Positional Analysis: Defensive ends

While the 2010 class of defensive ends doesn't have the dominant force or two that usually goes in the top 10 picks of the draft, there is some depth and variety at the position. John Holler goes in-depth with the statistics, honors and analysis for his top 10 ends.

VIKINGS DEFENSIVE ENDS — Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Michael Montgomery, Jayme Mitchell.

VIKINGS NEEDS – The team has a perennial Pro Bowler in Allen, an emerging talent in Edwards and a valued backup in Robison. They also added Montgomery for competition with Mitchell. At first glance, it doesn't appear that there is a pressing need for a DE in the draft, but Edwards hasn't signed his contract tender, has said he won't take part in the offseason workout program and is looking to entertain potential offer sheets from other teams (the deadline is Thursday). If Edwards signs on with someone else, the pressure will be on the Vikings to replace him. But, if he stays as expected, this shouldn't be a high draft priority.

THE CLASS OF 2010 — Perhaps the most fickle of draft positions, Mario Williams has been the only true star DE taken in the first round of the last six or seven drafts. No position has had more difficulty translating college talent to the pro game as defensive end and this year should be no different. Although as many as four DEs could be taken in the first round, there likely won't be any in the top 10 and perhaps not in the first half of the first round. The class itself is deep with talent, but there is nobody that jumps off the page as a can't-miss prospect.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 266 — Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 96 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, four passes batted down, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in that span…Has ideal size and the kind of frame that can hold more weight if asked to bulk up…Has the versatility to play a down defensive end in a 4-3 alignment or a pass-rushing OLB in a 3-4…Is very strong at run support…Passionate about the game and a vocal on-field leader…Doesn't take plays off and will chase down plays away from him…Has good snap anticipation…Very good initial quickness – he led all defensive ends with a 10-yard dash time of just 1.6 seconds…Didn't dominate against top-echelon offensive tackles…Isn't as strong a pass rusher as he is a run stopper…Doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves…Doesn't possess the closing burst on pursuit and, despite posting 19.5 sacks the last two years, was close to having many more, but showed up just a shade late on several plays…Didn't lift at the Combine because of a shoulder injury, but ran a 4.78 40 with a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Viewed by many as a "safe" pick, there isn't a lot of concern that Morgan can adapt to his new surroundings. Because of his versatility, he could end up with a team that runs with a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment and will find his way into the starting lineup. He should be gone long before the Vikings pick and most likely in the middle of the first round.

Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida, 6-4¾, 270 — Third-year junior…Only a half-year starter in 2009 after signing with Central Florida but failing to meet NCAA academic requirements…Spent the 2007 season playing for the College of the Canyons, recording 49 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks…Spent 2008 at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, where he again dominated with 70 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks…In his only season with USF, he had 45 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks…Has a passion for the game, as evidenced when he suffered a neck injury in 2008, was taken to a hospital and insisted on being brought back to the stadium; when it was determined he didn't have a major injury, he got a doctor's note, returned to the game and registered a sack…Has long 34½-inch arms and good size…Has very good agility…One of the best pure pass rushers in the draft…Makes a lot of plays in the backfield…A secure tackler who typically ends the play when he gets his hands on the ballcarrier…Extremely raw…Has never faced top competition and will have a big learning curve going up against top NFL offensive tackles…Is a much better pass rusher than run defender and teams may try to run at him…Doesn't have great upper-body strength (see below)…Is a one-trick pony bull-rusher who will have to learn to refine his pass-rush moves…Will need time and patience to develop…Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with just 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A community college phenom, Pierre-Paul has all the tools to be a productive pro, but also carries the boom-bust label as much as any player in this year's draft. A team will have to take the risk that it can harness his talent and bring it to the forefront, all the time knowing that he could be the latest in a long line of first-round defensive end busts on draft weekend. Look for him to land with a team like Tennessee well into the first round.

