Positional Analysis: Defensive ends

The Vikings might not be in the market for a defensive end in this year's draft, and there are a variety of position-flexible end/linebacker types available. John Holler breaks down the top 10 available with their strengths, weakness and projections.

Vikings Defensive Ends – Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Otis Grigsby, Jayme Mitchell, Kenechi Udeze, Martail Burnett.

Vikings Draft Outlook – With Allen, Edwards and Robison, the Vikings have a solid three-man rotation that proved how valuable it could be last year. With Grigsby and Mitchell back and the potential for Udeze, who missed the 2008 season after being diagnosed with leukemia, attempting a comeback, it is unlikely that the Vikings will give much consideration to this year's draft class. Anyone they could potentially draft may have a difficult time making the roster, barring injury.

The Class of 2009 – This is a high-priority position, since the number of teams running the 3-4 defense has doubled in the last three years, with as many as 10 teams using it as their base defensive set. There are a couple of blue-chip studs in this group – Brian Orapko of Texas and Everette Brown of Florida State – but it would be shocking to see six or seven of this year's draft class come of the board in the first round. Seeing as it isn't being viewed as a high priority by the Vikings, that may be a good thing.


CREAM OF THE CROP

Brian Orapko, Texas, 6-3, 263 –
Fifth-year senior … Two-year starter who started eight games in 2007 before going down for four games with a right knee injury and started 12 games in 2008, missing one with a sprained left knee … In his final two seasons, he had 79 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks – with 11.5 sacks coming last year … Forced five fumbles the last two years … A premier pass rusher who has excellent burst off the snap … Ran the 10-yard dash in just 1.53 seconds at the Combine … Has great closing speed on the quarterback and rarely misses … Has terrific upper-body strength – can bench press 500 pounds … Is quick to read and recognize and doesn't get sucked into play action … An excellent leaper (see below) who can disrupt passing lanes … Motor never stops … Does not have ideal power … Is inconsistent with his bull rush and will take himself out of plays … Knee injuries will be a concern to some teams … Has only started 20 college games, so he still has a lot to learn … Does not always anchor well on running plays and will get pushed around by physical tackles … Had an impressive Combine, with a 4.64 40 times, 31 reps of 225 pounds and a whopping 39½-inch vertical jump, but pulled a hamstring and wasn't able to finish individual drills. PROJECTION: He has added 50 pounds of bulk at Texas and has developed into one of the hottest draft prospects on the board. In a 4-3 scheme, he would be an ideal end and could just as well excel as an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4. As a result, he could go as high as St. Louis at No. 2, but likely won't make it past Cleveland at No. 5.

Everette Brown, Florida State, 6-2, 256 – Fourth-year junior … Two-year starter who made nine starts at left end as a sophomore and 13 last year at left end … In that span, he had 73 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks … His 13.5 sacks in 2008 led the ACC … Played on special teams and blocked two kicks … Is incredibly fast off the snap and is beyond the line of scrimmage in a blink … Has a good first step that gets offensive linemen backing up almost immediately and takes them out of position … Has very good agility and change-of-direction skills … Has a very good spin move that frees himself from blockers … Looked impressive in linebacker drills at the Combine … A very hard worker who is relentless … Is a little too short by NFL standards and showed up at the Combine almost two inches shorter than his listed height in the team media guide … Does not have overpowering strength and has trouble winning battles with run blockers … Is not adept at dropping into coverage … Will get neutralized by big blockers once they get their hands on him … Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: Like Orapko, he has the versatility to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4, which greatly enhances his value. He is a bit undersized, but his pass-rush ability is something that is coveted by almost every team, so he will be long gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 22 and has a chance to crack to the top 10.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Aaron Maybin, Penn State, 6-3¾, 249 –
Third-year sophomore … Had a difficult childhood, having lost his mother at age 6 when she died in childbirth … A one-year starter who registered 49 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, three passes batted down and three forced fumbles … His 12 sacks in 2008 led the Big Ten … Explodes off the snap and can get in the backfield in a heartbeat … Has very long arms (35½ inches) and he uses them to hook around offensive tackles on a speed rush … Is a great leaper (see below) and times his jump well to disrupt passing lanes … Has great closing speed … Has the body type that can add 15-20 pounds of bulk without sacrificing much in the way of speed … Has a good arm rip that can force fumbles … Moves well in traffic and doesn't get fooled on misdirection, holding his ground and chasing the ball consistently … Has good run/pass recognition skills … Is very raw, having started just one year of college football … Is viewed by some as a one-trick pony and needs to add more variety to his pass rush … Does not currently have the bulk or size to be a prototype NFL defensive end … Needs to work more on his technique and fundamental skills … Ran a brutal 40 time at the Combine, but plays faster than his timed speed … Needs to improve his finishing skills, because he doesn't always hit with good pop … Ran a disappointing 4.80 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Had he remained at Penn State for another season, he could have been a top-five pick in the 2010 draft. But, as it stands, he is still likely to go in the top half of the first round. He is still raw and will likely take more time to develop than some of the other top prospects, but his pure pass-rush ability will almost surely take him off the board in the top half of the first round.

