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Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - With the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft kicking off later this evening, the Vikings 23rd and 25th overall selections remain COMPLETELY up in the air. Will they go wide receiver? Will they snag a defensive tackle? Will they turn to a young cornerback to help out the secondary?
It's very possible that Minnesota could turn in any of these directions, but one of the positions that continuously falls to the Vikings in most of the mock drafts is middle linebacker.
Following the departure of Jasper Brinkley (Arizona), the middle of the Minnesota Vikings linebacking corps is currently sitting in the hands of Marvin Mitchell and second year player Audie Cole. With the main portion of the free agency period already behind us, the Vikings will continue looking to sure up the middle of their defense and will have to do it by bringing in a rookie through the Draft.
The options for the Vikings are actually fairly numerous, but most of them occur in the first few rounds of the draft.
Tuesday afternoon, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman called this year's draft "one of the more intriguing drafts that I'm going to be associated with." Much of that feeling comes from the flexibility that the Vikings have in the early rounds.
Armed with the 23rd and 25th picks in the first round and the 52nd overall selection coming in the second round, the Vikings are likely in a position where players will be dropping to them and other teams will be calling them looking to move up or down.
"A lot of it will be predicated on who comes down to us," Spielman said.
Another variable that the Vikings are looking at is the flexibility that linebacker Erin Henderson offers the defense.
"[Erin] is flexible," Spielman told the media on Tuesday. "[What we do with him] depends what happens in the draft. What if we go outside and Erin can slide inside? What if we go inside and Erin can play outside? That's what is great about this linebacker thing; we have the flexibility to go either way."
Focusing in a little deeper on the potential of Erin Henderson moving to the middle, Henderson's teammate and fellow linebacker Chad Greenway thinks that Erin is fully capable of making the switch.
"Erin does have some experience [at middle] so obviously we have an option right now with experience that can play at that position," Greenway said. "He's sort of built like if you use a cover/Tampa two. Guys like Urlacher are a similar size, kind of rangy, long arms and I think that's really going to help him in pass coverage and the drop in the deep middle."
Last season, Henderson was stuck in the Will Linebacker slot where oftentimes he was charged with taking on the lead blocker as the back came through the line of scrimmage. That position takes a lot of heat and a lot of punishment. If Erin moves inside, Greenway believes he will be able to utilize his best attribute, his instinct.
"He's probably not the fastest or the most athletic but he's going to get to the ball," Greenway added. "If he's in a position to make a lot of plays, he will do that."
Moving Erin to the middle opens up the Vikings to draft from what might be a little deeper class of outside linebackers. Doing this puts them right in the mix to draft guys like Jarvis Jones (Georgia, may have to trade up), Alec Ogletree (Georgia, flexible MLB & OLB) and Arthur Brown (Kansas State).
But let's say they didn't move Henderson to the middle. Would a rookie linebacker really be able to step right into a starting job as a middle linebacker in the NFL? Chad Greenway seems to think that with this team, it could work.
"You've got to start somewhere," Greenway said. "Obviously if you drafted him, it would need to be one of those things where we're going to see how he is in OTAs and see how he'll build up to be that role starting in training camp and be the guy at the front of the huddle making the calls and kind of taking that leadership role from the middle linebacker standpoint. Obviously we have guys in the room that can handle those responsibilities if need be, but that's the role of the middle linebacker."
Leaving Henderson on the outside would allow for the Vikings to take a chance on names like Manti Te'o (Notre Dame), Alec Ogletree (Georgia, flexible MLB & OLB) and Kevin Minter (LSU).
In reality, as much as we want to speculate, it's going to come down to exactly where Spielman left it on Tuesday, "a lot of it will be predicated on who comes down to us."
KFAN will kick off draft coverage at 3PM with Dan Barreiro and Justin Gaard LIVE from Mall of America Field and the Vikings Draft Party. KFAN Draft Party coverage will then take over at 6:30pm with Paul Allen.
If players slide, they may have the opportunity to move forward or move back.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings' updates and breaking Vikings' news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN