James Continues First-Round DL Trend

Mike Tice has made a habit out of building the defense from the front back on draft day, and he continued selecting them this year, as Erasmus James becomes the third first-round defensive lineman selected by the Vikings in the last three years. Without James' injury history, the Vikings don't think they would have had the opportunity to select him at No. 18.

The sense of déjà vu was thick at Winter Park in the afternoon hours of Saturday. The sense that we had all been down this road before was headyheavy. But the similarities weren't just on one front. It was on two.

In the Mike Tice Administration, there has been one constant throughtout his draft weekends – if he has a chance to take a defensive lineman he covets, he will. In 2003, it was Kevin Williams. In 2004, it was Kenechi Udeze and, today, he completed the trifecta by taking Wisconsin's Erasmus James.

With the only other defensive end the Vikings were considering (Georgia's David Pollack) taken off the board with the previous pick, the Vikings' decision was clear. They wanted James and weren't going to trade out of it.

"We stayed true to our board," Scott Studwell said. "He was the highest rated player we had on our board. We had some opportunities to drop back. But we felt strongly enough about Erasmus and his talent that it was easy to make that call."

The second layer of déjà vu came with the Vikings' ranking of James, which in many ways mirrored their ranking of Udeze a year earlier. In many mock drafts in 2004, Udeze was viewed as a top- 10 pick who could slide because of concerns over a shoulder injury. A similar slide followed James, who was downgraded by some teams after missing the 2003 season with a dislocated hip and time in 2004 with a high ankle sprain. But, like Udeze, the Vikings' medical staff gave clearance – which has the Vikings convinced they got yet another steal.

"(An injury history) is something you have to factor in," Studwell said. "It's all part of the evaluation process. Had he not had any medical history whatsoever, there's no way we would have gotten him."

What they Vikings are getting is an explosive pass rusher who, when healthy, was almost without peer in the college ranks. He dominated games and jumped out at the scouting staff on film for his multiple pass rush moves and ability to collapse a pocket in a hurry. That ability has Tice, who promised to build the team starting with the lines and moving out, looking at the possibility of putting James into the rotation and giving him a shot to be a starter. Whether intended or not, Tice put the other players at James' position on notice.

"We have some young players (at defensive end) led by Kenchi Udeze and Darrion Scott who we think have a tremendous amount of ability," Tice said. "Erasmus, we feel will be better for us at right end. We have Darrion Scott penciled in – key words "penciled in" – as a starter. We want to get all our good players that make plays on the field and we think (James) will be one of those guys."

Perhaps that was the final piece of the déjà vu puzzle. Tice said the same things when he drafted Udeze and Williams – that they could compete for a starting job as a rookie despite someone else coming into minicamp penciled in as a starter. Both of them made Tice use his eraser to change the depth chart and, if he stays healthy, James looks to make it three in a row.

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