Positional Analysis: Defensive Ends

If signing restricted defensive end Aaron Kampman to an offer sheet is any indication, the Vikings could be in the market for drafting a defensive end, especially if the Packers match Kampman's offer. We take a look at the top 11 defensive ends in the 2005 draft, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.

Vikings' Defensive Ends — Kenechi Udeze, Darrion Scott, Lance Johnstone, Kenny Mixon, Aaron Kampman (signed to offer sheet).

Vikings Needs — The team certainly doesn't have to draft a defensive end with solid young starters and verteran backups, but depending on the status of restricted free agent Aaron Kampman, whom the Vikings signed to an offer sheet, they may be looking to upgrade the depth. Kenny Mixon has limited pass-rushing potential and is aging and expensive as a backup; and while Lance Johnstone still has some pass rush left in him, he, too, is costing the Vikings more than a rookie would. While none of the players listed below will likely be gone when the Vikings make their first pick, it could be a position that Vikings look at very seriously with the No. 18 pick or their picks on the second and third rounds — making DE a position to track on draft day to see who goes in between Vikings' selections.

Class of 2005 — Few positions are going to get more attention in the first day of the 2005 NFL draft than defensive end. For the purposes of our rankings, two top players some view as NFL defensive ends — Shawne Merriman of Maryland and DeMarcus Ware of Troy State — will be projected as outside linebackers in our VU rankings. If you are of the belief that they will be Terrell Suggs type pass rushers who will line up on the line of scrimmage, a solid class gets even deeper. With Merriman out of the picture at DE, the top pure prospect is Wisconsin's Erasmus James. But his injury history leaves some wondering where hit fits in with team plans.

A half-dozen players could go in the first 30-40 picks from this group, but each has his own pluses and minuses.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Erasmus James, Wisconsin, 6-4, 266 — Fifth-year senior … Two-year starter … Came on strong as a true junior with 57 tackles, eight for a loss and four sacks … Redshirted in 2003 with a hip injury … Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, despite missing all or part of three games and playing the last three games injured, finishing with 36-11.5-8 … Is married … Very fast off the ball … Runs down plays anywhere on the field … Good change of direction … Multiple pass moves … Doesn't have elite speed, but has good closing speed once he sees the QB … Never lets up or takes plays off … Durability is huge question mark … Only really had one full season as an elite player … Has solid upper body, but struggles in driving inside or bottling up the run … Didn't lift at the Combine, which raised some eyebrows … Needs to improve lower body strength, which could be difficult given his hip injury … Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine, with a 37-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-2 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 17.

PROJECTION: When healthy, James is a difference maker, but health has been a problem. A team will either have to sit with a pressing need or be willing to gamble a high first-round pick. He could be an All-Pro with Jevon Kearse-like sack numbers, but his durability could knock him down on some boards as they opt for players with less of an injury history.

Marcus Spears, LSU, 6-4, 307 — Fourth-year senior … Spent first year at LSU as a tight end/fullback hybrid … Three-year starter, who had 144 tackles, 33-1/2 tackles for a loss and 18 sacks in that span to go with four interceptions — two brought back for TDs — in that span … Had 40 QB hurries in the last two years … A two-time All-SEC first teamer and first-team All-American last year … Didn't work out at the Combine because of a right knee injury … Very good combination of size and strength … Has the strength to maul offensive linemen and the savvy to put double moves on them … Can beat the double-team … Very quick off the snap … Played well during the Senior Bowl practices … Has solid hand punch … Has enough versatility in his skills to play DT if needed … Doesn't have top end bull rusher speed and gets pushed out of the action too often … Doesn't play with a mean streak … Didn't work out at the Combine, but runs a 5.03 40 and had a Wonderlic score of 15.

PROJECTION: He may have damaged his draft stock considerably by passing on the Combine because of a sore knee, but, in a draft filled with ‘tweener types that could fit best as linebackers in a 3-4 system, Spears is one of the best pure defensive ends for an old-school 4-3 and can move inside on running downs if wanted. He shouldn't make it out of the first round.

David Pollack, Georgia, 6-2, 270 — Fourth-year senior … Made All-SEC as a freshman, starting four games at defensive tackle … Three-year starter at DE, recording 248 tackles, 54 tackles for a loss, 34 sacks, four interceptions, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries … Won the Hendricks Award in 2003, given to the top defensive end … In 2004, he added the Lombardi Award, given to the top lineman, and the Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player … Refused selection to the Playboy All-America team because he his religious convictions prevented him from being featured in the magazine … Incredible motor that never stops running … Has good short-area strength vs. the run … Chases down plays from sideline to sideline and rarely gives up on a play until the whistle … Works hard in the weight room and can bench 400 pounds and squat 700 pounds … His initial speed could have some teams looking at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker … Viewed as too short to be an every-down NFL DE … Got neutralized by some of the top offensive tackles in the SEC … Is viewed as a defensive end, but worked with the linebackers at the Combine … Has short arms and offensive tackles can get close to him on the snap … Has a lot of difficulty with double teams … Ran a 4.75 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 37-inch vertical jump, a 10-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 28.

