VIKINGS' DEFENSIVE ENDS — Kenny Mixon, Lance Johnstone, Nick Rogers, Chuck Wiley.
VIKINGS' NEED — Perhaps no position in the 2004 draft could end up being more critical to the Vikings than defensive end. Kenny Mixon has clouded his NFL future with a fourth alcohol-related incident — he's currently serving a 30-day sentence in the Hennepin County workhouse. Lance Johnstrone is viewed as a situational player only, as is Chuck Wiley — the former better rushing the passer, the latter a sturdier run stopper. And Nick Rogers has been moved from linebacker to defensive end since the end of the season, after being experimented with at DE in 2003. There are no certainties at defensive end and it is something the Vikings will have to clear up before the start of the 2004 season.
THE CLASS OF 2004 — There are two defensive ends that jump out at draft analysts — Kenechi Udeze of USC and Will Smith of Ohio State. The conventional wisdom is that, if either of them is still on the board when the Vikings pick at No. 19, he would be their pick. It's looking less and less likely that either will be available, so the Vikings may have to go to Plan B. While not a top-heavy class, there are more than a dozen defensive ends that could find themselves on NFL rosters by the time the first day of the draft is completed, but scouts vary greatly on which ones are the best beyond Udezi and Smith — making the formulation of the Vikings' player rankings at the position one of the most important decisions of Draft Weekend 2004.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Kenechi Udeze, USC, 6-2, 277 — Fourth-year junior…Came to USC weighing 355 pounds and playing defensive tackle, but lost 80 pounds and moved to DE…In three years as a starter, he had 135 tackles, 51 tackles for losses and 28 sacks, including 24 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in the last two years…Good burst off the snap and ability to pass rush…Good lower body strength…Good instincts in run defense…At times moved inside on passing downs…Excellent work ethic and hustle…Doesn't have ideal edge rushing speed…Gets into the backfield with swim moves and double moves…Had surgery following the 2002 season for torn knee cartilage but showed no ill-effects last year…Did 25 reps at the Combine, along with a 4.77 40, a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-5 broad jump and had a Wonderlic score of 18.
PROJECTION: He does a lot of things well, but isn't a Jevon Kearse-type pass rusher. However, what he does well, he does very well and shouldn't make it out of the top 10 — most likely landing with Jacksonville at No. 9.
Will Smith, Ohio State, 6-3, 271 — Fourth-year senior who came to OSU as a high school All-American…Three-year starter who recorded 155 tackles, 31-1/2 tackles for loss and 20 sacks — 10-1/2 coming last year…Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year and finalist for the Hendricks Award in 2003 — given to college's top defensive end…Very quick off the snap…Solid in run coverage…Good upper body strength — he did 30 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine…Prototype bull rusher on the edge…Can play linebacker in a 3-4 alignment…Very disciplined…Doesn't have top-end DE speed…Better in pursuit than having plays come directly too him…Ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine with a 38-1/2 inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 23.
PROJECTION: Compared by some to a shorter Chris Doleman, Smith can make all the plays a coach could want him to. Once thought to be a player that would be available to the Vikings, he's now projected to go either to Buffalo at No. 13 or Tampa Bay at No. 15 and, even if he slides further, likely won't make it to the Vikings.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Antwan Odom, Alabama, 6-6, 274 — Fourth-year junior who came to Alabama as a high school All-American…Two-year starter who had 82 tackles, 13-1/2 for a loss and 17-1/2 sacks in that span…Good bull rusher who can cut it loose…Doesn't have top-end speed but anticipates the snap very well and has a very quick first step…Has the body frame to add more bulk…Doesn't have great strength — he did just 21 reps at the Combine…Needs to improve his technique in defending the run…Durability is a question — he missed 2001 with a shoulder injury and fainted during a practice in 2002…Ran a 4.71 40 at the Combine with a 37-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 10 — one of the lowest scores by any player.
PROJECTION: Should have stayed another year, because 2003 wasn't his best. But his upside is tremendous and, if fitted with the right coaching staff, could become an All-Pro. But, with his weakness, he will likely slide to the very end of the first round or into the second.
