Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Brennan Clay (24) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman A

Vikings Draft Targets: C.J. Mosley's Valuable Skill Set

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Alen Dumonjic of The Score offers up a comprehensive rundown of Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and his particular skill set – a skill set that has caught the attention of NFL personnel people and may propel Mosley all the way into the top ten in this year’s draft.

Here’s what caught my attention in Dumonjic’s piece:

He’s not Rolando McClain. He’s not Dont’a Hightower. Both of those guys were cut from a traditional linebacking cloth, as they’re big and lumbering downhill types coming out of Alabama. C.J. Mosley is part of the new breed, the type that plays in space, covers significant ground from sideline-to-sideline and roams in underneath coverage. He’s more fluid and athletic and rangy. He’ll run down a ball carrier or jump a route in the middle of the field.

What makes Mosley’s “new breed” skill set so attractive? It’s all about adjusting to modern offenses and the particular challenges these offenses represent.

More-and-more we hear about offensive coordinators designing schemes to get their playmakers “out in space.” Whether these playmakers be receiving running backs or slot receivers of the Percy Harvin mold. The idea here is to gash defenses by getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers and letting them go to work.

This is why the bubble screen has become so popular in the NFL. This is why we’re seeing more of the jet-sweep action like we saw the Seahawks use with Harvin in the Super Bowl. This is why a guy like the Vikings’ own Cordarrelle Patterson is so exciting.

So much action is happening on bubble screens and crossing routes and other underneath stuff, it’s completely changing how defenses need to approach things. Throw in the read-option quarterback factor and you’ve got a recipe for total chaos.

How do defenses adjust to all this? One important factor is finding linebackers who can cover underneath, and pursue all these fast players in the open field.

Dumonjic cites McClain and Hightower as examples of the old-fashioned linebacker, the guys who sit in zones or run downhill to fill gaps, and sometimes drop into coverage. He could just as easily have cited the linebackers the Vikings have featured the last few years.

Chad Greenway, the departed Erin Henderson, the two-years departed Jasper Brinkley, all fit that old linebacker mode. And what we’ve seen the last few years, as the Vikings defense has sagged to the bottom of the league defensively, is how inadequate that style of linebacker truly is when facing the challenges of modern offenses with their spread concepts, read-option looks and all the other stuff they throw at you.

Dumonjic cites the Seattle linebacker corps as an example of how you need to go about it these days. Those guys can cover slot receivers and tight ends, and have the range to play sideline-to-sideline.

That’s what you need now and that’s what I think the Vikings have to go after. They must get faster in their linebacker corps to combat the Harvin-type weapons and the running quarterbacks. And they must get better covering tight ends, slot receivers and running backs.

They must get away from the slow, dopey, Greenway style of linebacker. They must find defensive players who can match up with the array of weapons offenses are throwing out there.

The Vikings will pick #8 overall, and C.J. Mosley looks more and more like a guy who makes sense in that spot. If Mosley is as good as many scouts and draft experts think, he could be the perfect guy to boost the Vikings out of their dinosaur mindset and get them on the path to resembling some of these state-of-the-art units around the league.

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