The one unit that contained the most disappointment for the Vikings defense in 2018 was their linebackers.
Mike Zimmer’s defense had relied on the sideline-to-sideline instincts of Eric Kendricks and the playmaking ability of Anthony Barr in the past. But neither seemed to come to fruition this season, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the field.
Barr became the lightning rod of the team when his contract battle was brought into the public eye after skipping the first day of offseason mini-camp. What should have been just a daily offseason filler turned into a lingering storyline for the linebacker as his on-the-field performance tailed off (most notably in the Vikings’ demolition by the Rams).
While Barr was able to show his value late in the year (including two sacks against Miami in Week 15), the question is how valuable is he to Minnesota’s defense? If the answer is leaning toward not that much, the Vikings may opt to use the $8-$13 million a year needed to sign him on other priorities (Adam Thielen, Richardson, etc.) and let him walk.
The linebacker that did get paid last offseason was Kendricks, who didn’t look like himself in 2018. Coverage was an issue for the UCLA product and while his tackle numbers looked fine (108 combined tackles), he didn’t seem to make as many impact plays for the Vikings as he had just three tackles for a loss and one sack on the season.
A possible reason for this was a hamstring injury that became a big issue late in the season, forcing Kendricks to miss Minnesota’s final two games.
With Kendricks and Barr turning in lackluster performances, the door was opened for special teams ace Eric Wilson to get a possible audition for a starting job in 2019.
The results were mixed as the converted safety didn’t quite look ready for a full-time gig. But he made good plays on the field including eight tackles and a sack in a Week 16 victory over the Detroit Lions. If Wilson can add some more muscle, he may be ready to take over as a starter in 2019.
The last notable linebacker here is Ben Gedeon, who simply is what he is. He’s not going to hurt your team with a bad play, but he’s not going to make an over-the-top good play either. Gedeon made 53 tackles this season, but he didn’t have a single tackle for loss or a sack.