The Minnesota Vikings have decided to once again carry linebacker Jasper Brinkley on their roster, a linebacker they drafted in 2009. The one-year contract (no numbers are out yet) seems to signal a prove-it deal, and might represent Brinkley’s last shot in the NFL.
In his rookie year, he saw limited duty as a reserve, then as a starter after E.J. Henderson went down. He had a pretty good game against Carolina in that time, but was largely absent from the field. In 2010, he only played in 18 snaps, and he missed all of 2011 with a hip injury. After returning from injured reserve, hopes were high for Brinkley as Vikings fans hoped he could replace E.J. Henderson, who had a poor 2011 due to swelling in his repaired femur and was not re-signed for the 2012 season.
Unfortunately, Brinkley lived up to his scouting report as a linebacker poor in coverage and graded out to have some of the worst coverage in the NFL among inside linebackers, while his performance as a run defender was merely adequate. After that one year as a starter, the Vikings moved on, and Brinkley signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an ILB while Daryl Washington served out a four-game suspension and Kevin Minter developed as a rookie.
Brinkley was relegated to depth when Washington returned and cut recently by Arizona. Brinkley always had a reputation as a run-stuffing linebacker without much ability in the passing game, and he retained that reputation throughout his early play in Arizona. While he did far better there in his 200 snaps than he ever did in Arizona, Todd Bowles demanded more from his linebackers, especially at a position of strength.
The Vikings bringing Brinkley in just means that they’ll have more depth at a position of weakness as they approach camp; there’s little chance, that Brinkley will be the starter in 2014, unless Zimmer determines that Brinkley wins the camp battles.
Should Brinkley play in 2014 like he did in 2013, he would actually be very good depth as a two-down linebacker, but not much more than that. If his true talent is closer to his 2012 film, then there’s little reason he should stay on the roster throughout training camp. Either way, don’t expect the Vikings to use this as the answer at middle linebacker.