Positional Analysis: Defensive tackles

The Vikings' interest in defense tackles could be tied to their level of confidence in the outcome of Pat and Kevin Williams' appeals process of their four-game suspensions. This year's draft offers a variety of defensive tackles – some with the ability to penetrate a gap while others are more stout in taking on the run. John Holler breaks down the top 10 with statistics, measurables and analysis.

Vikings Defensive Tackles – Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Fred Evans, Jimmy Kennedy, Letroy Guion.

Vikings Draft Outlook – This could be a wild card of the 2009 draft. With the possibility that both of the Williamses could be hit with four-game suspensions to start the season, there may be a temptation to jump on one of the top DTs in the class if the belief is that the backup crop of DTs currently on the roster won't be able to get the job done effectively. With the Williamses' trial not scheduled until mid-June, there will be no way of knowing on draft weekend what their status will be. If the team is confident both will be exonerated, this becomes a much lower priority in the draft.

The Class of 2009 – This is not an exceptionally strong class. The only lock for first-round selection is B.J. Raji of Boston College, but he has some issues of his own with recent Internet reports that he tested positive for marijuana at the Combine. Two others – Peria Jerry and Ziggy Hood – have first-round potential, but this is a thin crop of DTs in this year's draft class, so the top players may be picked over sooner than expected because of the perceived lack of depth deep into the middle rounds.

CREAM OF THE CROP

B.J. Raji, Boston College, 6-1¼, 330 –
Fifth-year senior … Three-year starter who had to sit out the 2007 season after being ruled academically ineligible in what proved to be a clerical error … Upon his return last year, he posted by far the best numbers of his career, registering 42 tackles, 16 tackles-for-loss, eight sacks and five passes batted down … Had right shoulder surgery during the summer of 2008 … Has very good upper-body and lower-body strength … Has excellent anchor strength and clogs the middle running lane consistently … Can hold his ground against the constant double-teams he faced … Can push the line of scrimmage back on the snap … Has a very good hand punch and can jolt centers and guards trying to lock on to him … Has good agility for a big man and has the quickness to shoot gaps and record sacks … Has good balance and is rarely knocked off his feet … Had an impressive week at the Senior Bowl … Does not always wrap up and finish tackles … Is too short and has short arms for an NFL nose tackle … Has had problems controlling his weight, which has ballooned as high as 360 pounds … Is viewed by some scouts as selfish and immature … Has had problems with stamina late in games … Has an inconsistent motor and will stop running on plays that go away from him … Runs stiff-legged and will take himself out of tackle opportunities by not being able to recover to a quick move … Ran a 5.13 40 at the Combine with 33 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Although he didn't consistently face good competition in the ACC, Raji is viewed by many as the top defensive tackle in the draft and, considering the lack of depth at the position, could come off the board in the top 10. A likely worst-case scenario numbers-wise will have him coming off No. 12 to Denver.

Peria Jerry, Mississippi, 6-1¾, 299 – Fifth-year senior … Was academically ineligible and had to spend a year after high school at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia … Is a cousin of former Vikings linebacker Dwayne Rudd … Has a long injury list, including time missed as a freshman with an ankle injury, foot surgery after his sophomore season, surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus prior to the 2008 season and couldn't work out at the Combine due to a groin injury … A two-year starter who had 107 tackles, 32 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span … A team captain … Is very quick off the snap and has a great burst and quick reaction … Is a good run-stuffer who makes plays and clogs running lanes … Has good agility and can slide and shuffle to make plays … Chases plays to the sideline and never gives up or goes half-hearted … Can split double-teams with initial quickness … .Had a great week at the Senior Bowl … Is too short … Does not keep himself in good condition and avoids the weight room when possible … Does not have great bulk, strength or power … Is not a great finisher when it comes to rushing the passer – gets close a lot, but doesn't always close the deal … Lingering injury history is a big question mark … He has some character issues from his childhood – was thrown off his high school team as a junior because he was uncontrollable and running on the streets … Will be a 24-year-old rookie … Did not work out at the Combine because of a hamstring injury. PROJECTION: Jerry has all the tools to be a very good three-technique tackle in the NFL. His skill will likely outweigh his injury history and he should be off the board a few picks before the Vikings are on the clock at No. 22.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Evander "Ziggy" Hood, Missouri, 6-3, 300 –
Fourth-year senior … Became a starter midway through his sophomore season … Two-year full-time starter who had 111 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, seven passes batted down, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 28 starts in that span … A team captain … Has very good upper-body strength … Holds his ground well on the snap … Uses his hands well to shed blockers … Has a good variety of pass-rush moves … Teams didn't tend to run at him because he consistently made plays … Needed to be double-teamed in college … Had a very strong week at the Senior Bowl … Will come out of his stance too high and allow blockers into his body too often … Is not overly powerful in his lower body and often fails to re-establish the line of scrimmage in the backfield … Does not have great footwork in traffic and will end up on the ground too much … Inconsistent production and intensity level … Is not a great, consistent finisher … Ran a 4.92 40 at the Combine with 35 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: After a strong showing at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine, Hood has shown he is athletically gifted. He looks like an ideal fit for a team like Indianapolis at the end of the first round, where his lack of lower body strength is outweighed by his athletic ability.

