Positional draft analysis: Defensive end

The Vikings have their starters in place but will need to restock for eventual replacements and depth at defensive end. We review the strengths, weaknesses, production and questions facing the top 10 prospects.

VIKINGS DEFENSIVE ENDS – Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, Leon Mackey, Caesar Rayford.

VIKINGS POSITION NEED – The Vikings allowed Jared Allen to leave via free agency last offseason and re-signed Griffen, but depth was an issue. Crichton didn’t bring much his rookie season and depth was somewhat depleted even more with Corey Wootton allowed to leave via free agency. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings draft an edge rusher in the first round, whether he is going to be used in the rotation there or more as a linebacker. Robison isn’t getting any younger and injuries would leave the Vikings in a pinch, which could necessitate an early pick. However, given their historical success at picking solid defensive ends in the middle of the draft – Griffen and Robison were both fourth-round picks – don’t be stunned to see a middle-round pick here as well.

POSITION ANALYSIS – This is one of the strongest pass-rushing classes in some time and that doesn’t include Leonard Williams, who most view as a defensive tackle. The class is deep enough that five defensive ends could come off the board in the first round and even more on Day 2. The failure rate of pass rushing ends is quite high, so there are no guarantees of future success based on college achievement, but every time one is drafted, teams are convinced they’ll be the next big thing. As such, there will be no shortage of teams willing to get the “next big thing” outside pass-rushing terrorist.

Dante Fowler, Florida, 6-2¾, 261 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 110 tackles, 25.5 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Very versatile – played at both end spots, defensive tackle and OLB …Has incredible footwork and rarely is on the ground unless he launches himself…Has the athleticism to be a three-down player at DE or OLB depending on the defensive scheme…Plays with passion so whoever drafts him will have a player expecting to start on Week 1…Doesn’t have ideal height or length to play as a 4-3 end…Has to be stronger at the point of attack because he has gotten by on pure talent to this point…His aggression takes him out of too many plays and sets the stage for big plays in the screen game…Ran a 4.60 40 at the Combine with just 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Fowler is a supremely talented athlete who is in play from No. 3 at Jacksonville to every pick until he goes. He likely won’t make it past the top five or six picks.

Randy Gregory, Nebraska, 6-5, 235 – Fourth-year junior…Didn’t have the academic credentials to attend Purdue – where he committed – and spent two years at Arizona Western, suffering a knee injury in 2012 that sidelined him…In two years at Nebraska, he started 20 of 24 games, finishing with 120 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 17.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…First-team All-Big 10 in 2014…Has an explosive burst off the line and uses long arms to keep tackles away from his body…Has great agility to keep from getting stymied on contact…Has very good change-of-direction skills…Has very good field awareness and bats down a lot of passes on quick slant passes intended to be completed behind him…Has a lean frame – 6-5, 235 is much more in the 3-4 linebacker realm than being a 4-3 DE…When he gets contacted by big offensive tackles, he gets neutralized too easily…Ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the Combine with 24 reps, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: The elephant in the room with Gregory is a positive marijuana test at the Combine. He could be a top-five pick or be the Green Room poster child who lasts way too long, especially since his Combine test wasn’t a first-time offense. Any team from No. 3 on will evaluate their belief that he’s ready to fly right. He’s the most variable player at the top end of the draft outside of Marcus Mariota. Whoever gets him will get a talent that can dominate.

Shane Ray, Missouri, 6-2¾, 245 – Third-year junior…One-year starter who had 61 tackles, 22½ tackles for a loss, 14½ sacks and three forced fumbles in 2014…His father Wendell was a star at Missouri and a fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 1981…Has an explosive first step and routinely zips past offensive tackles off the snap…Uses his hands well to keep offensive linemen from engaging with him…Has multiple pass-rush moves and mixes and matches them well…Good closing speed when he has the ball in sight…Gets cut-blocked too often and needs to develop more field awareness…Limited experience as a full-time player…A little undersized for a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL…Did not run or jump at the Combine, but did 21 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A strong pass rusher who dominated SEC competition. He is likely best-suited to be a stand-up edge rusher in a 3-4 system, but he plays with dynamic energy and can be a dominating player in the right system.

Arik Armstead, Oregon, 6-7¼, 292 – Third-year junior…One-year full-time starter who had 46 tackles, 5½ tackles for a loss, 2½ sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 2014…Played basketball for the Ducks until his senior season…Huge player with the muscle mass to add even more weight to his body…Is very agile and can change direction and accelerate quickly…Has excellent closing speed and closes grounds in a hurry…Is too often slow to react on the snap and is often the last lineman moving on the snap…Very raw in pro terms and will need time and coaching to harness his talent…Is a bull rusher who needs to develop multiple pass rush moves to be successful…Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A massive player who is clearly a work in progress, teams will be looking to draft him as a part-time player to start with the potential to create an imposing dominator who can take over games. He has boom/bust written all over him because he may never reach the level that his intangibles would dictate.

