Secret Superstars: Minnesota Vikings
Our Secret Superstar series continues with the final team from the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings’ linebacking core has featured several different players over the last few seasons.
The group now features last year’s first-round pick Anthony Barr and incoming second-round pick Eric Kendrick, but our Secret Superstar is a different young player, Gerald Hodges. With Chad Greenway still pegged as the starter, the lesser-known defender in Hodges will likely begin the season on the bench despite showing promise last season.
Hodges attended Penn State, commonly referred to as ‘Linebacker U’, where he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors his senior season. The Vikings selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft as the 15th linebacker taken in the draft, the highest they had taken a linebacker since the aformentioned Greenway in 2006.
Fighting for Playing Time
Although Jasper Brinkley left Minnesota that offseason, the Vikings were pretty well set entering the year which kept Hodges down the depth chart. Over the 2013 preseason, Hodges earned a -2.3 overall grade on 94 snaps, with the negative plays largely coming in run defense. His performance wasn’t too different than fellow linebackers Erin Henderson and Marvin Mitchell who earned similar grades on half the number of snaps. He played decent enough in coverage, allowing two catches, both for first downs, on 43 snaps in coverage.
When the regular season rolled around, Hodges saw just two snaps on defense despite injuries to most of the linebackers ahead of him. However, Hodges finally made his way on to special teams as a regular in Week 8, and thrived from that point forward. He played 178 special teams snaps over the final nine weeks and finished the season with a +5.5 special teams grade, the highest on the team.
With a new coaching staff and a few player departures heading into 2014, it looked like Hodges would be in a better position to make an impact. But an injury limited him to just 47 defensive snaps over two preseason games, with seven linebackers seeing more snaps. He received a neutral overall grade on defense, but once again made an impact on special teams as he tied for the highest, non-kicker, special teams grade at +3.5.
Hodges was one of eight linebackers to make the 53-man roster and played 39 snaps over the first three weeks. He made the most of his limited playing time, earning positive overall grades in two of the three games, including a +3.2 run defense grade against New Orleans. He finally got his shot in Week 4 filling in for Greenway, who missed three weeks with broken ribs and hand.
Hodges performed well for the most part and finished the game with a neutral +0.2 overall grade, allowing just one reception for a 12-yard first down. He continued to start through Week 6, and while he didn’t play quite as well as he had over the first three games, he still looked like an upgrade over Greenway. Hodges then suffered a hamstring injury while Greenway was returning and Hodges missed time and saw little action over the next six weeks.
An unfortunate knee injury to Anthony Barr in Week 13 handed Hodges another opportunity, and this time he excelled. Hodges earned a +7.5 overall grade over the final four weeks of the season, third among 4-3 outside linebackers in that span. He graded average or better in run defense and pass coverage in each game. When all was said and done, Hodges finished the season with the ninth-best overall grade among 40 qualifying 4-3 OLBs, just behind Barr. He ranked sixth and ninth in run defense and coverage, respectively.
If Hodges can build off of his sophomore year, we believe he can be a good starter in the NFL. He has proven to be effective in both run defense and pass coverage. Now he just needs to wrestle playing time away from the veteran Greenway, who we had Hodges rated higher than in our Depth Chart series.
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