VIKINGS' DEFENSIVE ENDS: Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, D'Aundre Reed.
VIKINGS' NEEDS: The Vikings have arguably the best defensive end in the league in Allen, and both Robison and Griffen made significant strides last year. Given that the team likes Reed as well, there isn't a pressing need to take a DE in this year's draft. However, the team has taken at least one DE in the draft in all but two years since 2004 and one of the years they didn't was when they traded three draft picks for Allen. Don't be surprised if a talent they like that makes into the third day ends up getting drafted and competing with Reed for a roster spot.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Quinton Coples, North Carolina, 6-6, 284 – Fourth-year senior who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia…Two-year starter who had 114 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 18.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in that span…Started at defensive tackle in 2010 and moved outside to DE as a senior…Named first-team All-ACC last year…Has excellent size and overall length…Rarely gets knocked off his feet and has ideal balance and footwork…Uses his hands well to keep linemen off his body…Closes quickly on quarterbacks…Has excellent upper-body strength and can push linemen backward…A solid tackler who secures the ball carrier and consistently brings them down…Added 30 pounds in college without sacrificing speed…Is quick off the line, but doesn't have sustained burst to blow past linemen…Is not nearly as physically dominant as he should be given his measurables…His effort is inconsistent and he takes too many plays off…Was more dominant inside as a junior…Doesn't have the bulk strength to be a consistent run stuffer…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is an extremely athletic player, but his lack of effort at times could be seen as a potential red flag on draft day. However, if harnessed, he has Pro Bowl potential and played well during Senior Bowl week. He has an excellent chance of being the first DE off the board in the top half of the first round after the QB frenzy wears down.
Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, 6-2, 264 – Fifth-year senior who redshirted his sophomore year after suffering a broken foot…A non-starting regular in the rotation in 2010, he was a sack specialist – recording 28 tackles with nine of those being sacks…Became a full-time starter as a senior and recorded 48 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks (tying a school record) and two batted passes…First team All-SEC pick in 2011 and also received some All-America notices…Has the speed and burst to get around tackles on the pass rush…Is versatile – played both end spots, moved to DT on third down and used as a standup pass rusher – making him a fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme…Has a strong upper body and uses it to gain a leverage advantage on OTs…Holds his ground in run defense…Has an array of pass-rush moves to get separation…Has good change-of-direction skills…Is too often the last defender to react and move on the snap…Has short arms (30½ inches) and is shorter than most standard NFL DEs…Limited experience as a one-year starter and didn't play DE until he came to South Carolina…Doesn't always play with the same level of intensity from game to game…Has good burst, but doesn't have elite quickness to blow past blockers…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 28 reps, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: An intriguing prospect, his ability to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 system might end up making him the first DE off the board. Whether he goes first or not, he will be off the board by the middle of the first round at the latest.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Chandler Jones, Syracuse, 6-5, 266 – Fourth-year junior…Started 28 of 32 career games…Missed five games in 2011 with a knee injury…In his last two seasons, in 20 games, he recorded 95 tackles, 17 tackles for losses, 8.5 sacks, six passes batted down and five forced fumbles…His brother Arthur played for Syracuse and is on the Ravens roster and his brother Jon is a UFC world champion…Has prototype size and build…Has long arms and uses them effectively to maintain separation…Has a good burst off the line and is often the first to react to the snap…Has the type of body that, if the system calls for it, can add 20 pounds of muscle and bulk…Rarely gets cut-blocked and has good field vision…Doesn't have top-end speed to close on the passer as well as others in the draft class…Is a big tooth-loosening hitter and tends to drag down ball carriers…Doesn't turn the corner with ferocity…Gets neutralized too often…Wasn't as explosive following his knee injury in 2011…Ran a 4.77 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A classic five-technique, he is likely going to be plugged in as a right end at the next level. He has a lot of positives to his game, but his downside issues are enough that he will likely drop into the second round.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, 6-4, 261 – Fourth-year junior…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2011, when he recorded 57 tackles, a whopping 22.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks and an uncanny nine forced fumbles…His 16 sacks tied a school record held by Simeon Rice and his nine forced fumbles were the second-most in NCAA history…Was named first-team All-America and won the Ted Hendricks Award, given to college football's top defensive end…Lost the tip of his left index finger in a weightlifting accident…Is an elite athlete who hustles constantly and makes plays that head the other direction…Doesn't take plays off and runs at 100 m.p.h. when pass rushing…Closes quickly on the ball…Played both outside and inside and succeeded at both…Uses his hands well to jolt linemen and sets up for the next play…Comes out of his stance high and gets neutralized by savvy O-linemen…Needs work on his technique and freelances too often…Doesn't have great change-of-direction skills or lateral movement skills…Only a starter for one season…Doesn't have the natural power to be a dominant run stopper…Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with 27 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A virtual unknown coming into 2011, he was a dominant performer throughout the season. Is ideally suited for a 4-3 system where he could play both DE and DT. He is a little raw and will need refinement of his game, but his sheer athleticism should be enough to get him off the board in the second round, with the potential for a team gambling on greatness late in the first round.
