Seeking That Elusive Defensive End

In a year that the talent level is loaded at the wide receiver and quarterback positions, a defensive player is drawing significant interest from two NFL organizations. Finding that elusive pass rushing defensive end that has the ability to play the run at a high level has become a target area for the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. See what league and team sources say about the possibilities.

Kenechi Udeze from the University of Southern California is the highest rated defensive end in the upcoming draft and has made believers of representatives of the Vikings and Jaguars with his combine and private workout sessions. Blessed with the speed and quickness to complement his strength and natural athletic ability, Udeze is one player that has suffered due to the vast number of offensive playmakers available in the draft.

Arguably the second best defensive prospect behind safety Sean Taylor from Miami, Udeze may not be a top-10 selection, but it will not be due to his play or ability.

"If this were a draft year that was not loaded with superior offensive talent, Udeze would be battling for one of the top four to five draft spots in the draft. He is that good," one AFC general manager said. "There is a significant amount of interest in the kid from USC (Udeze). Watch a team which is interested trade up to get this prospect."

This is where the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings enter the picture.

In Jacksonville and Minnesota, an emphasis has been placed on improving the pass rush coming from the defensive end position. Looking for natural pressure coming off the ends is symbolic to the approach of both teams. Case in point within both of these organizations is the issue of defensive failure within the structure of their perimeter defenses.

Hugh Douglas, the Jaguars' high-profile free agent signing before the 2003 season, was a bust, and the team is contemplating releasing the former pass-rushing star. In Minnesota, the Vikings have lost defensive tackle Fred Robbins in free agency and defensive end Kenny Mixon's status remains on shaky ground.

Holding the ninth selection in the upcoming draft, the Jaguars appear to be in prime position to select Udeze — some league rumors have the Jaguars entertaining the notion of a draft-day trade to position themselves to select Udeze or potentially a wide receiver that may fall in the early portion of the first-round.

With the Vikings, the opportunity is not nearly as favorable. Having the 19th selection in the draft, Minnesota does not want to engage in a trade, which will strip the team of further selections later in the draft. Minnesota has entertained the notion of trading up for a player of Udeze's caliber, but will not trade away a significant draft selection to get a deal done.

"We will not get into a trap of trading away valuable draft selections due to a perceived need," a Vikings team source said. "On draft day, almost every team is willing to wheel and deal, holding the team seeking for an improved position almost hostage. There is a price to pay for moving up in the draft. For us that price will not be substantial.

"As an organization, we would like to add depth on the defensive side of the ball, and there are plenty of players available which can help us in that department. We haven't pinpointed any one specific position. We are looking at players which are a fit for what we are doing, and most likely the best available player will end up being a Minnesota Viking."

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