While these players figure to play an important role in the future success of the Vikings and were deserving of their media attention, the Vikings’ much less heralded seventh-round selection of linebacker Michael Mauti could prove to be the team’s best pick in terms of draft value.
Mauti entered the 2013 NFL Draft as one of the more decorated linebackers in his draft class. During his tenure at Penn State, Mauti was a first-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten, the winner of the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award in 2012, and the recipient of multiple Defensive Player of the Week awards.
However, Mauti’s draft stock took a major blow when he tore his ACL for a third time during the Nittany Lions’ second-to-last game of the season.
Despite his discouraging injury history, the Vikings still selected Mauti late during the 2013 NFL Draft, taking a small gamble on him being able to recover from injury and still play at the NFL level. In his rookie season, Mauti appeared in 14 games for the Vikings, playing almost exclusively on special teams. After a year of adjusting to the NFL and fully recovering from his most recent ACL injury, Mauti will look to assume a more important role on the Vikings’ defense.
Mauti will continue to compete for the role of starting middle linebacker on the Vikings’ defense during training camp later this month. At first glance, it would appear that the re-acquired Jasper Brinkley and the Vikings’ most recent starting middle linebacker Audie Cole will be his greatest competition for this position. However, Chad Greenway may also factor into the equation.
Despite playing his entire career on the outside, Greenway reportedly is taking snaps at the Mike linebacker position as well. On the other hand, Cole has been taking the vast majority of his snaps at the Sam linebacker position.
With new head coach Mike Zimmer at the helm and a completely new defense on the horizon, Mauti is quite possibly competing against every linebacker on the Vikings’ roster for the middle linebacker position.
Given their more extensive NFL experience, Brinkley, Cole and Greenway likely have an edge on Mauti for the starting role entering training camp. However, this gap may be closed quickly with role changes and strong showings during training camp and preseason games.
While Mauti may have multiple areas to improve on, there is no doubting his recognition skills, toughness and leadership qualities. During the Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal, Mauti chose to remain a member of the Nittany Lions, playing an important and influential leadership role on a team desperately needing to be guided in a different direction.
Mauti’s high football IQ, solid skillset and desirable intangibles will earn him plenty of opportunities to be an impact player for the Vikings this season. Expect him to again play an important role for the Vikings on special teams, and possibly assert himself as a valuable asset on defense as well.