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The Vikings are less than two days away from free agency and they have yet to resign any of their own pending free agents. On offense, they stand to take a big step backwards if they lose Phil Loadholt, Jerome Felton, and maybe even Percy Harvin all at once. Those are roles that would be tough to fill all at once, let alone upgrade.
On defense, however, the Vikings have three guys that have started games for them that are set to be free agents and it is hard to picture replacements being any major step back. In fact, when it comes to Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, and Jamarca Sanford I think the Vikings could conceivably upgrade each spot without too much trouble and without over-investing. It may not come to that, as each player still seems possible to return, but the Vikings have to look for new linebacker talent regardless.
There are a number of linebackers at the top of the draft class that generate a significant amount of buzz, but each comes with red flags that can’t ignored, such as Manti Te’o's bizarre girlfriend saga and Alec Ogletree’s DUI. Arthur Brown seems to be quite popular with some fans, but I don’t know that I would want to spend a first round pick on a guy that might not be a three down player for the Vikings, and I do worry that it is the case with him.
Later on in the Draft, however, it is more excusable to select a linebacker that might have some question marks or maybe isn’t going to be a full time player. Especially at weakside linebacker, manned by Erin Henderson these last few years, when two downs is possibly all that will be expected anyways.
When it comes to a guy that I think could prove to be a clear upgrade over Henderson, especially in coverage, that can be found a little later in the Draft I have to say that I have a crush on Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore.
For a while I thought I would end up writing this post as a “sleeper” feature that brought attention to a damn fine football player that was largely being ignored. Then Moore had himself a dandy week during the East-West Shrine Game and lit it up at the NFL Scouting Combine, so the cat is out of the bag, and most are projecting him as a solid second or third round pick.
At 6′ 1″ and 245 pounds, Moore isn’t the biggest linebacker you’ll find, but he brings a rare combination of speed and strength to his game that Vikings could certainly use. If their primary objective with their linebackers is to improve in coverage, which it should be, then Moore could be the perfect fit as evidenced by his 11 pass breakups in 2012.
At the Combine he was among the top performers in a number of categories including the forty yard dash (4.65 seconds), the bench press (29 reps), the vertical jump (38″), and the broad jump (127″). His smaller frame is going to worry some personnel decision makers, but that bench press total was good for second place in Indianapolis, and indicates that he is actually as strong as he looks on tape.
Moore shows that he knows how to use his strength to shed blocks and rush the passer. While he is already a good coverage linebacker, that strength also gives him an advantage here, as he is fairly proficient at jamming and rerouting bigger receivers and tight ends at the line of scrimmage, which makes everyone’s job easier on defense including his.
As a senior (he redshirted as a freshman) Moore actually saw his lowest tackle totals of his career (72) but was clearly better in all phases of the game, as evidenced by the increase of production in all other major statistical categories. His 7.5 sacks and 11 passes defended were career highs, while his 15.5 tackles for a loss were only 0.5 away from his 2011 total. Moore uses sound fundamentals while tackling and is usually going to make the stop, but does sometimes struggle with an agile ball carrier one-on-one in the open field.
The Liberian-born Moore is known as a disciplined and instinctive football player that works hard and is quick to diagnose a play. He will benefit from being coached up at the NFL level, as he could increase his arsenal of moves and learn to use his hands better, but he is certainly a well-rounded prospect that should succeed on special teams from the get-go and move up the ranks fairly quickly.
Moore’s small frame is going to be his most worrisome trait, as many feel it limits his upside, but we have seen plenty of players defy these odds in the past. We have seen talented linebackers fall in the Draft before because they are thought to be best suited for the 4-3, so the Vikings could be making a solid addition if they grab Moore in the second round, but get an absolute steal if he is available in third or fourth.
Below is some game tape (not highlights) of Moore at work. For fun though, I suggest you go to YouTube and search his name. He has a number of entertaining videos posted that display his strength in interesting ways. If you like Joe Webb’s jump-over-the-mats video, then you are sure to like some of Moore’s videos, as well.