The Minnesota Vikings came into the 2013 NFL season with some question marks as to who would be the team’s middle linebacker, and once the team signed former Green Bay Packer Desmond Bishop, it was assumed the question was answered. That wasn’t the case, however, as Bishop barely played in the early games, and on his 45th snap of the season, went down with another season-ending injury, which effectively opened the door for Erin Henderson.
Henderson was already getting the majority of the middle linebacker snaps, but with the threat of Bishop taking his job went away, Henderson began playing the best football of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Henderson has posted a positive score in his last three games, and has been equally effective in both pass coverage and stopping the run. Henderson is just 27 years old, and if he keeps playing like he has been, the Viking should be locking him up long-term once the season is over.
What makes Henderson’s performances even more impressive is that he has played the most snaps of any player on defense, with 518, and has been the team’s most consistent player over the past three weeks. Former standout at linebacker, Chad Greenway, is having the worst season of his career, but with nine games remaining this season, if Greenway and Henderson begin playing well together, the Vikings could have a much-improved defense when 2014 rolls around.
Keeping Henderson at the starting middle linebacker position next year would allow the Vikings to focus on other areas of need in the offseason, most importantly in the secondary. Harrison Smith is hopefully the future at free safety, and Andrew Sendejo has played well at strong safety since the injury to Jamarca Sanford, meaning he could possibly be vying for the starting spot in 2014. The real weakness in the secondary is at cornerback as Chris Cook is proving to be a bust, and rookie Xavier Rhodes needs a true No. 2 corner opposite him.
Although linebacker isn’t a huge area of need for the Vikings right now, if Henderson can solidify himself as the Vikings’ long-term starter at the position, it would allow them to round-out the rest of the defense, and possibly return it to the former glory it held as one of the best run-stopping units in the league. Everything lies in Henderson’s hands, however, as he controls how he plays, effectively controlling his future with the Vikings.
The next nine games of 2013 will be telling for the future of E.J. Henderson‘s younger brother.