Arkansas LB Trickles into Vikings Mock Draft Arena

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Former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks trekked to the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason and isn’t coming back anytime soon.

Kendricks will start in Los Angeles while the Vikings pivot to a Brian Asamoah + Jordan Hicks era at linebacker with new defensive coordinator Brian Flores in charge.

Arkansas LB Trickles into Vikings Mock Draft Arena

But even with Asamoah and Hicks as presumptive starters, Minnesota could still use the 2023 NFL Draft to get richer at off-ball linebacker, and if it does, draft brains believe Arkansas’ Drew Sanders could be on the menu.

Arkansas LB Trickles
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Sanders didn’t start the pre-draft cycle with Round 1 stock but has steadily climbed the board in the last two months. He may find a new team somewhere late in Round 1 or get scooped in Round 2. He, Trenton Simpson (Clemson), and Jack Campbell (Iowa) are all the draft rage at off-ball linebacker.

In an mock draft Tuesday, Lance Zierlein foreshadowed a Vikings trade back a few spots with the Buffalo Bills, who picked running back Bijan Robinson, and a Sanders selection by Minnesota. Zierlien wrote, “Sanders spent one season at inside linebacker and absolutely filled up the stat sheet at Arkansas. He’s big and a solid athlete; he can be a capable pass rusher for Minnesota to deploy when needed.”

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The six-foot-five, 230-pounder is said to be game-ready for the NFL, able to start Week 1 for his new employer. He reportedly has room to grow as a run defender, a characteristic that checks out as Sanders began his collegiate career as an EDGE rusher.

In February, ESPN’s Matt Miller also mock-drafted Sanders to Minnesota and explained, “Sanders transferred from Alabama and immediately became a defensive leader at Arkansas. When I visited the school last fall, the defensive staff raved about his instincts and toughness.

“He became a three-down player with 9.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles and 111 tackles in his first season as a starter. The 6-5, 232-pound junior is still developing as a linebacker but has the potential to be a force in the NFL,” Miller concluded.

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The Vikings ranked 27th in the NFL last year via defensive DVOA, 30th in points allowed to opponents, and 31st in yards allowed. Kevin O’Connell’s team still somehow won 13 games to just four losses, but his defense was utterly exposed at home in a Wildcard Round loss to the New York Giants. That’s why Flores took over a few weeks later.

Flores also has a linebacker background, as recently as running the Pittsburgh Steelers LB corps last year. While the Vikings have more immediate defensive roster needs at cornerback, the former linebackers coach finding a way to onboard a new linebacker in the draft wouldn’t be strange at all.

Twenty-five linebackers have entered the NFL from Arkansas in league history, and none has ever reached a Pro Bowl.

Sanders is 21 years old.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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