PROJECTION: If you're simply drafting a football player, Pollack is your man. He has all the intangibles coaches and scouts love and you can't argue with the numbers he's produced. But enough people are concerned about what may be lost in translation to the NFL that he could well be available when the Vikings make their second pick at No. 18.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Matt Roth, Iowa, 6-4, 278 — Fourth-year senior who was a state wrestling champion in high school … Two-year starter at defensive end who had 100 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks in that span … Two-time First Team All-Big 10 selection … Relentless pass rusher … Very good in changing direction and getting hands into offensive tackles to push them aside … Hard worker in practice … Power rusher … Improved his stock at the Senior Bowl with a solid week of drills and practice … Viewed by some as too much of a one-trick pony when it comes to pass rushing … Doesn't have long arms or wingspan and can get hooked by tackles in the running game … Doesn't have great lower body strength … Takes himself out of plays with his aggression at times … Ran a 4.8 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump, a 9-4 broad jump and a 16 on the Wonderlic test.

PROJECTION: A hard worker whose stock has been on the rise, Roth is smaller and doesn't have the leg strength coaches ideally want, but his solid work ethic and willingness to fight every play could be enough to sneak him into the latter stages of the first round.

Justin Tuck, Notre Dame, 6-5, 265 — Fourth-year junior who was the Alabama Class 4A Player of the Year as a high school senior playing linebacker … Two-year starter who had 120 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss and 19-1/2 sacks in that span … Notre Dame's all-time sack leader with 24-1/2 … Cousin of Baltimore LB Adalius Thomas … Good combination of size and strength … Very fast off the snap and has multiple pass-rushing moves … Good closing speed on quarterbacks … A powerful tackler who hits through people … Seems to play a half-second quicker than everyone else at the snap … Very good with hands to create seams … Injuries are a concern, including a knee injury that forced him to miss Notre Dame's bowl game and forced him to skip working out at the Combine … Takes himself out of too many plays with his aggressiveness … Inconsistent … Needs to work on taking better angles … Showed up at the Combine heavier than expected … Didn't work out at the Combine, but in his pro day looked very sharp, running a 4.72 40 with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 29.

PROJECTION: Tuck is an enigma in this year's draft. When he's on, he is as good a pure pass rusher as there is in this class. But his inconsistent play and lack of lower body strength could drop him to the end of the first round or early second round. But, he could be special and could be one of the diamonds in this year's draft.

Dan Cody, Oklahoma, 6-5, 257 — Fifth-year senior … Sat out the 2001 season after being diagnosed with clinical depression and being given medication to correct the problem … Two-year starter who posted 85 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks in that span … Two-time finalist for the Hendricks Award, given to the top college defensive end … Two-time First Team All-Big 12 and two-time All-American … Excellent speed and quickness … Chases down passing and running plays … Good hand punch … Has decent upper-body strength and the frame to get bigger … Good closing speed on QB … Intelligent player who is quick to read and react … Doesn't have good lower-body strength and doesn't have the build to get a whole lot better in that area … Doesn't have the ability to outmuscle NFL offensive tackles consistently in the run game … Some teams will have a lot of concerns about his medication to avoid depression … Didn't work out at the Combine, but at his pro day, he ran a 4.75 40 with 32 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump, a 10-1 broad jump a 21 on the Wonderlic test.

PROJECTION: Some think Cody could be the best DE in the class of '05, but others question both his size and his character. He could be a mid- to late- first-rounder, but could also be one of the players who annually does an unexpected slide on draft day.

Chris Canty, Virginia, 6-7, 279 — Fifth-year senior who didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school … Weighed only 215 when arrived at Virginia … A three-year starter who had 190 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a sophomore and junior … After suffering a broken leg in the spring of 2002, his 2004 season ended in the fourth game of the year with a torn left ACL that required surgery … Excellent size and good strength vs. the run … Long arms and wingspan to knock down passes … Has the short-distance strength to play tackle … Very disciplined and knows his assignments … Aside from his other injuries, he played with a bad shoulder early in his career … Doesn't have great first step … Plays a little upright and had trouble beating a double team … A little too cocky … Seems to give an inconsistent effort from one game to the next … Didn't work out at the Combine because he was recovering from a detached retina suffered in a bar fight in which he was hit with a beer bottle, but runs a 5.0 40 and had a Wonderlic score of 34.

