Vikings FA Fits: LB David Long Provides Youth, Speed, & Pass Rush Upside

Can LB David Long fix what ails Minnesota’s defense?

Perhaps the first position Vikings fans have been looking toward improving is linebacker. Both Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks are well-paid veterans who had some struggles in 2022. Both have been included in cut chatter given that the decision to move on from the pair could free up $14.5 million in cap space.

If that occurs, LB David Long is a name to remember.

The Basic Details: LB David Long

  • 26 years old. 5’11”, 227 pounds.
  • 2019 6th-round selection.
  • 12 starts in 2022 (12 games played).
  • 86 tackles, 7 TFLs, 5 PDs, 2 INTs, 10 missed tackles.
  • 76.2 PFF grade, 13th among linebackers.

The Talk Around Town

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com lists Long as his 25th-best free agent:

A December hamstring injury won’t erase Long’s breakout season as one of the most dynamic off-ball linebackers in football. Every team needs a dude who can stay on the field for all three downs.

Dec 4, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell (14) runs past Tennessee Titans linebacker David Long Jr. (51) during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PFF lists Long as their 12th-best free agent:

The Titans ask a lot of their off-ball linebackers, and Long can do it all. His 89.0 run-defense grade in 2022 ranked fourth at the position, with his 13 tackles for loss or no gain tied for 12th. Long plays a downhill, attacking brand of football that helps him blow up a lot of plays but also makes him particularly susceptible to over-committing on play-action passes and missing tackles when he takes a poor pursuit angle. Nevertheless, he is clearly an ascending young player contributing immensely to Tennessee’s defense that finished first in expected points added per rush allowed on the season. 

Finally, CBS lists him as their 33rd-best free agent:

Long has a career-high 86 tackles this season, standing out in an injured Titans defense. He is an excellent off-ball linebacker and can play all three downs. This is a good class for MIKE linebackers, but Long shouldn’t be excluded. 

The Fit in Minnesota

As we mentioned up top, the Vikings may be looking for a fresh infusion of youth (read: speed) among the linebacker group. There is palpable optimism among Minnesota fans when it comes to the soon-to-be sophomore Brian Asamoah, but he alone isn’t the entire solution.

Long, at 26, still has room to keep ascending (as the above quotes suggest). One of the more fascinating parts of his game are his coverage numbers, which are a mixed bag. He allowed 73.6% of passes into his coverage to be completed and yet QBs had a collective 74.1 passer rating when targeting him. He didn’t allow a TD all year and the completions went for an average of 8.6 yards.

In other words, balls can be completed on Long, but he must do a nice job of rallying for the tackle to limit the damage.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Hicks, in contrast, allowed a 11.7 yards-per-completion average. Kendricks was at 9.3. Both Minnesota linebackers had a passer rating against the came in above 100.

Being an effective blitzer – he finished as PFF’s 4th-best pass rushing linebacker – is an added bonus. The Vikings covet more defensive weapons, and Long may be one of them. He added 6 pressures and 3 QB knockdowns to his stats in 2022. However, he is yet to pick up a sack in his NFL career.

As with everything else in the NFL, much will come down to the dollars and cents. Since he’s coming off a rookie deal as a 6th rounder, Long is likely looking for a pretty significant raise. Minnesota could accommodate that raise provided it isn’t astronomical. Even if it was, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could kick the majority of the compensation into 2024 and 2025 (and potentially beyond).

One wonders if a 3-year deal coming in around $25 million total with a decent chunk guaranteed would be enough to do the trick. At that price, Long would be among the higher end for linebacker deals without being at the very top of the market. After all, he is coming off an injury and has yet to play a full season in the NFL.

Perhaps the Vikings would be interested in LB David Long in that range, thus offering the potential for some added explosion on the defensive side of the ball. For better or worse, a Long/Asamoah duo would inject a lot more youth and speed into Minnesota’s defense.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

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