Larry English, Northern Illinois, 6-2¼, 255 – Fifth-year senior … A four-year starter who amassed 223 tackles, 57 tackles for a loss, 31.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Tied a school record with 12 sacks in 2006 and set the school record for career sacks … Two-time MAC Most Valuable Player, only the second defensive player to ever win the award and the first to do it in consecutive years … Is an excellent rusher who can beat linemen both with speed and power … Is durable and has shown the ability to play through pain … Comes out of his stance low in the running game and will anchor … Has the athleticism to drop into coverage and cover backs and tight ends in the short zone … Is a good leaper (see below) who can get his hands on passes … Smart and aware … Delivers a good hand punch … A team leader both in the locker room and on the field … Is shorter than most scouts look for in a DE … Gets swallowed up by huge tackles who can get their hands on him and steer him out of plays … Has played against inferior competition that he has been able to dominate … Does not have elite upper- or lower-body strength … Has injury questions since he had right ACL surgery following the 2006 season, surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in 2007 and played most of the 2008 season wearing a cast due to a broken hand … Ran a slow 4.82 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: After a great week at the Senior Bowl, he established himself as a first-round prospect. Although he hasn't faced top competition, he is an experienced four-year starter who posted good sack numbers despite constantly being double-teamed over the last two years. There will likely be a team in the middle to late portion of the first round that will take him off the board.

Robert Ayers, Tennessee, 6-3¼, 272 – Fifth-year senior … A track star in high school who was a top competitor in the 100 meters and the 4x100 relay … Arrested in 2005 for aggravated assault in a frat-house fight and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges … Didn't become a full-time starter until his senior season, when he played right end and registered 49 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks … Has the type of body that could easily add 15-20 pounds of mass and bulk … Has good lower-body strength to push offensive linemen back … Uses his hands well and shows excellent leverage in his pass rush … Dominated some of the top OT prospects during drills at the Senior Bowl … Brings versatility along with his experience, having played as a stand-up pass rusher as well as moving inside on third downs occasionally … Good instincts and recognition skills … Was only a one-year starter and still has a lot of learning to do … Is not overly fast and, despite good closing speed, isn't the first guy consistently off the board for the defense … Never produced consistent sack numbers and only had 9.5 sacks in four years, which included 48 games and 14 starts … Did not show good upper-body strength at the Combine (see below) … Doesn't have much in the way of a variety of moves as a pass rusher … He isn't going to be able to get away with some of technical flaws at the next level … Ran a 4.78 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 29½-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A versatile player who could fit as an end in a 4-3 or a rush linebacker in a 3-4, Ayers is an intriguing prospect. His lack of tangible college experience and his physical limitations make him a borderline first-round pick, but just as likely to be someone coming off the board early in the second round.

Tyson Jackson, LSU, 6-4¼, 296 – Fifth-year senior … A three-year starter at left end who had 109 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss, 16.5 sacks, 18 passes batted down, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span … Has very good strength in his lower body and can beat double-teams … Has a good burst off the snap and can push linemen backwards … Has a long first step that gets him into the backfield quickly … Has the size and bulk to stand up tall against the run … Has good agility and rarely gets off-balance and washed out of plays … Has a solid hand punch and initiates contact with offensive linemen … Uses his long arms well in batting down passes – he set a school record with 10 in 2007 … Is inconsistent in his effort and will disappear for stretches of games … Comes out of his stance too high and will make it easier for a physical tackle to get into his body and slow his rush … Does not have explosion beyond the first couple of steps and has trouble chasing down quarterbacks … Had his most productive season as a sophomore … Plays with limited vision and won't see chip blocks coming … Did not have great numbers production from game to game … Not as good a finisher as he should be … Ran a 4.95 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: In a draft loaded with ‘tweener hybrids at DE and OLB, Jackson is a true defensive end whose future will be as a run-stopping left end who can move inside on third down plays. He isn't going to be the glitziest pick on the board, but a lot of teams need players like him, so he should come off the board late in the first round, perhaps ahead of a couple of players we have ranked higher.

BEST OF THE REST

Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech, 6-7, 266 –
Fourth-year senior … Did not become a starter until 2008, when he recorded 46 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery … Has a long list of injuries, including hernia surgery in 2006, and arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and left hip as well as surgery to repair muscles around his pubic bone in 2007 … Excelled on special teams, blocking three field goals in his career … Has incredible acceleration off the snap and uses his long arms and huge initial step to get an advantage … Has the speed to turn the corner and has good closing speed on the QB … Uses a rip move on the QB that caused 10 forced fumbles during his career … Will be a good special teams contributor who has good timing on his kick-blocking jumps … Has good lateral quickness … Is not especially smart in football terms; he will look for the ball too often and allow linemen to get into his body easier … Will get sucked in on fakes and misdirection and will lose backside contain … Does not have great lower body strength and can be controlled by big, physical O-linemen … Is too tall for his own good because he can't sink his hips and get low enough on loops for big, effective blockers … Is lazy defending the run, in part because of his lack of leg strength … Is about as big as he is going to get – doesn't have the type of frame that can add 15 pounds of bulk and muscle … Both durability and in-game conditioning could be question marks to some teams … Had an impressive Combine performance, running a 4.61 40 with 28 reps of 225 pounds, a whopping 38½-inch vertical jump and a killer 10-8 long jump. PROJECTION: To the eyeball test, he looks like the reincarnation of a young Jevon Kearse. But questions about his long-term durability and inability to consistently provide much in the way of run defense could make him little more than a situational or third-down pass-rush specialist. He has so much upside, however, that it's hard to imagine him making it out of the second round without someone taking a chance on greatness.