Fili Moala, USC, 6-4, 305 – Fifth-year senior … Six years removed from his high school class after spending a year at Cypress Community College in California … Comes from an athletic family – his dad was a professional boxer and his cousin is Ravens DT Haloti Ngata … A three-year starter who had 82 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks … Has an injury history that includes a history of ankle problems, a right shoulder injury and a groin issue that cut back on his workout at the Combine … Has very good height and bulk for the position … Has good playing strength and stands strong at the point of attack … Drives blockers back when rushing the passer … Has the agility to make plays to the outside on sweeps and screens … Has good read and recognition skills … Has the frame to add more bulk if his NFL team requires it … Does not have a great hand punch … Is neither quick nor explosive off the snap … Is not a very hard worker on a consistent basis … Has the flexibility to be a DT in a 4-3 or a DE in a 3-4 … Played around a very talented cast that made him potentially look a little better than he is … Doesn't have many pass-rush moves other than a spin and swim … Doesn't have ideal balance and will end up on the ground … Ran a 5.08 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: An experienced player from a pro-style program, Moala may be taken higher than other prospects with equal or greater upside, but he has been a consistent producer that teams have seen plenty of film on. He may never be a Pro Bowl-type tackle, but he has the ability to have a long NFL career, which should take him off the board somewhere in the second round.

Ron Brace, Boston College, 6-2¾, 331 – Fifth-year senior … Three-year starter who had 74 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks in that span, starting his final 41 college games … A versatile athlete who won two high school state shot put titles in Massachusetts … Is huge and requires double coverage … Has surprisingly good footwork for a player his size … Has a good initial burst to split double teams … Is rarely pushed backward and holds his ground well in the running game … Has good upper-body strength (see below) … Uses his hands well to push away blockers … Does not have good agility chasing plays to the side and will get blown up when off-balance … Doesn't have the classic look of an NFL nose tackle … Played next to top DT draftee B.J. Raji, which pushed a lot of plays his way – even so, his tackle numbers didn't jump out at you … Is not adept at getting away from blockers once they lock on … Gets knocked off his feet much too often … Ran a 5.48 40 at the Combine with 32 reps, a 28-inch vertical jump and an 8-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has all the makings of a two-down, run-stopping DT who, with a little conditioning and additional work on his technique, should develop into a decent starter. Because of the lack of depth at the position and the need for big run-stuffers due to the recent influx of teams using the 3-4 defense, he should come off the board late on Day One.

Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn, 6-1½, 301 – Fourth-year junior … Redshirted after playing sparingly in three games as a true freshman … A three-year starter who made starts in all 37 games he played … In that span, he had 113 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Had sports hernia surgery between his junior and senior seasons … Was big on special teams as a kick blocker … Brings versatility, having played his sophomore and senior seasons at tackle and his junior year at end … Has very good instincts off the snap and is often moving as the ball does, giving him a big edge … Works hard and chases down plays to the sidelines when needed … Is a good wrap-up tackler who finishes … Has the ability to swing his hips and beat a double team with his speed … Has poor upper-body strength (see below) … Is not good at using his hands to keep defenders out of his body … Will come up too high from his stance and take himself out of plays … Has just one pass-rush move (the swim) … Played with recurring ankle injuries last year … Did not lift at the Combine, but ran a 5.01 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump – he later showed why he didn't lift at the Combine by pressing 225 pounds just 16 times at his Pro Day. PROJECTION: A player with a lot of natural athletic ability who, in the right system, could turn into a solid player. But he may always have to be a finesse player because of his lack of top-end upper-body strength. That alone should drop him into the later portion of Day One or quite possibly into Day Two.

BEST OF THE REST

Alex Magee, Purdue, 6-2½, 286 –
Fourth-year senior … Started nine games his first two seasons before becoming full-time – starting 24 of 25 games his final two years … Played his first two years at tackle and his last two years at end … In his two years as a starter, he had 66 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries … .Blocked three field goals in his final two years as well, giving him special teams cred … Has good size and agility … Has quick feet a big man and can move through traffic well … Has very long arms (35 inches) and uses them well to defend blockers, obscure passing lanes and make tackles … Has good finishing speed when the ball is in sight … Doesn't come of his stance low enough and allows aggressive blockers to engulf him … Will give up on plays, especially if he is against a physical, mauling blocker … Does not have great lower-body strength and gets moved too much in the running game … Is neutralized by double teams … Ran a 5.04 40 at the Combine with 30 reps of 225 pounds, a 29½-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: He looked much more natural playing inside at the Senior Bowl and is viewed as much more of a DT prospect in the pros than a DE. Because of his lack of tangible experience playing inside, he's viewed as a situational player to begin with, which almost assures him of falling to very late on the first day or, more likely, when teams start moving up in the third round on Day Two.

