Drafting DE: Where value meets need

The Vikings have numerous needs in this year's draft, but they may have to accept that their best value with the 12th overall pick won't be at quarterback, but rather defensive end. See how it stacks up and what Leslie Frazier had to say about the possibilities.

Need doesn't always match value in the NFL draft, which means the Vikings could be better off by not forcing a quarterback pick at the No. 12 slot.

No doubt, the Vikings have a need a quarterback, but if Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton are both gone, it might make the most sense for the Vikings to do one of two things – trade down or go for one of their other needs, like defensive line.

"We are going to try to upgrade our defensive line. It may be through the draft, it may be through free agency," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. "That's a scenario where we want to do some things that can really help our defensive line. We're aging at one of the spots. We need to do some things to improve. One of the mantras has been being good against the run, stopping the run. We've kind of slipped a little bit so we have to take a look at some things and see what we have to do to improve in that area."

Those comments came before the Vikings placed a first-round tender on defensive end Ray Edwards or signed Brian Robison to a three-year contract. But even if both of them return, that's not upgrading, it's maintaining. The comments also came before nose tackle Pat Williams told Viking Update he wasn't returning to the Vikings. Williams is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and is intent on looking for the first championship of his NFL career elsewhere.

Frazier deflected a follow-up question at the Combine that inquired if he was referring to Williams when he talked about getting old at one spot on the defensive line, but he did indicate that Williams' career is in its twilight years.

"Someday Pat is going to retire and somebody's got to be able to step into that role," Frazier said. "He's been a great, great player for us for a number of years. But we need a young guy to step up and we've got to determine whether that's Letroy (Guion) or whether that's Fred (Evans) or whether we've got to draft someone."

As with quarterback, the value at defensive tackle – especially more of a pure nose tackle – doesn't match up with the Vikings' 12th pick in the first round. Some of the top nose tackles, like Baylor's Phil Taylor or Oregon State's Stephen Paea, are thought of more as late first-round or maybe even second-round values.

That's not the case at defensive end, however, where as much as 25 percent of the first-round picks could be ends, including the potential for the top overall selection to come from that group. Florida's Da'Quan Bowers is expected to be long gone before the Vikings select, but with the possibility of quarterbacks Newton and Gabbert also being gone by then, numerous mock drafts have the Vikings selecting a defensive end at No. 12.

"It's a deep group on the defensive line, but there are some other positions that have some depth, and we've got to determine what direction we want to go in the draft, especially early," Frazier said while spending time in Indianapolis witnessing first-hand the workouts of those linemen. "… There are some quality players in that group, especially the defensive ends as well. We've got a little homework to do, and this is a part of the process, being able to sit down and talk with them and getting a chance to watch them work out. But the campus visits will be important as well. Just sit them in their environment, spend some time with them, just to see if they fit what we're trying to do."

A number of the mock drafts have the Vikings targeting North Carolina's Robert Quinn, an end that was part of the suspended Tar Heels players for the 2010 season. Still, Quinn is considered one of the most explosive defenders in the draft, but there are questions about whether he can hold up against the run.

California's Cameron Jordan, the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, is considered more of an end for a 3-4 defense, but Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and Iowa's Adrian Clayborn are believed to be good fits for a 4-3 base defensive end – players that can rush the passer but also hold up against the run.

Of course, the Vikings still have their own in-house defensive ends they may rely on to replace Edwards if he leaves via free agency. Robison, who received a three-year contract, is looking to prove he can be an every-down player and stand up against the run. Everson Griffen is hoping to overcome two arrests this offseason and have a chance to claim a starting spot as well.

With Edwards' uncertainty in free agency, the personnel at left defensive end is likely to change, but the philosophy of the defense is expected to stay mainly the same under new coordinator Fred Pagac.

"I think we'll always try to be a good run-defense team. There's some areas we want to improve on defense, but the characteristics of the defense won't change a lot," said Frazier, the former defensive coordinator. "We've got to shore up some areas, and part of that will be an infusion of youth and make sure that schematically we're doing the right things. People have seen us doing the same thing for a number of years. We've just got to make sure this offseason that we're giving ourselves the best chance to be successful in the current scheme."

That "infusion of youth" could include a first-round pick on the defensive line to help their chances and bolster depth, as defensive end seems to be where value meets need with the Vikings' selection at No. 12.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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