Darrion Scott, Ohio State, 6-3, 289 — Fourth-year senior…Played DE his first three years before being moved to tackle to allow OSU DE Simon Fraser to see more playing time…In three years as a starter, he had 128 tackles, 24-1/2 tackles for a loss and 10-1/2 sacks…Quickness and strength are his top attributes…Has good upper body power to beat OTs on a bull rush…Ideal for a 3-4 defense, but has the ability to play end on first and second downs and, if needed, move inside on third downs…Has suffered shoulder injuries that have some questioning his ability to bear up under the rigors of the NFL season…Gets re-directed beyond the pocket too often…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.75 40 with a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: Different teams will have Scott ranked differently, because he rarely got tight end coverage because of the presence of Will Smith on the other side of the same D-line. He's got the ability to be a second-round pick — and probably will be on several teams' boards — but he has some question marks that could drop him into the third round.
Jason Babin, Western Michigan, 6-3, 259 — Fourth-year senior…In two years as a starter, he had a whopping 209 tackles, 59 for a loss and 30 sacks…Completely dominated his competition…Has excellent burst off the snap…Has hand strength to keep O-linemen from locking on…Good closing speed…Hard tackler, his numbers spoke for themselves…Doesn't have ideal height or bulk…Doesn't have great lower body strength and will struggle to find his niche vs. massive NFL OTs…Did 28 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine, ran a 4.62 40 with a 34-inch vertical jump, a 10-1 broad jump and a 22 Wonderlic score.
PROJECTION: His stock shot up at the Combine, with some scouts thinking he might project to linebacker with his speed and tackling ability. He seems to be the kind of player the Vikings have drafted in the past and could garner strong consideration from the Vikings in the middle of the second round.
Shaun Phillips, Purdue, 6-3, 254 — Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who amassed 231 tackles, 60-1/2 for a loss and 33-1/2 sacks — 14-1/2 of those sacks coming last year…Excellent anticipation off the snap to get good first step…Long arms, timing and leaping ability allow him to bat down a lot of passes…Chases plays from sideline to sideline…Excellent lower body strength, he can squat 640 pounds…Doesn't have the size or bulk of a prototype NFL defensive end…Needs to get stronger in his upper body — he did a position-worst 19 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine…Considered a downside 'tweener — may not have the size to be an every-down DE and doesn't have the speed to be a productive linebacker…Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: He has a good chance of being taken on the first day of the draft because of his pass-rush ability. But the Vikings might already have a player like that in Nick Rogers. His size limitations and 'tweener status will likely drop him into the third round — maybe with a team that runs a 3-4 defense where he can be allowed more freedom of space.
Travis Laboy, Hawaii, 6-3, 258 — Fifth-year senior…Began his career at Utah State and transferred to Hawaii in 2000…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2003, where he had 76 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks…Great hustle and attitude…Good closing speed to the quarterback…Works hard to get through traffic…Could move to linebacker in a 3-4 alignment…Undersized…Doesn't have good lower body strength…Raw with very little experience as a starter…Saw his stock skyrocket at the Combine, where he did 35 reps with 225 pounds, ran a 4.68 40, with a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 29.
PROJECTION: His lack of experience will drop him into the middle rounds, but his potential as an active pass rush specialist could get him off the board as early as the third round.
Dave Ball, UCLA, 6-5, 276 — Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 95 tackles, 35-1/2 tackles for loss and 27-1/2 sacks…Left UCLA as all-time sack leader with 30-1/2…Relentless tackler and chases down plays…Creates turnovers with rip move on QB when he chases him down…Good size and frame for a pro DE…Doesn't have great speed…Gets neutralized too often by savvy O-tackles…May not have the speed to be a rush defensive end in the pros…Did 29 reps at the Combine with a 4.99 40 and a Wonderlic score of 25.
PROJECTION: Some see Ball's ability as a sack specialist as enough to make him as high as a second-rounder. But we see him shaking out more in the third or fourth round because of his one-trick-pony aspects.
