End Game

The Vikings are in the market for a defensive end early in the draft, but they are far from alone. It could be a mine field of competition for a DE in the first round, as half or more of the teams picking in front of Minnesota can identify defensive end as a pressing need.

It seems to be the sentiment with Vikings fans that defensive end is going to be the direction in which they go in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. But at the 17th pick, there is a lot of waiting and wondering going on as half of the league gets a chance to re-stock their cupboards first.

While there is no guarantee that the Vikings will select a defensive end, the smart money is still leaning that way because of injuries to Erasmus James and the likely absence of Kenechi Udeze as he battles leukemia. So just who are the teams that will be competing with the Vikings for a defensive end? Here's a quick look:

Miami Dolphins (No. 1) - The Dolphins have bigger needs at offensive tackle and quarterback, but might go after DE Chris Long if they deem him to be the biggest lock of the draft.

St. Louis Rams (No. 2) – If Long makes it past the Dolphins, he shouldn't make it past the Rams. Leonard Little is the team's only playmaker at DE and he turns 34 this year. One way or the other, Long should be gone by here.

Oakland Raiders (No. 4) – The Raiders have more pressing needs at defensive tackle and offensive tackle, but lost DEs Tyler Brayton and Chris Clemons to free agency. With a need at outside linebacker as well, taking DE/OLB hybrid Vernon Gholston at this spot wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility.

New York Jets (No. 6)– If Gholston is on the board, you can rest assured that one of the teams running a 3-4 defense – either the Jets at No. 6 or the Patriots at No. 7 – will snap him up here, taking another DE off the board.

Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9) – The Bengals have needs at both end and tackle. The team had a need at DE prior to free agency, but pulled off a switcheroo by allowing Justin Smith to leave via free agency and signing former Titan Antwan Odom. A tackle like Sedrick Ellis would make sense if he's still on the board, but the Bengals could just as easily be looking defensive end.

Carolina Panthers (No. 13) – For Vikings fans, this is one of the teams to be the most concerned about, because defensive end has to be viewed as one of the Panthers' top priorities. The team signed Brayton in free agency to take over for aging Mike Rucker, but Julius Peppers is coming off one of his worst seasons ever and is in the last year of his contract. Neither backup Stanley McClover nor Charles Johnson have shown they could step in to be effective starters, so the Panthers could very easily go shopping DE here with their first pick.

Detroit Lions (No. 15) – This could be the pick that would really hurt if a DE the Vikings covet gets this close only to get snapped up by the division-rival Lions. The Lions had hoped Kalimba Edwards could be the answer to their problems, but, like the Vikings, they run a Tampa-2 defense that is predicated on getting a big pass rush and they just don't have the talent to get it done. Jared DeVries and Dewayne White are merely adequate and depth is very thin. While the Vikings would likely prefer the Lions address their new need at running back, defensive end is a very real possibility.

Arizona Cardinals (No. 16) – The Cardinals signed Travis LaBoy in the offseason, but with a hybrid 3-4 defense having been installed last year, they need both pass rushers and DE/OLB ‘tweener types. If a pure DE like Derrick Harvey is still on the board, he could go here. The same is true for DE/OLB hybrid Quentin Groves, a player the Vikings are said to quietly be coveting.

Of the first 16 picks in the draft prior to the Vikings' scheduled selection, no less than eight of them can make a case for looking at defensive end in the first round. While it's a certainty that Long and Gholston will be gone long before the Vikings are on the clock, can the same be said for Harvey or Groves or Phillip Merling or Calais Campbell? That may be part of the waiting game the Vikings have to play and, if there is a player they've targeted as a can't-miss prospect in their defensive system, they may have to trade up with someone like the Panthers or Broncos to make sure they can land him on draft day or defensive end will remain a problem long after the draft is over.

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