Reviewing Vikings visitors: Defense

The Vikings have been busy hosting draft prospects the last few days. We review the accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses of the defenders they were looking at.

Randy Gregory, Defensive end, Nebraska
Gregory was primarily used as the weak-side defensive end for Nebraska and started 20 of the 24 games he played. During his time there he recorded 120 tackles and 17½ sacks. He also caused two fumbles, recovered another, intercepted two passes, deflected four other throws and blocked two kicks.

He is a naturally gifted athlete but is a little on the smaller side for a defensive end and might fit better as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL. However, that does not mean that he would not excel as a defensive end in the NFL.

Even though he is a strong player, it is Gregory’s speed that is his greatest strength. He shows a great burst off the ball that allows him to penetrate and disrupt the backfield. And he has the ability to run around an offensive tackle who is slow off the ball.

At the beginning of the offseason, Gregory was in the conversation of possibly being a top-5 pick in this year’s draft. However, he has had a history of injury problems and then news broke that he failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine. Those combined factors could cause him to fall.

If he does fall far enough, he would be a player that the Vikings look to target. The Vikings already have two solid defensive ends in Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, but do not have much depth. If the Vikings were to draft Gregory, it would provide them with a talented defender they can rotate in, and a player to replace Robison in the coming years, as he is currently 31 years old.

Lynden Trail, Defensive End, Norfolk State
After transferring from Florida, Trail started 27 of 36 games for Norfolk State and recorded 255 tackles and 19½ sacks. He also intercepted two passes, deflected 16 other balls, blocked two kicks, forced eight fumbles and recovered seven others.

Trail is a big, physical linebacker with the coverage skills and speed of a strong safety all wrapped up into the body of a defensive end. He was one of the best-kept secrets of the NFL draft for a while, but the cat was out of the bag once he was able to showcase his skill at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.

Trail has big hands (10¼ inches) and long arms (34 inches) to go along with a big upper body with good muscle development. His tall frame and thick build are ideal for playing defensive end at the NFL level in a 4-3 defensive scheme.

He shows good quickness off the snap of the ball and is able to beat offensive linemen who are slow off the ball. Trail has good agility and can change direction quickly, and his strong arms allow him to shed reach blocks easily.

As mentioned earlier, the Vikings need to add depth at the defensive end position. Head coach Mike Zimmer likes to rotate players in and out of the game, but didn’t have any ends behind Robison and Griffen he felt comfortable putting in the game on a regular basis. If the Vikings are able to get their hands on Trail, it should provide Zimmer with the type of player he is looking for.

Marcus Hardison, Defensive Tackle/End, Arizona State
The first part of Hardison’s career was spent at Dodge City Community College, where he played in 19 games and recorded 84 tackles and seven sacks. He also blocked six kicks, caused three fumbles and recovered one.

Then he moved to Arizona State, where he appeared in 26 games and started in his final 13. While there he recorded 58 tackles and 11 sacks, adding two interceptions, one pass deflection, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Zimmer loves versatile players and Hardison would provide him just that. He is the type of player who can come in as either a defensive tackle or a defensive end and be able to rush the passer from both positions.

He excels not only as a pass rusher but as a run stopper as well because he maintains good gap control and has a good understanding for the game.

Paul Dawson, Linebacker, TCU
Dawson has the ability to play both middle linebacker and outside linebacker, depending on what his team needs. He started seven games as a middle linebacker and 11 as an outside linebacker at TCU, recording 241 tackles and 6½ sacks. He also caused and recovered three fumbles, had five interceptions – returning one for a touchdown – and eight pass breakups.

He has a still-developing frame but overall good muscle development. Dawson was able to add on 15 pounds over the last two years but will need to add on more weight in order to compete at the NFL level.

Dawson lacks the speed that most NFL linebackers have, but he makes up for it with good recognition and agility. He has the ability to take on a ball carrier one-on-one as well as drop back into coverage. Last year he even began to add a new wrinkle to his game as a pass rusher and performed it pretty well.

It has been awhile since the Vikings have had a player hold down the middle of their defense for multiple years, and it is possible they see Dawson as a player that could do just that. He is a little on the slower side, and still needs to get stronger, but he has smarts and understands the game of football.