Paul Kruger, Utah, 6-4½, 260 – Third-year sophomore … In the high school graduating class of 2004, but spent 2004-05 on a two-year Mormon mission and redshirted in 2006 … A two-year starter who netted 124 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 12 passes batted down, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Had a huge year in 2008, with 61 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks … Survived a horrific stabbing incident with a gang at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008. Already with just one kidney and no spleen from a childhood accident, he was beaten in the face with brass knuckles and stabbed twice. A four-hour operation in which he had his intestines and stomach removed to repair a collapsed lung and a partially-severed artery … Has the body type that can add 15-20 pounds without sacrificing too much speed … Rushes the quarterback with good balance and leverage skills … Is effective at stopping his route and dropping into pass coverage when he senses a screen or dump-off pass coming … Is a good finisher who wraps up his tackles and rarely lets the ball carrier get away … Has good awareness of pass/run reads and reaction … A hard worker who was a team leader and captain … Has very thin lower body and has trouble generating much power as a run blocker … Health could be his ultimate drawback, since he has only one kidney and his body has had a lot of work done on it … While he has good speed on the edge, he doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves and linemen with skills figure that out and can neutralize him too often … Has a very muscular body and doesn't have a lot of fluid movements top defensive ends have … Will be a 24-year-old rookie … Was not overly impressive at the Combine, running a 4.79 40 with 24 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has a lot of positives like quickness as a pass rusher and the ability to move down the line and make plays, but he has some serious drawbacks that have some claiming he is one of the most overrated prospects in the draft. Look for him to go in the late second or early third round.

Lawrence Sidbury, Richmond, 6-2½, 266 – Fifth-year senior … A versatile athlete who also competed for the track team in diverse specialties – the 100 meters and the shot put … A two-year starter who had 104 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span … In 16 games last year, he had 56 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks … Has very long arms (35½ inches) and uses them well to hook around offensive tackles … Has very good short-area quickness and can change direction in hurry … Has good burst off the line … Makes plays and had consistent production as a starter … Uses his hands effectively to shed blockers … Makes plays on the far end of the field and runs until the whistle consistently … Had a strong Combine performance (see below) … Didn't face much in the way of tough competition … Doesn't have any variety to his pass rush … Needs to improve his overall strength to be effective at the next level … Will often stop his feet moving as plays come his way and will fall off blocks … Is often neutralized when a linemen locks on … Impressed at the Combine with a 4.57 40, 28 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has plenty of quickness and good size, but he projects out of the gate as a situational pass rusher who has a learning curve ahead of him. He will likely still be on the board at or near the turn into the third round.

Connor Barwin, Cincinnati, 6-3¾, 256 – Fourth-year senior … Played tight end his first three years, catching 51 passes 691 yards and five touchdowns … Moved to defensive end in 2009 and had 53 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and eight passes batted down … Is extremely active on the field and is constantly hustling to make plays … Has a very good first step and has power behind it … Has good agility to slide down the line to make plays … Has good hand use to keep blockers off of him … Has the speed to be an edge rusher … Has value as a red zone or goal-line tight end … Impressed at the Combine … Is very raw with only one year of defensive experience at the college level … Will have a longer learning curve that will require a patient coaching staff and an assistant who champions his cause … Doesn't have great immediate instincts and gets caught in the wrong place too often … Doesn't have good upper-body strength for the pro game … Will come up too high and get driven off in running situations … Had an outstanding Combine, leading his position in the 40 (4.59 seconds), and vertical jump (40½ inches), as well as 21 reps of 225 pounds and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: Barwin is the type of player scouts will fall in love with and ignore the fact that he has only played defensive end for one season. Coaches and GMs won't be as forgiving, which is why he could fall to the third round or beyond. He is a project type who could have some upside, but his lack of strength and experience will play against him.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Michael Bennett, Texas A&M, 6-3, 222
Maurice Evans, Penn State, 6-1½, 274
Tim Jamison, Michigan, 6-2¾, 260
Orion Martin, Virginia Tech, 6-2¼, 262
Henry Melton, Texas, 6-3¼, 280
Kyle Moore, USC, 6-5, 272
Zach Potter, Nebraska, 6-6¾, 279
Matt Shaughnessy, Wisconsin, 6-5¼, 263
David Veikune, Hawaii, 6-2½, 257
Derek Walker, Illinois, 6-3¾, 268
Brandon Williams, Texas Tech, 6-2½, 261


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