The San Francisco 49ers made a rare trade on Tuesday, acquiring linebacker Gerald Hodges Jr., sending center Nick Easton to the Minnesota Vikings. In-season trades are a rarity in the NFL, and really, trades in general are pretty rare, but the 49ers might have decided a need had arisen.
Hodges was playing middle linebacker for the Vikings, but this was a recent change. He previously was an outside linebacker, having converted from safety in college. Random note: He was teammates with NaVorro Bowman on the 2009 Penn State team.
I spoke with our friends at Daily Norseman to get their thoughts on Hodges, and what he might bring to the table.
If the Niners were smart, they'd play him at OLB because he was playing slightly out of position at MLB this year. He doesn't have a ton of size but he's quick and swarms to the ball. Lots of Vikings fans were really excited about Hodges because he had a great preseason and he's only 24. He hasn't had a ton of success so far this year but he's still a solid player.
I followed up with them, asking if he could fit a 3-4 OLB role. They thought he lacked the size for it, but think he athletic enough to earn some kind of role:
I don't think he's a great fit as a 3-4 OLB due to his size but he does have a lot of athleticism. If the Niners can find a place for Hodges in their defense he could make a difference. For the Vikings I think this move was less about Hodges and more about stockpiling late round picks (a Rick Spielman staple) and faith in rookie MLB Eric Kendricks. Either way I'm not exactly thrilled about it unless Easton can prove to be more than just another roster body.
The 49ers could be looking at Hodges for a couple of roles. They could see him as a utility guy for both ILB and OLB. They could see him as a reserve option at inside linebacker. They might also decide that they want a new starter in the mix, and will get him in there next to NaVorro Bowman. Jim Tomsula meets with the media on Wednesday, so I imagine he will get a few questions about Hodges's role in the 49ers defense.
Hodges is a third year player out of Penn State. You can read a scouting report here. His biggest strength appears to be working in space and providing coverage. Given this skill, maybe he is going to get in the mix in the 49ers nickel defense as a coverage linebacker. Michael Wilhoite is a decent linebacker, but given what the 49ers had at the position the last few years, Wilhoite does not wow people. Hodges is not exactly Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman, but it does seem like he might offer a little more upside.
On a side note, Hodges is apparently quite the character. This feature from September goes into great detail about his personality and background. It sounds like he had to have a bit of a heart-to-heart with his coach about taking things a bit more serious when he gets on the field. It sounds like he took a step forward this year, but the team is already looking to the future at the position with Eric Kendricks. Whatever the case, this feature is worth a read.