Isaac Hilton, Hampton, 6-3, 267 — Fifth-year senior…A man among boys in Division I-AA…Three-year starter who had 191 tackles, 66 for a loss and 23 sacks in that span…Good anticipation on quickness off the snap…Running back speed…Good tackler in the open field…Good closing burst on quarterback…Undersized…Still very raw because of the lack of regular competition he faced…Doesn't have good lower-body strength…Better suited to be a pass-rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense…Improved his stock greatly at the Combine with 31 reps of 225 pounds, a 4.44 40, a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-3 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 23.
PROJECTION: His Combine performance all but guaranteed first-day selection, but his lack of regular and tangible competition should drop him into the third round.
DAY TWO PROSPECTS
Bobby McCray, Florida, 6-6, 251 — Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2003, when he had 50 tackles, 11-1/2 for a loss and 9-1/2 sacks…Weight room warrior who benches 460 pounds and squats more than 600 pounds…Good combination of size and speed…Long arms…Has the playing speed to turn the corner…Good closing speed on the quarterback…Has some off-field issues in the classroom that got him suspended from the team…Doesn't play with the same intensity from one game to the next…Underachiever…Gets neutralized too often by strong offensive tackles and the frustration carries over into his game…Had a very good Combine with 27 reps, a 4.74 40, a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 14…If he was more consistent, he would have been a second-rounder. But he isn't and likely won't go off the board until late in the third round at the earliest.
Bo Schobel, TCU, 6-5, 271 — Fifth-year senior and two-year starter who had 118 tackles, 46 tackles for loss and 24-1/2 sacks…Good football bloodline — his cousins are Buffalo's Aaron Schobel and the Bengals Matt Schobel — both first-day picks in the 2001 and 2002 drafts…Productive player who gives everything he has on every play…Long arms and can add more bulk to his frame…Hard worker…Strong in pass rush and improving in run defense…Durability is a big question, since he missed 2001 season with torn right ACL and has been bothered with smaller injuries since…Doesn't have great lower body strength…Teams tend to run at him rather than away from him…Did 25 reps at the Combine with a 4.80 40 and a 32-1/2 inch vertical jump…Because of his bloodline and the success his cousins have had, teams will be interested, but likely not until the third round at the earliest.
Nathaniel Abidi, Virginia Tech, 6-3, 254 — Fifth-year senior and three-year starter…As a starter, he had 141 tackles, 25 for a loss and 15-1/2 sacks…Explodes off the snap with impressive first step…Strong work ethic on the field and in the weight room…Bench presses more than 400 pounds and squats more than 600…Leads by example…Doesn't have ideal height or lower body strength…Will take plays off…Doesn't make tackles consistently in the open field…Durability is a question since he's missed time with ankle injuries during his career…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.61 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 17…Looks to be more of a third-down designated pass rusher whose lack of consistency will drop him into the second day of the draft.
Andrew Shull, Kansas State, 6-5, 265 — Fifth-year senior and two-year full-time starter…In the last two years, he had 119 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss and 18 sacks…Very quick and aggressive at the snap…Never gives up on a play…Big hitter with velocity who causes fumbles…Has all the moves (swim, rip, club, etc.) in his repertoire…Doesn't have the explosiveness to be a dominating NFL DE…Doesn't have great upper body strength, as shown by his paltry 16 reps — among the worst among DEs — at the Combine…Ran a 4.9 40 with a 30-1/2 inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 21…Has playing speed, but his awful Combine numbers all but assured he won't go until the second day of the draft.
Tommy Kelly, Mississippi State, 6-6, 294 — Three-year starter who transferred from Hinds College in Mississippi…In his three years as MSU, he had 142 tackles, 27 for loss and six sacks…Good size and long arms…Good speed for his size…Played defensive tackle in college, but moved outside for the Senior Bowl and showed he could more than get the job done…Doesn't have great burst off the line…Doesn't have the lower body strength to be an anchor in run defense…Doesn't use many different pass rush moves…Did 20 reps at the Combine with a 4.94 40, a 28-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 20…An underachiever who some see as a DT and others see as a DE. More than likely he'll be a backup at both, which should keep him on the board well into the second day of the draft.
Positional Analysis: Defensive Ends
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