Nick Perry, USC, 6-3, 271 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter…Blossomed as a junior, recording 54 tackles, 13 tackles for losses, 9.5 sacks, three passes batted down and three forced fumbles…Looks the part with a chiseled physique and prototype size…Has excellent speed off the snap and extremely good closing speed…Has very good change-of-direction skills…Has good field awareness and reads and reacts quickly, especially in the run game…Uses his powerful upper body to create an advantage…Has short arms and O-linemen get into his body too easily…Is projected as a standup 3-4 pass rusher, but has very limited experience playing at OLB…Gets cut too often when moving laterally to the ball…Is inconsistent in his production and effort…Wears down at times late in games…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine with a massive 35 reps of 225 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A fierce pass rusher who doesn't always play up to his ability, he will be one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. Some have mentioned him as a first-round prospect given his amazing Combine performance, but, because he projects as a part-time pass rusher in a 3-4 system, he likely will be on the board into Day 2.
Jared Crick, Nebraska, 6-4, 279 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter…In his two full seasons, he had 143 tackles, 32 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks and two fumble recoveries…Played just five games as a senior after suffering a torn pectoral muscle…Very strong against the run…Technically sound in most respects of his game…Has excellent size and big hands to maul offensive linemen…Relentless effort and never quits on a play…Has good closing speed and is a sure tackler…Intelligent player who reads and reacts quickly…Has short arms and at times has difficulty keeping blockers away from him…Is not an explosive pass rusher and gets most of his sacks due to sheer determination…Doesn't have ideal upper- or lower-body strength…Injury concerns might scare off some teams...Ran a 4.91 40 at the Combine with a 31-inch vertical jump and an 8-8 broad jump, but didn't lift because of a left pectoral strain. PROJECTION: A blue-collar player who makes up for his lack of pure athleticism with a strong work ethic. Injuries the last two seasons may hurt his stock, but he is the type of player line coaches love, because he gets everything he can out of every play.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Vinny Curry, Marshall, 6-3, 266 – Fifth-year senior who was declared academically ineligible as a true freshman in 2007…A three-year starter…Over the last two seasons, he had 171 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 23 sacks and nine forced fumbles…Named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2011…Plays with high intensity at all times and he doesn't take plays off, often chasing down plays heading away from him…Has strong hands and uses them to abuse opponents…Has good closing speed and covers ground in a hurry…Gets his pads under O-linemen and has multiple pass-rush moves…Doesn't have ideal size for an NFL DE…Wears down late in games when facing top competition…Doesn't have great upper-body strength…Bites on misdirection and fakes too often…Takes wide looping angles too often, taking himself out of plays…Isn't a student of the game…Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine with a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump, but didn't lift due to a left wrist injury. PROJECTION: An experienced player who does a lot of things well, but nothing that would be viewed as being in the elite class. He has a chance to come off the board in the second round, but could end up being one of the players who slides into the third round with a second-round grade.
