For years, Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson stood out on their defense while patrolling the middle, but this past season it was a different Henderson getting attention for his play. Younger brother Erin was one of the better and biggest surprises of the 2011-12 NFL season at the linebacker position.
Henderson started 12 games for Minnesota and showed versatility, sliding in and out of the middle linebacker position to replace his oft-injured brother. He was primarily a weak-side linebacker, which allowed him to show his athleticism and activity downhill. The Vikings coaching staff initially cut his snaps by removing him on obvious passing downs, but later he would play more, and now he’s an underrated free agent who’s still on the market.
Strength: Run Defense
Henderson’s run defense is the strongest aspect of his game because of his quickness and overall activity. He attacks the line of scrimmage aggressively and takes on blocks when filling the hole. He is able to stack and shed blocks well enough and displays quality lateral agility while running horizontally to make plays in pursuit.
Weakness: Pass Defense
Even though Minnesota basically labeled him as a two-down run stopper by limiting his snaps, Henderson’s pass defense isn’t not exactly a weakness in his game, but it’s still an area that needs improvement.
He worked in a heavy zone defense in Minnesota that required him to get to a landmark and then read the quarterback, which he did well, but I’d like to see more ball awareness from him and less thinking. Sometimes he thinks too much out on the field, and consequently he’s a step slow despite being very athletic, quick, and possessing quality change of direction skills. Lastly, I’d like to see him be less aggressive with his reads, as he had issues at times with play action.
Based off of his performance this past season, Henderson is an ascending player that still has a lot of upside and talent. He’s very good downhill against the run, showing the ability to take on blocks and handle them, and he can also avoid blockers at his feet and continue to pursue the ball carrier.
In coverage, he’s an improving player, and he’s not completely comfortable while dropping. He needs to let the game come to him and let his natural talent make plays. Despite this, I believe he’s a quality free agent pick-up for a team that needs an athletic weak-side linebacker, or potentially a middle linebacker depending on how much further he develops.