Benardrick McKinney, Linebacker, Mississippi State
McKinney started in 36 of 39 games at middle linebacker and recorded 244 tackles and 7½ sacks. He was also able to add on eight deflected passes, one forced fumble, and six recovered fumbles.

When McKinney first joined Mississippi State, he wasn’t a linebacker but a dual-threat quarterback with a big arm. However, since moving to the defensive side of the ball he has become one of the best middle linebackers in the nation and could very well be the first to come off the board in the NFL draft.

The middle linebacker shows great balance and quickness when running downhill, but lacks the agility required to quickly change direction. McKinney also appears to lack the lateral speed required to chase opponents down from behind.

If the Vikings were to draft McKinney it is likely they will use him the same way they used Jasper Brinkley in 2014. Have him on the field at the beginning of drives but take him off the field in any passing situations, or whenever they are in the nickel formation. However, he could be very useful in bolstering up the middle of the Vikings defense against the run.

Trae Waynes, Cornerback, Michigan State
During his time at Michigan State, Waynes started 27 of the 36 games he played in and recorded 101 tackles, 13 pass deflections and six interceptions. He also added 1½ sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Waynes is considered by many to be the best cornerback in this year’s draft. He shows no stiffness is his hips when in coverage and comes out of transition easily. He also has good balance, which allows him to stay on his man’s hip throughout his route.

Another strength that Waynes has is his speed. He is fast off the line and has the ability to stay with almost any receiver. This was shown at the NFL Scouting Combine when he posted a 4.31 40-yard dash time – fastest among participating cornerbacks.

Last season Xavier Rhodes began to really emerge as a shutdown cornerback for the Vikings, but the cornerback spot opposite him was always a question mark. Captain Munnerlyn was brought in to be the slot cornerback, not an outside guy, and Josh Robinson struggled at times whenever he was paired up against a bigger receiver.

If the Vikings were to bring in Waynes it would give them any other talented cornerback to play opposite of Rhodes. Having two cornerbacks he is confident in would also allow Zimmer more freedom to blitz with his safeties and linebackers.

Marcus Peters, Cornerback, Washington
During his time in Washington, Peters started 27 of the 34 games he played in and recorded 129 tackles and a sack. He also had one forced fumble, recovered three fumbles – returned one for a touchdown – deflected 25 passes and intercepted 11 – returning one for a touchdown.

Peters is a very talented player but has anger management problems and maturity issues. Those problems caused him to be suspended for one game because of targeting, and eventually led him to being kicked off the team after arguing with the coaching staff.

Even though Peters has first-round talent, he likely will fall to either the late first round and possibly out of the first round. Teams’ general manager’s will likely be turned away by the red flags and not be willing to spend their top pick on him.

He has great ball skills and is able to track the ball to its highest point while it is in flight.

Peters is a high-risk high reward type of player in this year’s draft. If the Vikings choose to target him they could get him at a value price, but he could be more trouble than he is worth.

Damarious Randall, Free Safety, Arizona State
Randall started 24 of the 25 games he played in during his time at Arizona State. He recorded 177 tackles and one sack while also adding four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, 12 pass deflections and six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Before his time at Arizona State, Randall spent two years playing baseball at a small junior college in Kansas. While there, he played as a shortstop, but all of his coaches wanted him to move to centerfield because of his speed.

After playing just one year of junior college football, Randall had multiple offers to play Division I football. In the end, he chose to attend Arizona State.

Randall is undersized for a safety, but has been able to show good endurance and durability while on the field. He also has a very good recognition of the passing game and would act as the secondary’s quarterback in college, making sure everyone was lined up where they were supposed to be.

His biggest strength is definitely in pass coverage, as he has the speed necessary to cover a lot of ground. Randall also has the ability to cover a slot receiver one-on-one when he needs to.

Even though he is undersized he is always willing to fill in and help with run support when he needs to. Randall also does a nice job filling up holes when defending the run, but does take a false step from time to time because of his inexperience.

Last season Harrison Smith emerged as a leader and playmaker for the Vikings defense, but the safety spot opposite him was always a question mark, especially in pass coverage. Randall could help cure that.


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