With the fee agency flurry leaving the Vikings roster somewhat shaken up there is one glaring need that sticks out above the rest at this moment. Sure, cornerback and wide receiver need to be a point of emphasis. Defensive tackle could still use some work. There is one need, however, that seems quite a bit more desperate than the others.
Jasper Brinkley has signed with Arizona while Marvin Mitchell remains a free agent. That means the position is virtually unfilled at this point and could potentially be a first round priority during the NFL Draft.
So far, Manti Te’o is the only other middle linebacker we have profiled in this series, but we will certainly be filling you in on plenty of other prospects at the position prior to Draft Weekend. Today, I want to take a look at LSU middle linebacker Kevin Minter, who many Vikings fans have on their wish list for April.
Minter became a starter at LSU in 2011 after his predecessor, Kelvin Sheppard, was drafted in the third round. His first season was pretty pedestrian, really, as he started 11 of 14 games to rack up 61 tackles. Of those, 3.5 were for a loss, he had one sack, a forced fumble, and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. In 2011, Minter was barely a guy one noticed on the star studded LSU defense that included Morris Claiborne and a handful of guys that could easily be drafted ahead of him this year.
In 2012, that all changed as Minter not only became noticeable within the LSU defense, he was named LSU’s Most Valuable Player and seemed like he was All-Everything following the season. He was certainly more productive, having started all 13 games and notching 130 tackles, 15 for a loss, four sacks, a forced fumble, five defended passes, and an interception. He still had considerable talent around him, but he seemed to be elevating their play this season, not the other way around.
Minter measured into the NFL’s Scouting Combine at 6′ 0″ and 246 pounds. He didn’t exactly tear it up with his 4.81 second forty yard dash or his 25 bench press reps, but he looked to be the same guy you saw on tape, for better and for worse.
He looks to be a very intelligent football player who sniffs out screens, shows great diagnostic abilities, and solid gap discipline. Combine that with a knack for getting around, or through, blockers and you have a Mike backer that just always seems to be in the right place at the right time on running plays.
Minter is a very good run defender and would instantly make things tough on opposing running backs looking to stay between the tackles. He is an excellent tackler, perhaps the best in this Draft class, and is going to add a lot of consistency in the middle to the team that drafts him. The ability to crush a ball carrier, however, might be his best attribute when it comes to defending the pass.
I don’t mean to say that Minter is a completely inept pass defender (he isn’t), but my game plan as a coach certainly wouldn’t revolve around matching him up against a guy like Vernon Davis or Rob Gronkowski. In fact, my game plan would try to make sure that happened as little as possible.
He’s a big man that plays big, but he is also of moderate speed and it shows in coverage. He is a plodder that can look awkward trying to shadow a running back or provide zone coverage of a slot receiver He is, in a lot of ways, a lot like what we saw out of Jasper Brinkley during the 2012 season as far as coverage goes. He is going to struggle sticking with just about any various type of route runner, but will occasionally be able to deliver a jarring hit after the catch.
Minter is already a grade “A” run stopper, and could continue to develop his pass defending via some good coaching, and is a capable blitzer. He possesses the physical skills to be a middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme and makes enough big plays to make him very intriguing.
I do think that he is best suited for the 4-3 and that scouts will recognize this. This might limit the number of teams that place him higher up on their draft boards. The NFL Advisory committee reportedly gave him a third round grade when he was deciding whether or not to stay at LSU for another year. Many draftniks have him grading out as a late first round talent, however.
I worry greatly that the Vikings will burn one of their first round picks on a two down linebacker, and I worry that Minter will be a two down linebacker throughout his NFL career. Thus, I can’t say that I would be real supportive of them taking him at 23 or 25. However, he has a skill set that is attractive enough, and if they can trade back a bit, or if he is somehow still on the board in the second round when they are on the clock, then I think he could represent a solid addition to the middle of the Vikings defense.