Today: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman's draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks
TODAY'S POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 7
On the roster
On the surface, Minnesota would seem to be set along the defensive line, but sweeping changes could be coming. The Vikings restructured the contract of longtime defensive tackle, Kevin Williams. His contract is fully guaranteed for the upcoming season, but his 2014 part of the deal was deleted. After 10 years of being a stalwart on the defensive line, 2013 could be Williams' last season in Minnesota. Letroy Guion started all 15 of his games last year and is signed through 2014, but isn't an impact player and would only be considered a borderline starter. Fred Evans, signed through the 2013 season, played all 16 games and started once and isn't much different than Guion. Guion and Evans haven't been the stout run defenders the Vikings need in the middle. Williams, Guion, Evans and Christian Ballard, a 2011 fourth-rounder, combined for seven sacks last season. Williams is still strong against the run. Chase Baker remains after spending last season on the practice squad.
On the outside, Minnesota still has Jared Allen and Brian Robison, but both are also entering the final season of their respective contracts. In fact, backups Everson Griffen and George Johnson are currently scheduled to play in the final year of their contracts. Only D'Aundre Reed, who's played sparingly in six career games, is signed through 2014. Allen, 31, had 12.5 sacks last year while fighting through injuries that required surgery at the end of the season. Robison continued his development by setting a career-high with 8.5 sacks, but he's also 30 years old now. Griffen, 25, has shown flashes as a pass rusher, but has never been a full-time starter and like so many along the defensive line, could be gone after this season.
Last five defensive linemen drafted
2012: Trevor Guyton, California: seventh round (219th overall) -- released by Vikings, Aug. 31, 2012; out of NFL
2011: Christian Ballard, Iowa: fourth round (106th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2011: D'Aundre Reed, Arizona: seventh round (215th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2010: Everson Griffen, Southern California: fourth round (100th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2008: Letroy Guion, Florida State: fifth round (152nd overall) -- still with the Vikings
Philosophy at the position
Minnesota's system won't change, but the personnel very well could be altering. The Vikings are likely approaching this season, with five of their top six defensive linemen entering the final year of their contracts, for a reason. Add in the uncertainty already at defensive tackle where the Vikings have struggled for two years to replace Pat Williams and drafting a defensive tackle would seem to be a priority. With the contract status of Allen, Robison and Griffen, a defensive end could be a possibility as well. Minnesota's strength on defense for years has been the defensive line. It's hard to say what the defensive line will look like just one year from now. The Vikings very well could re-sign some of the players to avoid a complete turnover, but changes are likely coming and this draft could be looked at as the first step.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Sylvester Williams, senior, North Carolina (6-3, 313). Williams is a junior college player with just two years of major college experience at North Carolina. Williams wasn't a big-time recruit out of high school and went to work at a factory before returning to football at a junior college. From there he turned into a highly productive defensive tackle with 8.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss for the Tar Heels the past two years. He's a big body who could anchor against the run, but also is quick off the ball and can be disruptive on passing downs. Williams is very strong, with good balance and decent mobility for a player his size. At 24 years old he is considered older among draft prospects and might not have the upside of other younger players.
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Kawann Short, senior, Purdue (6-3, 299). Short was a captain at Purdue and is considered to have a strong personality. He was also a four-year starter at Purdue, so he has a lot of experience playing in the Big Ten. Short is 24 years old as well. He has good quickness and size to be a pass-rushing inside threat. Weighing in at only 299 pounds, Short is considered strong at the point of attack and can win battles with power or speed. He's a good athlete for a defensive tackle. Short's been described as having a "strange" frame, with thin legs. He'll probably need to get stronger and in better shape to be a true force in the NFL. Consistent effort has also been a question with Short, playing soft at times or watching the play away from him. He disappeared at times at Purdue and is considered a first-round talent that could be an underachiever.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Quanterus Smith, senior, Western Kentucky (6-5, 250). If the Vikings are looking for a later pick that could develop into a top pass rusher, Smith is an interesting prospect. He comes from a smaller school, playing in the Sun Belt for Western Kentucky. But the Sun Belt has brought strong pass rushers into the NFL like Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware. Smith, the Sun Belt defensive player of the year, has prototypical defensive end length, but would likely add some strength and weight if he is a 4-3 end in the NFL. He's considered an explosive athlete with quickness and acceleration. Smith has good speed and learned to use his hands better as a pass rusher and even had three sacks against Alabama. He had 12.5 sacks last season for the Hilltoppers in just 10 games. Smith missed the final two games last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and teams will have to do their work on him and pass him medically. The injury could cause him to drop further than he might have otherwise. It's unclear how much Smith would be able to contribute in his first season because of the injury. He'll have to get stronger and improve against the run to be more than just a situational pass rusher.
FOXSports.com's draft expert Taylor Jones says:
"I think the first-day guys are (Florida's Sharrif) Floyd, (Utah's Star) Lotulelei, (Missouri's Sheldon) Richardson and maybe pull in a fourth, whether it's Jesse Williams from Alabama, John Jenkins, (Sylvester) Williams. I don't know that Kawann Short's up there yet. Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State. But I think those guys from a skill-set perspective are second-rounders. ... I think all of those guys are Day 1 starters."