Vikings visitor possesses extreme versatility

The Vikings are reportedly visiting with one of the draft’s most versatile defenders, an interesting prospect to say the least.

The Minnesota Vikings’ predraft visits continue to come to light, and one of them unearthed two weeks ago by the Virginan-Pilot is an interesting one.

Lynden Trail was at the Senior Bowl, where he was used in variety of ways, from defensive end to linebacker, and that sort of versatility is an asset in Mike Zimmer’s defense with the Vikings.

The Norfolk State prospect got an invite to the Senior Bowl from the event’s director, former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, after he discovered Trail during a busy stretch of visiting campuses last fall.

“He told me if I played great I had a great opportunity to come to the Senior Bowl,” Trail told Scout.com following a South squad practice at the Senior Bowl. “That’s kind of fueled my fire. I did what I could and at the end of the day I was blessed with the opportunity to come here and showcase my talents and that’s what I’m here for.”

Trail showed coaches and scouts in Mobile, Ala. at the end of January just how versatile he can be. He doesn’t look a prototype fit at any one position, but with his 6-foot-6½, 269-pound frame, he simply finds to ways to make plays, both on defense and offense.

Working as a defensive end, he makes it difficult for quarterbacks to throw over. At linebacker, his 4.50-second speed in the 20-yard shuttle places him midway between the averages of the defensive linemen and linebackers, but his impressive 83¼-inch wing span makes it difficult for quarterbacks and receivers to find “windows” at the second level of the defense. At tight end, his height, wing span and 10½-inch hands are all assets as a big target down the seam.

“I’ve been talking to the coaches,” he said at the Senior Bowl. “I let them know that I am a three-position guy — outside linebacker, defensive end and (tight end). I led my team in touchdowns the year before last with four on offense. So give me an opportunity to show you I can catch and run routes and I’ll shock you.”

Trail started 27 of 36 games at Norfolk State, recording 255 tackles (101 solos), 30 of them for losses of 160 yards. He also produced 19½ sacks for minus-125 yards and 27 quarterback pressures. He also intercepted two passes and deflected 16 others, recovered seven fumbles, cause eight others and blocked a pair of kicks.

Coming out of Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Scout.com had him rated as a four-star recruit and the 15th defensive end in the nation. These days he is the ranked as the 11th-best defensive end in the draft and a third-day pick.

Here is the full scouting report on Trail from the NFL’s lead scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas:

Perhaps the “best kept secret” in the 2015 draft class, by the time the postseason all-star games conclude, the NFL might have recognized Trail as the “second coming” of Jeremiah Trotter – a big, physical linebacker with strong safety-like pass coverage skills and speed trapped in a defensive end’s body. A perfect fit for the scheme used by the New England Patriots, scouts have even started comparing Trail’s range and blitzing skills to those of the Pats’ Jamie Collins.

The former prized recruit of the Florida Gators left that school when Urban Meyer bolted for Ohio State.

Feeling he had no opportunity to show his skills after two years of inactivity at Florida, Trail transferred to Norfolk State. Even though he started just three games in 2012, he led the team with 70 tackles that included six sacks, pacing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with 17.0 stops-for-loss, adding eight QB pressures.

The full-time starter at strong-side outside linebacker in 2013, Trail received All-American honors after he caused five fumbles, recovered two others, blocked two kicks, intercepted a pair of passes and broke up eight other throws. He was second on the team with 94 tackles, posting 10 QB pressures, 12.5 stops-for-loss and 8.5 sacks.

A unanimous All-American in 2014, Trail, a Senior Bowl invitee, closed out his career with 91 tackles that included five sacks and 11.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Among his nine QB hurries, two of them caused fumbles and three others resulted in interceptions.

Trail has a tall frame with a thick build which is ideal for either playing end in the classic 4-3 alignment, but with his closing speed and lateral agility, he has found a home as a strong-side ‘backer in a 3-4 system. He has very good muscle development with a well-defined upper torso, big hands (10¼ inches) and impressive arm length (34 inches) and reach, showing the upper body strength to strike with force.

When Trail plays with his hand down, he shows very good quickness off the snap and the suddenness to gain advantage over a lethargic blocker. He competes with good leverage and balance, showing urgency moving down the line and has made good strides in improving his footwork dropping back in pass coverage, making him a nice fit as an outside linebacker candidate in an NFL 3-4 defense.

He uses his long arms with efficiency in defeating reach blocks and has a strong hand thrust to jolt offensive linemen coming out of their stance. His lateral agility allows him to play faster than his timed speed. He shows good flexibility changing direction and his low center of gravity prevents blockers from locking on and dragging him to the ground.

Trail sees the field well and is quick to spot even the slightest of creases in order to shoot the gaps. He is effective with his counter moves working to the inside. His spin moves and quickness lets him easily defeat the slower offensive tackles when working off the edge. He has good hand usage that he combines with his burst to play off blocks and consistently pressure the quarterback. He has the strength to bull rush and push the pocket.

His flexibility has also improved as he does a better job of opening his hips (used to be a little stiff and took false steps when changing direction). Trail has a relentless nature chasing from the backside and the ability to stop, plant and redirect in order to maintain pursuit on the passer. He uses his hand jolt with force to rock the blockers back on their heels and is very effective as a wrap-up tackler. His tackle technique lets him generate the power needed to force turnovers in the backfield.

He has “football quickness,” which means that he wears the pads well and moves better on the field than the stopwatch indicates. He has good lateral mobility and is fluid changing directions in space.

His size makes him a better fit at defensive end in a four-man front, but is a team can look past his stopwatch time they could unearth a strong-side outside linebacker for a three-man front. He has average upper body strength and flashes adequate lower body strength, and might need to get stouter to play with his hand down. He flashes a mean streak when rushing the passer and making plays in pursuit, but doesn't play with the same kind of edge when teams run at him.

Trail takes good pursuit angles and generally does a nice job of closing down cutback lanes. He is effective at recognizing down blocks and keeps his hands active to prevent from getting washed down the line by tight ends. He also does a solid job of getting hands up when sees quarterbacks start their throwing motion.

As a pass rusher, Trail has an effective spin move and uses his hands quite well when attempting to club offensive tackles in one direction and then throw a swim move in the opposite direction. He drives his legs on contact and flashes the ability to drive tackles into the quarterback’s lap. Even at 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash, he’s quick enough to turn the corner and can set tackles up to the outside before redirecting inside.

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