Brandon Graham, Michigan, 6-1½, 288 — Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had started the final 28 games of his college career…In his final two seasons, he had 102 tackles, 46 tackles for a loss, 20.5 sacks and four forced fumbles…A Parade All-American as a linebacker in high school and, despite missing three games as a senior, was still named Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year…Named team MVP as a junior and a senior – the first defensive player in Wolverines history to win the honor twice…In his final three seasons (28) starts, he had 29 sacks…Has very good upper-body strength (see below)…Is one of the better speed rushers in the draft…Has flexibility to be a defensive end in a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment and could project as a jumbo OLB in the kind of defense teams like the Patriots and Steelers run…Excellent in pursuit and will chase down plays on the other side of the field…Has a mean streak and plays to the whistle on every play…Flashes off the ball low in run protection and makes plays in the backfield like few others…Was the star of an otherwise pedestrian defense…Is a little shorter than scouts like…Is inconsistent in his snap awareness and at times will be a step late off the snap…Cuts his legs cut out from under him too often…Doesn't have elite explosion or closing burst to the quarterback…Will disappear for stretches of games…Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 31 reps, but didn't jump after pulling a hamstring running in the 40. PROJECTION: The centerpiece of the Michigan defense the last two years, he had some doubters heading into the Senior Bowl but put together a sensational week, solidifying his spot in the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Everson Griffen, USC, 6-3½, 273 — Third-year junior…One-year starter who had 45 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in 2009…A Parade All-American and Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year coming out of high school…Played behind Packers 2009 first-rounder Clay Matthews until last season…Missed time due to an academic suspension and numerous injuries last year, spraining both ankles and suffering a turf toe injury…Has incredible upper-body strength (see below)…Has good agility and can both rush the passer and drop into pass coverage when called on…Has a very good first step off the snap to bull-rush offensive tackles…Uses his hands well…Has the versatility to play a rush end in a 4-3 alignment and an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme…Is not always playing at a high level and will take a play or two off at times…Has an ego and has the belief he is something special, something that had teams at the Combine a little put off…Doesn't have a collection of pass-rush moves…Doesn't always play with toughness…Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.86 40 with 32 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Scouts are greatly divided on Griffen. Although he didn't live up to the lofty expectations they had for him at USC, he is a rare athletic specimen that could be a difference-maker at the next level. However, with his attitude and injury history, there are some who believe he will be an expensive gamble. He should go in the first round, but, if we were drafting, given his red flags, we likely wouldn't jump until the second round.

Carlos Dunlap, Florida, 6-5¾, 277 – Third-year junior…Only a one-year full-time starter…As a sophomore in 2008, started just two of 14 games, but led the SEC with 9.5 sacks and was named Defensive MVP of the BSC Championship Game…In 2009, he had 38 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and nine sacks…Was suspended for the SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama last year after being arrested for DWI, when an officer found him asleep at the wheel of his running vehicle at 3:30 a.m….Has an ideal build and musculature for an NFL end…Has excellent agility…Has quick strides and closes in on the quarterback in a hurry…Uses his hands to jolt offensive tackles off the snap…Has the ability to bull rush around tackles…Gets his hands in passing lanes to disrupt QB options…Doesn't have ideal tackle production…Is raw in terms of pro-ready experience at the position…Doesn't have a great variety of pass-rush moves…Comes off the snap upright too often and can be stopped in his tracks by big, aggressive OTs…Ends up on the ground too much and gets his legs cut out too often…Doesn't have a fire in his gut or a true passion for the game…Can be neutralized and gets frustrated…There will be some character questions for some teams…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has all the potential and talent to be a first-round pick, but inconsistent effort and commitment questions about his devotion to being a great player will likely push him into the second round.

Corey Wootton, Northwestern, 6-6, 270 — Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who started 47 of 50 games in that span…Had a huge junior season – 34 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks – as a junior, but injuries dropped his production badly in 2009 (21-6-4)…Has a long injury history that includes a broken wrist in high school, a neck injury that ended his true freshman year after just three games, a hip flexor and a torn ACL that required surgery in January 2009…Started at left end for 12 games in 2006 and spent the last three years at right end…Has long arms (34½ inches) and the type of body that could add 10-20 pounds if he is going to be a base end in the NFL…He has good agility and lateral movement…Has exceptional run-stopping ability…Has good lower-body strength to anchor…Has a mean streak and doesn't quit on plays; will chase down from the backside…Is not a great pass rusher and doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves…Doesn't have great quickness off the line…Isn't adept at using his hands to get past blockers to the ball…Doesn't have the quickness to be effective on stunts…Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with just 20 reps of 225 pounds and didn't jump because of a quad injury. PROJECTION: Wootton isn't the kind of player who jumps out at you on film, but he is a solid run stopper with the ability to improve as a pass rusher with some coaching up. Seen as something of a project, he will likely be on the board late into the second or early into the third round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Hall Davis, Louisiana-Lafeyette, 6-3¾, 271 — Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 46 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks in that span…Granted a medical redshirt in 2005 after suffering an ankle injury…Gained 20 pounds of muscle mass between his junior and senior seasons…Has the look of an NFL DE, with a big frame capable of getting bigger and long arms that he uses effectively…Has experience playing defensive tackle, which will help his draft stock…Has also played as a standup linebacker in 3-4 formations…Rarely ends up on the ground and picks his way through traffic well…Production was very low considering the level of competition he played against…Has a big learning curve and will likely not be an immediate contributor as a regular DE…Is often slow off the snap and has difficulty fighting free when linemen get their hands on him…Didn't wow people at the Combine, where he ran a pedestrian 4.90 in the 40. PROJECTION: A small-college prospect with a lot of upside, but will have to go to a team where he won't be asked to be an every-down player for at least a year or two. That typically drops a player into the third round at best.

Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech, 6-1¾, 254 — Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 111 tackles, 29.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks in that span…His freshman season was wiped out in the second game when he sustained a right shoulder injury that required surgery and was granted a medical redshirt…That was the first of several injuries he has sustained, including a high ankle sprain, a dislocated left shoulder that also required surgery and a labrum tear…Has excellent foot quickness and explosion off the snap…Has good upper-body strength and likes to out-muscle opponents…Is a weight-room rat…Has a variety of pass-rush moves…Is a secure tackler who doesn't give up on plays and chases them down…Is a ‘tweener who played his college ball at defensive end, but is projected by many to be an outside linebacker in the pros…Doesn't have great anchor strength…Is too short…Is often slow off the snap and reaction time is a concern…Despite good quickness of the snap, doesn't have great closing speed on the quarterback…Only average production…Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, an impressive 38-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has a lot of athleticism, but will likely be pigeon-holed to a team that runs a 3-4 scheme because too many 4-3 teams will view has an undersized, situational pass rusher only. As a result, that should drop him into the third round.

Jermaine Cunningham, Florida, 6-3½, 266 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 38 of 39 games in his final three seasons…In that span, he had 150 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, seven passes batted down and five forced fumbles…Has good quickness in his hands and feet and makes plays…Is experienced and doesn't fade late in games…Has experience as both a defensive end and standup rush linebacker…Has a passion for the games and gives his all on every play…A bit thin by defensive end standards and doesn't have the kind of body that can add 20 pounds of bulk…Disappears for stretches…Doesn't have much experience dropping into coverage, which could hurt his chances to hook on with a 3-4 defensive scheme…Does not have great closing speed…Gets pushed out of plays too often…Didn't work out at the Combine as he was recovering from a quad injury suffered during training for the event. PROJECTION: With a wealth of experience against the top competition the college game provides, he has the prerequisite skills to be a solid pro, but questions about whether he will have to be a 3-4 rush linebacker could damage his stock and drop him into the third round.

Greg Hardy, Mississippi, 6-4, 281 — Fourth-year senior…Started 13 of 23 games in his first two seasons and didn't start in his final two, as injuries reduced him to 18 games as a pass-rush specialist…In 40 career games, he has 122 tackles, 39.5 tackles for a loss and 26.5 sacks…As a sophomore, led the SEC in sacks with 10…Has a laundry list of injuries, including knee surgery and a stress fracture in his left foot in high school, a stress fracture in his right foot in 2007, toe surgery in 2009, another foot injury following a car accident in July 2009 and a broken wrist that also required surgery…Has excellent athletic ability with a powerful hand punch that he uses to jolt offensive tackles…Has an explosive first step off the snap and can get moving in a hurry…Has good closing speed on the quarterback…Will chase down running backs on plays that go to the other side of the field…Durability is a huge question mark since he has had multiple surgeries and never played a full season…Weight has fluctuated badly over his career and he showed up at the East-West Shrine Game overweight and out of shape…Was suspended by the coaching staff for continually being late or skipping team meetings and workouts…Is not disciplined and will take himself out of plays when he freelances…Ran a 4.96 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: If strictly on athletic merit, he would be a second- or third-round pick. But with an injury history as long as his and a very questionable work ethic, he will likely be on the board into the draft's final day before a team takes a chance on him.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Alex Carrington, Arkansas State, 6-5¼, 285
Antonio Coleman, Auburn, 6-1½, 255
Brandon Lang, Troy, 6-3¾, 266
George Selvie, South Florida, 6-4½, 252
C.J. Wilson, East Carolina, 6-3, 290
Lindsey Witten, Connecticut, 6-4½, 250
Willie Young, North Carolina State, 6-4¾, 251



John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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