Alvin Dupree, Kentucky, 6-4, 269 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year full-time starter who had 226 tackles, 34½ tackles for a loss, 21 sacks and four forced fumbles in that span…A productive player who consistently finds his way to the ball…Has an explosive first step and excellent closing speed on the ball…Can change direction on a dime and get to top speed quickly…Despite adding 15 pounds of muscle in college, he still doesn’t have take-on functional field strength…Can be slow to react to plays developing in front of him…Struggles to get away once offensive linemen get their hands on him…Gets beat too often in man-to-man coverage situations in the passing game…Did not lift at the Combine with a left pectoral sprain, but ran a 4.56 40, with a 42-inch vertical jump and a 11-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Dupree is a strong edge rusher who has holes in his game that will take time to reach his pure potential, but he has the athleticism to be something special in the right system.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA, 6-3½, 267 – Fifth-year senior who missed the 2013 season after having two surgeries on his left hip…A one-year full-time starter who had 53 tackles, 11½ tackles for a loss, six sacks and five passes defensed in 2014…A versatile player who brings talent to both the pass and run game…A hustle player who never gives up on a play…Has extremely good hand use and uses them to rush the passer and hold the edge in the run game…Some teams will have him with a big red flag for durability considering he’s already had two hip surgeries…Doesn’t provide consistency in his pass rush in terms of sacks or QB hurries…Doesn’t play with explosion or change-of-direction skills…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with durability concerns, he made himself a lot of money at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, putting on a show at both. He has the ability to be a big-time NFL player, but injury concerns will scare off some teams.

Mario Edwards, Florida State, 6-2¾, 279 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 72 tackles, 20½ tackles for a loss, 6½ sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…His father, Mario Edwards Sr., was a standout at FSU and spent five seasons in the NFL…Has long arms and big hands to keep blockers away from his body…Can hold the edge well in the run game…Has good acceleration and makes explosive contact when trying to push linemen backwards…Doesn’t have a quick-twitch burst off the line and is often the last lineman moving on the snap…Has limited range when asked to play in coverage…Doesn’t have a variety of pass-rush moves…Ran a 4.84 40 at the Combine with 32 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He played end at FSU but translates more to three-technique in a 4-3 defense or a five-technique in a 3-4. He has NFL bloodlines, which always seem to be in vogue, and has talent, but his weaknesses will need to be masked if he’s going to have a long and productive NFL career.

Danielle Hunter, LSU, 6-5¼, 252 – Third-year junior…A two-year starter who had 130 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in that span…Has long arms and the capability to add 15-20 pounds of muscles and core strength…An intriguing combination of size, strength, balance and length…Has good agility to make plays anywhere on the field…Has a very inconsistent get-off from the line…Has a narrow frame that have some wondering if he can be a three-down player…Didn’t have the kind of sack production he looks like he should have…Did not jump at the Combine after suffering a right hamstring injury, but ran a 4.54 40 with 25 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: Has all the tools to be a very good NFL player, but has never seemed to put up production to match his physical gifts. He’s a tease that tantalizes scouts but may never live up to his hype. A risk/reward pick.

Trey Flowers, Arkansas, 6-2¼, 266 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 157 tackles, 42 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks and three forced fumbles…Clearly looks the part with good size and a muscular build…Is a long strider who can turn the edge on most offensive tackles…Is always on the move and never takes plays off…Doesn’t have explosion or elite speed…Has no experience dropping in coverage…Is a little too short for a classic 4-3 defensive end…Ran a 4.93 40 at the Combine with 28 reps, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Not an athlete that jumps off on game tape, but he’s a hard worker who looks to fit best as a left end in a 4-3 defense. He likely will remain on the board well into the second day and possibly even Day 3, but, in the right scheme, he could make an impact early on.

Preston Smith, Mississippi State, 6-5, 271 – Fourth-year senior…A two-year starter who had 92 tackles, 21½ tackles for a loss, 11½ sacks and three forced fumbles…Has long arms and good hand use to shed blockers consistently…Has versatility to play inside or outside…Has a good array of varied pass rush moves…Doesn’t have ideal initial burst or closing speed…Is typically stymied when blockers get into his body…Slows down to a crawl when asked to change directions on the fly…Ran a 4.74 40 with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with some upside who can be a left end in a 4-3 or a five-technique in a 3-4 defense, but his lack of elite traits will likely keep him on the board until late into Day 2 or possibly beyond, but whoever gets him will get a good player who will give an honest day’s work.

Henry Anderson, Stanford, 6-6¼, 294
Deion Barnes, Penn State, 6-4, 260
Tavaris Barnes, Clemson, 6-3¾, 282
Anthony Chickillo, Miami, 6-3¼, 267
Corey Crawford, Clemson, 6-5¼, 283
Markus Golden, Missouri, 6-2½, 260
Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma, 6-3½, 262
Martin Ifedi, Memphis, 6-3¼. 275
Nate Orchard, Utah, 6-3¼, 250
Cedric Reed, Texas, 6-5¼, 269
Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky, 6-4½, 274
Lynden Trail, Norfolk State, 6-6¾, 269


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