Minnesota Vikings Draft Countdown: Making the Case for C.J. Mosley

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IApril 14, 2014

Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley (32) celebrates after a tackle to stop Chattanooga during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2012, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill

The list of middle linebackers taken in the top 10 of the NFL draft over the last decade who have gone on to become All-Pros isn't a very long one.

Their names are Luke Kuechly and Jerod Mayo.

That's it, two.

Of the five linebackers taken in the top 10 in the last five years, two are no longer in the NFL, Aaron Curry and Rolando McClain.

Those numbers aren't very inspiring and might make an NFL team take pause if it's thinking about taking a linebacker early in the draft.

The good news is that the last three linebackers taken in the top 10 are Kuechly, Von Miller and Aldon Smith, who are all three superstars.

It's with that thought in mind that we'll make the case for the Minnesota Vikings drafting Alabama middle linebacker C.J. Mosley with their first pick in the 2014 draft.

In the current NFL, one can certainly make the case that linebackers, especially middle linebackers, don't matter anymore. Nickel packages are used a majority of the time as NFL defenses try to keep up with a pass-happy league.

And while it's true that the sexy linebackers are speed rushers like Miller and Smith, who pile up the sack numbers, every single team in the league would take Kuechly, who fits the mold of an old-school middle linebacker that makes plays all over the field.

Linebackers definitely still matter. Of the top 30 tacklers in the NFL last season, 28 of them were linebackers. 

Where it starts to get cloudy is that of those 28 linebackers, just five of them were first-round picks. Do you want to know how many of them were undrafted? Five.

The moral of the story so far is that if you can look at the 2014 draft board and point to which linebackers are going to be great ones, you might know more than most NFL general managers.

As hit or miss as it seems to be when drafting linebackers, here are several reasons why Minnesota shouldn't hesitate in drafting Mosley in the first round come May 8.

The Vikings Have a Huge Need at Linebacker

It's no secret the Minnesota Vikings need help on the defensive side of the ball. If there are no quarterbacks available whom they deem a franchise-changer, Minnesota will almost certainly draft a defensive player.

The defensive numbers for the Vikings were galling in 2013: 31st in total defense, 31st in passing defense, 31st in third-down conversion against and 32nd in points allowed.

It's a unit that needed upgrades on all three levels. Minnesota spent free-agent dollars up front on Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph and in the secondary on Captain Munnerlyn.

What still needs to be addressed is the hole in the middle level of the Vikings defense.

Ann Heisenfelt

For far too many years, the Vikings have been too slow at linebacker. Chad Greenway has been a solid performer at strong-side linebacker, but the Vikings have lacked quality at the other two spots. 

Vontaze Burfict, new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer's starting middle linebacker in Cincinnati last season, led the NFL with 171 tackles. The last time the Vikings had a middle linebacker with as many as 115 tackles was in 2007, when E.J. Henderson had 118.

The Vikings' lack of punch at linebacker in the recent past goes far beyond just the numbers. While Greenway has piled up his tackle numbers (some argue too quietly), Minnesota has lacked any oomph or pizzaz at the position.

2013 free-agent signee Desmond Bishop showed flashes of being an impact player, but his horrible luck with injuries has curtailed his career. What Bishop showed Minnesota fans in his brief amount of reps with the Vikings, though, is that linebackers can actually be noticeable on the football field. 

Zimmer's third-ranked Bengals defense in 2013 was led by Burfict, the outstanding middle linebacker who managed to go undrafted in 2012. C.J. Mosley would give the Vikings an impact "Mike" that they haven't had in decades.

Mosley the Football Player

In C.J. Mosley the Vikings would be getting a middle linebacker they could plug into the starting lineup and not worry about the position for a few years.

Mosley was the heart and soul of an Alabama defense that was among the nation's best over the last three seasons. He's a three-down linebacker with a high football IQ. He was like a coach on the field for Alabama's dominant defense, lining up teammates and barking out directions.

NFL.com's predraft analysis of Mosley raves about his intangibles and sees him as a player with Pro Bowl potential.

Mosley projects as a similar type of player to Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who's proved to be a steal, as the Bucs got him with the 58th pick in 2012. David was a tackling machine in college at Nebraska, and the only fear pro scouts had was that he was a little small to be a dominant linebacker in the NFL.

Two years and 284 tackles, nine sacks and six interceptions have proved that David most certainly should have been a top-10 pick in 2012.

Kuechly is another great comparison to Mosley. They were both first-team All-Americans multiple times and Butkus Award winners as the nation's top linebacker. Like Kuechly and all great middle linebackers, Mosley seems to have a sixth sense on the football field, an ability to sniff out where a play is going and get there quickly and make tackles.

Comparing Mosley to Kuechly and David
HeightWeight3-Cone Drill20-Yd Shuttle
C.J. Mosley6'2"2347.304.40
Luke Kuechly6'3"2356.924.12
Lavonte David6'1"2337.284.22

Beyond all of that, what would make Mosley an outstanding addition to the Vikings defense is leadership ability. Losing both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams this offseason certainly leaves a void in the personality of the Vikings defense. 

Harrison Smith is certainly a player who will step into that void, and Mosley would give the Vikings another young leader on a defense that needs it.

As NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah wrote in November, NFL executives are varied in their comparisons for Mosley, but they all see him as being an excellent player.

Can the Vikings Trade Down and Get Mosley?

Almost certainly.

As measured and calculated as every team's draft board is, they're also all fluid, and funny things start happening once players are actually being chosen.

The intrigue of draft night always includes the machinations of teams moving up or down depending on whom they want. 

The 2014 draft should be particularly interesting considering how many teams need quarterbacks, but nobody having a great handle on how good the available quarterbacks might be.

Teams that are desperate for a wide receiver might change their plans drastically when they see Sammy Watkins gone in the top five picks, and they'll suddenly be more than willing to move up to get a shot at Mike Evans.

If the Vikings target Mosley as the player they want in the first round, general manager Rick Spielman will surely be on the phone a lot, gauging teams' interest in moving up to the eighth spot. 

Spielman will have to weigh the value of what he might get in return for trading down with the prospect of losing the chance at drafting Mosley. If the Vikings have several defensive players they deem as similarly valuable, then they'll be more willing to move down several spots if they can pick up more picks in return.

Mosley is a tough player to gauge, as his draft value seems to vary everywhere you look. A majority of draft boards have Mosley slotted anywhere from the late teens to the 20s. 

Who Can Tell? NFL Star Linebackers' Draft Spots
Luke Kuechly1st Rd/2012Vontaze BurfictUndrafted/2012
NaVorro Bowman3rd Rd/2010Lavonte David2nd Rd/2012
Patrick Willis1st Rd/2007Karlos Dansby2nd Rd/2004
Paul Posluszny2nd Rd/2007Robert Mathis5th Rd/2003

Any perusal of the last 10 NFL drafts illustrates just how hard it is to project linebackers at the next level. However, in Mosley's case, we see a player who was a tackling machine in college, a leader and a kid with an outstanding football IQ. 

The comparisons to Lavonte David and Luke Kuechly are very good ones. Slightly shorter and roughly the same weight as Kuechly, and not quite as fast as David, Mosley has every bit the motor and football pedigree that those two had heading into the league.

In a perfect world, the Vikings can trade back and still get Mosley and another pick to boot. If you trade back, you obviously run the risk of losing out on a player you want; that's just the game of chicken that NFL GMs have to play during the draft.

Whether they trade back or stay put, one thing is certain: If the Vikings land linebacker C.J. Mosley, their defense will be much-improved heading into 2014.


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