Its time we kept the series moving and we are heading back to the defensive line. I am just doing the math now and realizing that producing these once a week will have us finished long after the draft, so we are going to try and finish with the defensive analysis by the end of this week so we can get on to the offense. So without stalling, lets start talking about the cornerstone of the pass rush, the defensive ends.
The defensive ends (DE) in a 4-3 have two responsibilities: contain to force plays back into the middle of the defense and sacking/creating pressure on the QB. It might not sound like a lot when you put it like that, but in the modern era the job requires amazing athletic ability to be able to preform both duties. Its impressive enough to have the speed needed to get to the QB on a consistent basis, but to be able to anchor and direct offensive tackles (OT) in the run defense on top of that is hard to find. There are several approaches personnel wise to getting that production out of the DEs. If you were to use the Madden Create-A-Player feature to create the ideal DE, he would be 6'6'', 270lbs with a quick first step and long arms. Mullets are optional, but preferred.
Physical attributes change with the skill set since not everyone can be JA. Heights can vary from 6'4''-6'7'' and weight from 260-285. For example, a 6'4'' 285 DE would be ideal for a DE with a focus on run defense. The height is ideal for leverage against taller OTs and the higher weight can help push the OT back into the guard to close the rush lane and set the edge. Speed is usually sacrificed with this strategy unless you can find guys with that size that can maintain the downhill speed. Those kind of guys are hard to come by and why they are so highly valued in the draft and considered the most athletic position to play on the defense.
More than just a clever name, DE's line up to both bookend the DTs and, depending on gap responsibility, the end of the OL. The play call determines their starting point, but in general, 4-3 DE's line up on the outside shoulder on the OT because first responsibility is maintaining contain and not letting any play get around them. It also puts them in a position to use their speed to get around the OT or set up the OT to make a inside move. Be it a running play or a scrambling QB, the DE's need to keep everything in front of them.
The roster very recently got one man heavier with the signing of Mike Montgomery. He is a bigger DE per the example we used earlier and will more likely back up Ray Edwards at the LDE position. Even with this addition, the position as a lot of youth. No one is older than 27 (Allen) and with the youngest being 25 (Edwards). Robison, Mitchell, and Montgomery are all 26. That is really young for a position that can play well into the 30's (i.e. there is no "30 year wall" for DE like there is for running backs). Allen and Edwards both have the ideal physical size (Allen 6'6'' 270, Edwards 6'5'' 268) and are backed up with depth with two bigger DEs in Mitchell (6'6'' 285) and Montgomery (6'5'' 282) and one small speedster in Robison (6'3'' 259). For it being as important a position as it is, I was thinking the Vikings would add a developmental type to rotate initially and if they couldn't retain Edwards start when he leaves. I don't think Montgomery signing changes that much. If anything it puts Mitchell's roster spot in jeopardy since he and Montgomery have similar size and skill set.
If the Vikings can find someone they value more than Jayme in the draft, he looks like he could be the odd man out when cuts come around. He had enough trouble finding playing time last year and with Montgomery signing, the most likely gone if a roster spot is needed elsewhere. Unless that happens though, I wouldn't expect much turnover at the DE position this year for the Vikings. How easily the front office thinks it can sign Ray Edwards next year will probably factor into how much they value the position in the draft this year. What makes the position a wild card in the draft is that talent at the position is highly coveted. With the league shifting into a pass happy era, the value of guys who can create pressure on the QB has never been higher. When elite talent at the position is available, the position will go early and its not crazy for teams with a top 5 pick to target these kind of players that early. Like I've been saying, its hard to find those freakish athletics like the Jared Allen or Julius Peppers of the NFC North, and when you have chance to take one, you do. The 2010 4-3 DE isn't that deep and a lot of players have red flags that will push them down draft boards, but that in turn helps create some value for teams like the Vikings sitting at the end of each round.
Round 1: Jason Pierre-Paul 6'4'' 270 USF - I am not sold that he is a top ten overall pick with just one year at the D-1 level, but he is one of those rare talents and if he fell to the end of the first, it might be hard not to pick him up. He would be able to play in a rotation right away and would protect the Vikings if they can't resign Edwards. Don't think it will happen, but of the other 1st round DEs (Derrick Morgan is the only other DE that I think is worth a 1st rounder and he will definitely be gone) he has the biggest bust potential and teams might opt for a sure thing in the 1st round and get a DE later.
Round 2: Corey Wootton 6'6'' 270 Northwestern - Played his senior year coming off an ACL tear and that seemed to affect him most of the year. That didn't help his draft stock and while he was very productive in college, there are questions as to his consistency and pass rush ability. His junior year is the only year in which he produced double digit sacks and recovering from from an ACL tear after that prevented him from improving on it. Another guy who could play in a rotation early and be ready to play full time if Edwards is gone.
Round 3: Greg Hardy 6'4'' 281, Ole Miss - There was a time when Hardy was considered a first round talent. Injuries and questions on his work ethic have since seen him fall. It not unlike last year when early on in the process, people though Michael Johnson, the DE from Georgia Tech was going to go in the top ten picks and he ended up waiting til the 3rd round to get called up by the Bengals. Hardy was never considered top ten and could fall farther. The Vikings took a risk on a guy with similar questions of work ethic and injury in Ray Edwards and Ray was even rumored to have left school early because of clashes with the coaching staff. Could definitely find motivation playing on the Vikings DL and has the talent to dominate games when healthy.
Round 4 : Lindsey Witten 6'4'' 250 UConn - A developmental speed guy. Could use a "red-shirt year" to gain some weight to hold up against the run. Has the size to develop and get bigger. Plus he improved from a statistical stand point ever year he was in college.
Round 5: Chris McCoy 6'4'' 261 Middle Tenn St. - McCoy is the first DE prospect to get an invite to the Vikings camp on April 6-7. He is considered more of a tweener at OLB/DE but he is also a developmental guy who could get bigger while maintaining his speed. Here is a link to the NFL Pro Days Blog that speaks on the young man.
One more position down and two more on defense to go. Here is a list of every available DE for this years draft. Any one that needs to be singled out? What do you think is the current state of the position?