribute at all as a rookie. Will the new leadership team keep him around? He might need to snag a spot on the practice squad.

The Send Off

I’m currently leaning toward Minnesota keeping 5 LBs. My basic rationale is that Minnesota wants a few players beyond the starting two since they provide defensive depth and can be strong special teams contributors. In theory, the Vikings can lean on their middle linebackers in special teams coverage since they’re strong enough to shed blockers while being fast enough to get down the field.

My guess is that Kendricks and Hicks will be the starting two (no surprise). From there, I anticipate that the team will keep Asamoah, Dye, and Lynch. The final three will be relied upon to be great special teams players.

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a larger roster prediction series. The previous pieces have covered QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DT, DE, and OLB.

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