PROJECTION: That last bit of information might be enough to turn off a lot of teams. Canty has a lot of skill, but his effort and his attitude — both on and off the field — are questions that could drop him well into the second round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

George Gause, South Carolina, 6-5, 275 — Fourth-year senior who was a high school All-American … Three-year starter who recorded 132 tackles, 19-1/2 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks … Has good size and strength … Good closing speed … Has long arms and knocks down a lot of passes or redirects them … Doesn't have great initial quickness off the snap … When rushing the passer, it's almost always a bull rush to the outside and needs to develop other options … Has been accused of being lazy in games and practices … Didn't work out at the Combine, but runs a 4.9 40 and scored 14 on the Wonderlic test.

PROJECTION: A player with a lot of talent who looked better as a junior than he did last year, Gause will likely be viewed as a project or part of a DE rotation and will likely stay on the board into the third round.

Jovan Haye, Vanderbilt, 6-2, 287 — Fourth-year junior who didn't take up football until his junior year of high school and didn't play defense until he showed up at Vandy … A three-year starter who had 76 tackles, 12-1/2 tackles for a loss and 8-1/2 sacks as a sophomore and 73-4.5-2 numbers in his other two seasons combined … Has a good combination of size and strength … Very good first step and can make things happen when he turns the corner … Holds up well vs. the run … Good upper-body strength … Has shown a lot of inconsistency and different levels of desire from game to game … Will need to improve lower-body strength to stop the run in the NFL … Gained to wait to add bulk for the NFL, but it slowed him down and he likely will have to drop weight to be effective at the next level … Got frustrated playing for a bad team … Ran a 4.74 40 at the Combine with an impressive 33 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-2 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 14.

PROJECTION: A player who would have been better suited to play another year of college, Haye looks the part of a NFL DE and has the good measurables coaches look for. But his inconsistent effort and sometimes lack of desire could turn some teams off. He should be a first-day selection, but some teams won't consider him until Day Two. If he gets inspired and plays like he did as a sophomore, he could be a good sleeper pick.

Bill Swancutt, Oregon State, 6-4, 270 — Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter who had 176 tackles, 56-1/2 tackles for a loss and 34 sacks in that span … Pac-10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 … Two-time Academic All-Pac 10 … Experienced player with good lower body strength and surprising closing speed on the QB … Tireless worker who gives as hard an effort on the practice field and in the weight room as he does on game day … Was double-teamed a lot … Registered 1-1/2 sacks in the Senior Bowl … Doesn't have explosion off the line … Must increase his repertoire of pass moves … Needs to add lower body strength to stand up vs. the run … A much better football player than a "by the measurables" athlete … Ran a 4.91 40 with 23 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-0 broad jump and had a Wonderlic score of 32 at the Combine.

PROJECTION: A classic college overachiever, some scouts believe all Swancutt wants to do is sack the quarterback and needs to learn to stop the run to be a regular in the NFL. He wasn't happy with his 40 times, which ranged from 4.91 to 5.08, but if he can be brought into a DE-friendly system and has a patient coach, he could be a steal in the third or fourth round. If not, he could be a one-trick pony along for a short ride.

Eric Moore, Florida State, 6-4, 261 — Fourth-year senior who was a high school All-American as a linebacker … Two-year starter who had 52 tackles, 17-1/2 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks in that span … Has good height and is very fast off the snap … Willing worker who is impressive chasing down and breaking down running plays … Chases plays from sideline to sideline … Biggest drawback is his durability — was willing to play hurt, but has had ankle, wrist and shoulder problems that have sidelined him … Some believe his frame is too fragile to take a consistent pounding in the NFL and don't think he can do enough work to build his lower-body strength … Is always aware in early recognition of pass or run … Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-0 broad jump and a pathetic Wonderlic score of 9.

PROJECTION: He comes from a good football program and working out with first-round OT Alex Barron every day should count for something, but his inconsistency and durability concerns will likely drop him into the second day of the draft.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Jim Davis, Virginia Tech (6-3, 277)
Ryan Riddle, California (6-2, 253)
Brady Poppinga, BYU (6-2, 257)
Khari Long, Baylor (6-3, 257)
Mike Montgomery, Texas A&M (6-4, 273)
Jonathan Fanene, Utah (6-3, 287)
Chauncey Davis, Florida State (6-2, 274)


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