Defensive line isn’t the Vikings’ biggest need

Today is the ninth day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to the April 26 beginning of the NFL draft.

April 12: Five best first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
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 pick

TODAY’S POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Importance (1-to-10 scale): 4
 
On the roster

The Minnesota Vikings’ defense was led by their defensive line play in 2011, especially by ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Allen was named an All-Pro while threatening the single-season sacks record. Robison held his own in his first season as a starter. Tackle Kevin Williams missed two games due to suspension and started slowly when he returned, but he did get better the second half of the season. He’ll return for his 10th NFL season. The trouble came next to Williams. Minnesota wasn’t able to fill the void left by fellow tackle Pat Williams, whom the Vikings chose not to re-sign. Remi Ayodele was a bust as a free-agent signing and was released this offseason just one year into a three-year deal. Minnesota did re-sign Fred Evans and Letroy Guion last month. Evans ended up filling in a lot for Ayodele last season. Christian Ballard, a promising fourth-round pick last year, could get more playing time as well. Everson Griffen showed potential as a pass rusher as a backup defensive end who also played some at inside at linebacker last year. D’Aundre Reed, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, will try to earn playing time. The Vikings could look to add a big-body tackle to anchor in the middle, filling a Pat Williams-type role.

Last five defensive linemen drafted

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
2007-Brian Robison, Texas: fourth round (102nd overall) — still with the Vikings

Philosophy at the position

Minnesota has been willing to devote early- to mid-round draft picks on its defensive line, and the strategy has paid off. The Vikings traded multiple picks to Kansas City in 2008 for Allen, have drafted and developed starters such as Kevin Williams (first round, 2003), Ray Edwards (fourth round, 2006), and Robison. Guion, Griffen and Ballard have shown glimpses of the potential to be eventual starters or strong backups in a rotation. After years of misses on first-round defensive ends, the choices have paid off recently, specifically since general manager Rick Spielman came aboard in 2006. Minnesota has built a strong defensive line and could look to add one more piece but might look for value in the later rounds.

Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)

Dontari Poe, junior, Memphis (6-3, 346). A Pat Williams-type player could interest Minnesota but likely not on the first day. First, there is no standout player among defensive tackles to look at with the No. 3 overall pick. Second, there is a lot of depth at the position that could lead to a value pick on the second or third days of the draft. Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox has a lot of buzz a week before the draft and could be a top-10 pick, but he checks in at only 298 pounds and is not the type of big body to anchor against the run the Vikings could be looking for. No other tackle is considered that high of a prospect, so it would depend if, and how far, Minnesota traded back. More than likely the value and needs wouldn’t match up. Poe has great size and stood out at the Combine with his athleticism. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds and had 44 reps at 250 pounds in the bench press. Poe could be destined for a nose tackle position in a 3-4 defense but could also fit alongside Williams in the Vikings’ 4-3. Poe is considered a possible boom-or-bust pick in the first round.

Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)

Mike Martin, senior, Michigan (6-1, 306). Martin doesn’t have the girth of some of the other run stoppers in the draft, but he’s strong and can hold up well against blockers. He has a background in wrestling, understands how to use his hands and has good balance and body control. He started three years at Michigan. Martin isn’t considered a pass-rushing threat, accumulating just 10 sacks in his four years with the Wolverines. But his strengths could align perfectly with what Minnesota is looking for and could make him a good complement in the middle next to Kevin Williams. Martin has strong instincts and started 37 games the past three years at Michigan.

Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)

Josh Chapman, senior, Alabama (6-1, 316). Chapman is another big-body prospect who could fit with a team that runs a 3-4 defense. He could work out for Minnesota in a run-stopping role, too. Chapman might not be able to play right away, however. He played through tears of his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus last year while being a key member of national-champion Alabama’s highly respected defense. He is still rehabbing the injuries, but teams can see what he did on tape. The knee problems might cause him to fall in the draft, but his talent is evident. He’s strong, moves well for a 300-pound tackle and can clog the interior of the defensive line. His own numbers might not stand out, but he impacts the game and makes life easier for his teammates. Chapman won’t add much as a pass-rusher and is probably a two-down player. How far he falls will be determined by how much concern teams have about the injury.

FOXSports.com draft expert Taylor Jones says:
“To me I think defensive tackle is the deepest position in the draft but still somewhat top-heavy. If you’re going to go after a tackle, then you probably need to address it in the first three rounds, otherwise you’re rolling the dice just based on a couple of bullet points your local scouts wrote down. A lot of the players you’re seeing now at defensive tackle are those guys that could be a 4-3 tackle or a 3-5 end. You’re not finding those big-body nose tackle-type position players anymore.”

At Minnesota

Anthony Jacobs, DL, (6-3, 291). Jacobs was the star of the Gophers’ pro day in March and caught the eye of several scouts in attendance. He ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, jumped 10 feet, 1 inch in the broad jump and reached 35 feet, 5 inches in the vertical leap. He met with representatives from the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers and even took a personality test for the teams. Jacobs said the teams told him to bulk up to 300 pounds, but with his athleticism at his size he could get a look in the later rounds of the draft.

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