The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is the part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Minnesota Vikings, that player is outside linebacker Erin Henderson.
Erin Henderson was only a two down run stuffing linebacker last year and came off the field in sub packages when they used only two linebackers, meaning he was not asked to cover much. Henderson, however, did an amazing job against the run. Despite limited playing time, he ranked 4th at his position with a 21.8 rating on ProFootballFocus, including 3rd against the run.
Playing only 590 snaps last season, he ranked 15th at his position with 58 solo tackles and 13th with 38 stops (solo tackles that constitute an offensive failure) and he only missed 5 tackles. Playing 267 run snaps, he led his position with a run stop rate of 11.6% (31 stops on 267 run snaps, his other 7 stops were on coverage snaps) and he ranked 4th at his position in tackling efficiency (missed tackles per attempted tackle) with 5 missed tackles on 74 attempted tackles (58 solo, 11 assists, 5 missed).
He’ll be counted on in more of a 3 down role this year with his brother EJ Henderson gone. His EJ played 895 total snaps last year, 369 of which were run defense snaps and 464 of which were coverage snaps. If Erin does that this season, and maintains his 2011 rate, he’d have 59 solo tackles, 43 stops, 12 assists, and 4 missed tackles on run snaps and 24 solo tackles, 11 stops, and 3 assists and 3 missed tackles on coverage snaps, giving him 83 solo tackles, 54 stops, 15 assists, and 7 missed tackles overall. If he had done that last year, he would have ranked 8th, tied for 4th, and tied for 8th solo tackles, stops, and assists respectively at his position.
Coverage is the one question for him though. He wasn’t bad in coverage last year, grading out at above average in coverage last season; he just doesn’t have a lot of experience in it, as he spent his only year as a starter as just a two-down run stuffer. However, for what experience he did have in coverage last year, he actually graded out 5th at his position on ProFootballFocus in coverage. He allowed 22 completions on 29 attempts (75.9%), but only for 167 yards (5.8 YPA) and he ranked 6th allowing just 0.71 yards per coverage snap. If he can adjust to playing an every down workload, he should be one of the best all around linebackers in the game in 2012 and, if recognized, he should push for the Pro-Bowl.
If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2