Trevor Guyton, Cal, 6-3, 285 – Fourth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until last season, when he notched 46 tackles, 12 tackles for losses, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Played behind 2011 first-round picks Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan…Has excellent base strength and uses his balance and leverage to win one-on-one battles…Has an array of pass-rush moves, including an excellent spin move…Versatile and has experience at both end and tackle…Keeps his pads low…Constantly hustles and drives to the whistle…A vocal team leader who works hard in practice and in the weight room…Doesn't read and react as quickly as he should…Has difficulty getting disengaged when blockers get him locked up…Doesn't play with great awareness…His hand punch isn't as violent as most top draft prospects…Limited starting experience…Ran a 5.01 40 at the Combine with a 31-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump, but didn't lift because of a left shoulder injury. PROJECTION: A solid left run-stopping end product who isn't overly flashy, but gets the job done. He has a chance to come off the board late in Day 2 and could be a priority pick if he is still on the board when Day 3 begins.
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia, 6-3, 245 – Sixth-year senior…Had a difficult childhood that included a stint in juvenile jail, earned his GED in late 2007 and spent two years at Mount San Antonio (Calif.) College, where he was first used as a safety…Started just six of 26 games at WVU, recording 61 tackles, 29 tackles for losses, 22.5 sacks and five forced fumbles…Incredible speed and closing burst…Has one of the quickest first steps of any player at the position in the Class of 2012…Has great balance to loop around heavier blockers and get to the quarterback…A sack specialist who plays like he's been shot from a cannon…Self-made player…Is extremely raw and will need a lot of refinement…Is undersized in terms of bulk and mass…Is viewed by many scouts as a one-trick pony…Once a blocker gets his hands on him, he is typically neutralized…Viewed as a classic 'tweener – ideally suited to play OLB in a 3-4, but has never played the position…Ran a sparkling 4.41 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: An undersized player who is viewed as a third-down pass-rush specialist, he will face the stigma of teams that don't use picks in the first two days on players who will only be on the field for 15-20 plays a game. He will go quickly on Day 3 and could become a factor in the right system. A player to keep an eye on over the next couple of years, because his one trick is pretty impressive.
Cam Johnson, Virgina, 6-4, 268 – Fourth-year senior…Started 40 of 42 career games…Played outside linebacker his first two seasons in a 3-4 defense before the team moved to a 4-3 and he moved to DE…In two years as a DE, he recorded 83 tackles with 25.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…Has long arms and uses them well to shield off defenders with strength and leverage…Has a great first couple of steps off the snap and can beat opponents from the get-go…Has good lower-body base strength…Nonstop motor in pursuit, he is known for chasing down plays and finishing strong…Has good power in his hands…Never posted the kind of numbers that were expected of him and would disappear at times…Had a better season as a junior than as a senior…Has an injury history – missed six games in 2008 with a broken ankle, needed surgery after 2009 with a torn labrum, missed time in 2011 with a leg injury and was limited at the Combine with a pectoral injury…Is stiff in his hips and doesn't project as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme…Doesn't play to the level of a four-year starter…Ran a 4.75 40 at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical and an 8-9 broad jump, but didn't lift due to a pectoral strain. PROJECTION: An interesting prospect who has a wealth of experience, but has run so hot and cold that some teams may not consider him until the final rounds. However, he has an upside to him, which should likely take him off the board early in Day 3.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Jake Bequette, Arkansas, 6-5, 274
Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State, 6-3, 263
Jack Crawford, Penn State, 6-5, 274
Tyrone Crawford, Boise State, 6-4, 275
Akiem Hicks, Regina (Canada), 6-5, 318
Malik Jackson, Tennessee, 6-5, 284
Taylor Thompson, SMU, 6-6. 266
Billy Winn, Boise State, 6-4, 294
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.