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This is the eighth in a series of position previews for the 2024 NFL draft, which begins Thursday. Today: linebackers.

Offensive line | Edge rushers | Receivers | Running backs | Tight ends | Quarterbacks | Defensive backs

Vikings' outlook

The Vikings lost linebacker Jordan Hicks, a team captain, in free agency to the Browns, with whom he agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal with $4.5 million guaranteed. Earlier that day, the Vikings replaced him in the lineup with Blake Cashman, the Eden Prairie and Gophers product who returned home for $9.5 million guaranteed at signing over a three-year deal. Cashman, who turns 28 next month, makes the Vikings younger in the middle of the defense. He's expected to start next to Ivan Pace Jr., entering his second season, although coordinator Brian Flores likes to mix and match lineups depending on the game situation.

Linebackers Brian Asamoah II and Abraham Beauplan return for a second year under Flores. Asamoah, a 2022 third-round pick, had a disappointing sophomore season in which he lost a camp competition to Pace and was phased out of the defensive rotation.

The Vikings also lost inside linebacker Troy Dye, a core special teamer, to the Chargers, where he's hoping to start under new coach Jim Harbaugh. The Vikings offered Dye more money, according to his agent, but Dye wanted playing time. For depth and competition, the Vikings signed veteran linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who turns 30 next month and joins his sixth NFL team. He's on a one-year deal with little guaranteed.

Vikings' level of need

Low. But not the lowest need. The Vikings still need bodies for competition and possible special teams help through the later rounds of the draft or undrafted free agency. They currently have five linebackers on the roster; seven linebackers competed in training camp last year. But after acquiring Cashman, who had a breakout season in 2023 for the Houston Texans, the Vikings are not expected to spend meaningful draft resources at the position.

Three names to know

LB Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M: Cooper (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) could be the first off-ball linebacker selected in the NFL draft after he was named first-team All-America and All-SEC last season. He had career highs in tackles for loss (17), sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (two) as the Aggies' leading tackler. "Highly physical linebacker with elite top-end speed," writes NFL analyst Lance Zierlein. "A punishing hitter/tackler from any spot on the field."

LB Payton Wilson, North Carolina State: Wilson (6-foot-4, 233 pounds) could also be an early draft pick. He won a trove of awards last season, including the Butkus Award as college football's top linebacker and ACC defensive player of the year honors. He ranked fifth in FBS with 138 combined tackles (69 solo). He was also the fastest among 15 linebackers who ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, posting a time of 4.43 seconds.

LB Junior Colson, Michigan: Colson (6-foot-2, 238 pounds) was the leading tackler on a national champion Wolverines defense that ranked first in points allowed and second in yardage allowed. He suffered a broken left hand Nov. 4 against Purdue and played the rest of the season with a cast. His toughness, strength and range are expected to transition well into the pros. ESPN analyst Matt Miller described him as a "plug-and-play starter."

One sleeper

LB Jaylan Ford, Texas: Ford (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) has six interceptions over the last two seasons, which top the five picks that the three aforementioned linebackers combined for in the same span. He's not considered by analysts as a complete player at this point, but his cover skills could be of use to a creative defensive coordinator willing to deploy him on passing downs. He did have 20.5 tackles for loss over the last two years, in which he was twice a first-team All-Big 12 selection.