Jarron Gilbert, San Jose State, 6-5¼, 288 – Fifth-year senior … A three-year starter who played 25 games in 2006-07 – starting 19 at defensive end and two at defensive tackle … Played all of his senior season at D-tackle … Has an NFL bloodline – his father Darren played for the Saints from 1985-88 … In three years as a starter, he had 123 tackles, 37 tackles for a loss, 18.5 sacks, 13 passes batted down and three forced fumbles … Blew up as a senior at DT with 52 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles – winning Co-WAC Defensive Player of the Year … Led the country in tackles-for-loss with 1.83 per game … Isn't very big and could add 20 pounds to his frame without much difficulty … Has good burst off the snap and plays with great instincts and awareness … Has good lower-body strength and the ability to anchor and maintain the line of scrimmage on running plays … Has good hands to beat blockers in single coverage … Has excellent closing speed on both the quarterback and on running backs … Comes out of his stance too high for a DT and can get smothered … Limited experience playing inside … Is something of a one-trick pony in that he constantly tries to shoot the gaps off the snap and, if he doesn't, he is stymied … Did not face competition at the level scouts would like to get a true barometer on him … Does not play with a mean streak and will get frustrated and take plays off when a physical blocker is beating him up … Ran a 4.82 40 at the Combine with 28 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He was one of the players most talked about at the Senior Bowl, so his stock is on the rise. But his lack of experience inside, lack of pass-rush moves and need to add 15 pounds or more will make a project type that will probably go somewhere in the third or fourth round.

Ricky Jean-Francois, LSU, 6-2¾, 295 – Fourth-year junior … Was never a full-time starter – in three seasons, he played in 25 games and started just nine … In those games, he registered 56 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks … A top high school track athlete, winning state titles in Florida in the discus and shot put in both his junior and senior years … Was suspended for the entire 2007 regular season by the school for what was termed "academic dishonesty" (he cheated) … Is very quick off the snap and has good burst to blow up plays before they get started … Is very good in reaction to running plays and getting in position … Has very long arms (35 inches) and is effectively using them in a hand punch off the snap and keeping big blockers from getting into his body, as well as blocking three kicks on special teams … Has some versatility, having played both tackle and end … Has never played up to his talent level … Will have a lot of character red flags due to his suspension and general view as being immature and speaking before he thinks things through – he talked about trying to injure Tim Tebow before the Florida game last year … Has very low production numbers and, with only nine starts, has a big learning curve … Didn't run at the Combine, but did 26 reps with 225 pounds – at his Pro Day, he ran a 4.80 40. PROJECTION: There are certain players that don't pass the smell test, despite passing the eyeball test. Jean-Francois is one of those guys. He has all the skill and skill potential to be a good pro, but with his character red flags – from academic scandal to an entourage of old friends that have been noted by scouts – he is a big risk pick that some teams simply won't make. That won't completely cut out his interest, but it will diminish it – likely not making him a priority pick until the fourth round, despite his talent.

Corvey Irvin, Georgia, 6-3¼, 302 – Fourth-year senior … Spent two years at Georgia Military College before coming to the Bulldogs … A one-year starter who had 34 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks … Has exceptional speed and footwork for a 300-pounder … Can get bigger … Is aware of plays as they're going and will cut off his assignment when he sees a screen or misdirection and make plays … Has quick burst off the snap to blow up plays in the backfield … Is a big hitter who likes to finish with a bang … Does not have great lower-body strength and finds it difficult to anchor on runs up the middle … Needs work on his technique to shed blockers … Can't beat a double team with any regularity … Once blockers get their hands on him, he pretty much stays blocked … Very limited experience … Did not lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.97 40 with a 24½-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is a prospect who could become a solid NFL player if he adds 20 pounds and refines his technique. He doesn't have great upper-body strength, which may end up being his professional downfall. He is a developmental prospect that will be on the board until the middle rounds.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Chris Baker, Hampton, 6-2, 326
Demonte Bolden, Tennessee, 6-3½, 285
Rashad Jackson, Clemson, 6-2, 280
Terrance Knighton, Temple, 6-3, 321
Terrance Taylor, Michigan, 6-0¼, 311
Myron Pryor, Kentucky, 6-1, 313
Darryl Richard, Georgia Tech, 6-3¾, 297
Dorrel Scott, Clemson, 6-3¼, 312
Vance Walker, Georgia Tech, 6-2, 303

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