TEAM NEED – The Vikings have a bona fide star in Griffen and a budding situational star in Hunter. Robison is back for 2015, but this may be his last rodeo with the Vikings, so there is a need for adding talent here. Given the defensive mindset of Mike Zimmer, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Vikings take a defensive end/pass rusher in the first round, but more likely is a pick being made there somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. Given the Vikings’ success of having players taken in the fourth round making a long-term impact (Griffen, Robison and Jared Allen, who was a fourth-round pick of the Chiefs), that may be the route they go, but Zimmer loves young, hungry defensive talent, so any pick could go this way, especially given the talent in this year’s draft class.
POSITION ANALYSIS – This may be one of the deepest defensive end/edge rusher classes in a long time. There may be five or six of these players getting drafted on Day 1 and there are some ’tweener types that are viewed more as 3-4 outside linebackers that could end up being taken as 4-3 defensive ends. This dearth of talent could end up creating a situation where some teams with needs may pass on a defensive end in the first round with the confidence that they can still get a good player in the second or third rounds.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Joey Bosa, Ohio State, 6-6¼, 269 – Third-year junior…Started 37 of 41 career games, recording 150 tackles, 50½ tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Two-time consensus All-America and 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year…Has an ideal combination of size and strength and the type of body that could add 10-20 pounds more without sacrificing any of his primary strengths…Has a motor that doesn’t quit and he plays to the whistle on every down…Is adept at reading blockers and finding immediate leverage advantages…Has good body control and can change directions and chase plays…Plays a little out of control at times and will take himself out of plays too often…Doesn’t have an explosive burst off the line or the quick-twitch moves to blow past blockers…Doesn’t have ideal chase-down speed…Ran a 4.86 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An impressive athlete with a high motor that reminds you of a Jared Allen type, he has all the tools needed to be an immediate starter and a player who could last a decade in the NFL. If he makes it past Dallas at No. 4, it would be a bit of a surprise, but he’s a top-10 talent either way.
DeForest Buckner, Oregon, 6-7, 291 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who had 164 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 14½ sacks, with a forced fumble and fumble recovery in that span…Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015…Has extremely good size and long arms to keep linemen off of him…Very productive in 2015, with 83 tackles and 10½ sacks…Brings a lot of versatility having played both tackle and end and looks to be a decent scheme fit in either a 4-3 or a 3-4…Has good lower body strength and good footwork to keep linemen from neutralizing him at the point of attack…Is cut hit and will get a little high pad level, which will allow him to get his legs cut from under him…Doesn’t have a variety of pass-rush moves and will need to improve his leverage and technique…Does not consistently use his hands well…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 5.05 40 with a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A versatile athlete who will be on everyone’s draft board regardless of scheme, he will be high on the radar and shouldn’t make it out of the top 10 picks.
Shaq Lawson, Clemson, 6-3¾, 269 – Third-year junior…Didn’t become a full-time starter until 2015 when he had 60 tackles, 25½ tackles for a loss, 12½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…A consensus All-America pick in 2015…Has a lot of explosion off the snap and good pre-snap awareness…Runs hot and plays to the whistle on almost every play, seeking out contact and looking to finish…Has excellent change-of-direction skills and doesn’t lose much in the transition…Has good overall body strength to hold up vs. the run or the pass…Will be viewed as a much better fit in a 4-3 than a 3-4, which could limit some of the interested teams…A little shorter than most elite NFL defensive ends…A limited sample size, but was productive as a part-time player before blowing up in 2015…Did not lift at the Combine with a left shoulder injury, but ran a 4.70 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An extremely athletic player who fits best in a 3-4 defense, his stock will be limited with 4-3 teams and he is viewed as a work in progress with only one season as a full-time starter. But his pluses outweigh his minuses and he should be gone by the middle of the first round.
Kevin Dodd, Clemson, 6-6, 277 – Fourth-year senior…Never started a game until 2015, when he recorded 62 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 12½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…Has very good quickness and gets off the snap consistently first and diagnoses plays quickly…Has strong hands and rips through linemen that don’t deliver a good hand punch to him…Has a prototypical frame and has the potential to add more weight…Is old for a college rookie at a speed-generation position – he’ll be 24 as a rookie…Doesn’t have a variety of pass-rush moves…Has very limited experience to base a draft decision on…Chose not to lift at the Combine and didn’t jump because he pulled a hamstring. All he did was run a 4.86 40.
PROJECTION: There’s no questioning the eyeball test. He has the size and the growth potential to fit in a 4-3 or a 3-4, but he has played only one year full time and was too banged up at the Combine to lift and then hurt himself running. That said, all it takes is one team to bite and all 32 are in play, making him a potential first-round pick.
Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State, 6-4¼, 273 – Fourth-year junior…Started 36 of 39 games, finishing his career with 133 tackles, 35½ tackles for a loss, 26½ sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015…Very strong and wins most physical battles on the edge…Has good closing speed and finishes plays with big hits and wrap-up tackles…Extremely good production last two seasons, including 22½ sacks and five forced fumbles…Plays with an inconsistent motor and will disappear for stretches…Comes from a scheme that has had more misses than hits in the high rounds and, whether that’s fair or not, some teams could avoid him for that reason…Does not have explosive speed and will need to refine his technique in order to be a sustained success…Ran a 4.63 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He was highly productive at OSU and has a nice combination of intangibles working in his favor. He’s a fit primarily in a 4-3 scheme and has a chance to come off the board at or near the end of the first round.
Jonathan Bullard, Florida, 6-3, 285 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who had 115 tackles, 26½ tackles for a loss and nine sacks in that span…Has good size and length and has a frame that could add more bulk strength…A versatile player who lined up at every position at some point along the defensive line during his career and played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme…Very strong at the point of attack and fights his way through defenders, keeping his feet moving during contact…Doesn’t have ideal lateral agility to shake defenders when they lock him up…Played through injuries, but was often banged up during his career and will require in-depth research from team medicos…Still raw in his technique and will need some refinement to his game…Ran a 4.93 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A versatile player with experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, he has first-round potential but more likely will last until the second round.
BEST OF THE REST
Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State, 6-4½, 251 – Fifth-year senior…He started all 41 games in his final three seasons, recording 125 tackles, 41½ tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in his final three seasons…Is a long strider and gets around tackles quickly and consistently…Is very good in space and uses his speed to close in on the man with the ball…Reads and reacts very quickly and makes the most out of plays that come his way…He is undersized by NFL standards and doesn’t have the type of frame that can naturally add much more in the way of bulk or muscle…Isn’t overpowering, and when a blocker lines him up and latches on, his feet tend to stop moving…Is not overpowering in the run game and will get pushed backward…Ran a 4.82 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An experienced college defensive end who may end being forced to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, he will need some refinement to his game and will likely drop well into the second day of the draft.
Jihad Ward, Illinois, 6-5¼, 297 – Fourth-year senior who spent his first two seasons at Globe Institute of Technology in New York…Started all 25 games he played at Illinois, finishing with 104 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 5½ sacks, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries…Has very good versatility having played both inside and outside…Has explosive hands and can jolt offensive linemen backward…Has good closing speed when he gets near the man with the ball…Does not have overpowering strength at the line and gets engulfed by double teams…Relies too much on quickness and that gap will be narrowed in the pros…Very raw and will need a lot of refinement to his game…Ran a 5.11 40 at the Combine with 20 reps on the bench, a 25-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A raw prospect who will get drafted more on upside than what he has put on tape, he is an intriguing versatile prospect for an aggressive defensive scheme that develops young talent. He will likely get selected at some point on Day 2.
Carl Nassib, Penn State, 6-7, 277 – Fifth-year senior…One-year starter who had 46 tackles, 19½ tackles for a loss, 15½ sacks and six forced fumbles in 2015…Extremely tall with long arms and a frame that can add 10 to 20 pounds of bulk strength and muscle…Has a motor that runs high and plays to the whistle on every down…Has a great burst off the line and finishes plays when he closes in on them…Doesn’t have ideal balance and flexibility and plays a little stiff…Extremely raw with only one season as a full-time starter…Gets his legs chopped out from under him too often and needs to protect himself better…Ran a 4.84 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and 9-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Nassib looks the part and has many of the necessary tools to be a very good NFL player, but he is very raw and will need time to develop, which should drop him to the middle of Day 2 before he comes off the board.
Charles Tapper, Oklahoma, 6-2¾, 271 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 133 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 13½ sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Is violent off the snap and uses his hands and arms well to jolt blockers and swim around them…Has good speed for his size and closes quickly when he sees the ball…Is very strong and uses his strength well…Is shorter and lighter than most NFL defensive ends and doesn’t look to have the body type to get much bigger…Is inconsistent and will need a lot of refinement to his game…Has good speed, but doesn’t have ideal initial quickness and doesn’t blow past people with his speed, allowing him to be neutralized by athletic offensive tackles…Ran a 4.59 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A run-stopping specialist who will likely be a two-down pro. Those types of guys are valuable, but tend to stay on the board until late into Day 2.
OTHERS TO WATCH
James Cowser, Southern Utah, 6-3¼, 246
Jason Fanaika, Utah, 6-1¾, 271
Matt Judon, Grand Valley State, 6-3, 275
Bronson Kaufusi, BYU, 6-6½, 285
Dean Lowry, Northwestern, 6-5¾, 296
Alex McCalister, Florida, 6-6¼, 239
Shawn Oakman, Baylor, 6-7¾, 287
Romeo Okwara, Notre Dame, 6-4¾, 265
D.J. Pettway, Alabama, 6-2¼, 265
Aziz Shittu, Stanford, 6-2¾, 271
Ron Thompson, Syracuse, 6-3, 253
Anthony Zettel, Penn State, 6-4, 277