Everyone in the National Football League, it seems, is looking for help at the defensive end or edge rusher position. The Minnesota Vikings already have plenty of talent at that spot, but they could always be looking to find more in the later rounds of this year’s draft.
So, as we’ve done with every other position thus far, it’s time to take a look at who some of the prospects the Vikings could be looking at selecting this weekend are. Without a first round pick, I would expect that the team has no shot at Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), Taco Charlton (Michigan), Charles Harris (Missouri), or Derek Barnett (Tennessee). There’s still plenty of talent to be had beyond those players, however, so let’s take a look at a few potential targets.
Carl Lawson, Auburn - Lawson was one of the most disruptive pass rushers in all of college football last season, having finally fully recovered from a torn ACL that cost him his 2014 season. However, he might be a bit of a tweener at the NFL level, and teams are probably going to have to come up with creative ways of using him. Still, it’s hard to argue with his productivity.
Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova - I know that I managed to snag Kpassagnon in the fourth round of my most recent mock draft, but I’m not sure if the odds of that happening are that great. With his size and athletic ability, someone is probably going to draft him significantly higher. Since he played at the FCS level, he’s going to need some time to adjust to the NFL, but if the right coaches get their hands on him he could be a serious force.
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State - Walker is very solid when it comes to setting the edge in the run game, but is a little limited when it comes to the pass rush at this point. He might end up finding himself a role similar to the one Brian Robison holds with the Vikings, where he can line up as a defensive end on early downs and kick inside in obvious passing situations.
Dawuane Smoot, Illinois - Smoot is another player that’s a bit undersized for the defensive end spot in the NFL, which is going to make it a bit tougher for him at the NFL level because he didn’t spend a lot of time dropping into coverage and will likely have to play with his hand on the ground. Still, with NFL teams hungry for pass rushers, Smoot will likely be able to contribute early, even if it’s just in a situational role.
Tarell Basham, Ohio - Another smaller-school player, Basham has long arms to affect the pass game and enough speed to pursue and catch running backs. At this point, a lot of his game is based on finesse, and he’s going to need some time to adjust to the NFL level as far as that’s concerned. He can still add a little more weight, which could help him improve as a run defender.
Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M - The guy across from Myles Garrett in the Aggies’ defense is no slouch. A former linebacker, he made the transition to defensive end this past season and played well, but he’s still a work in progress. He can also stand to bulk up a little bit, but it remains to be seen if he can do so without sacrificing too much of his athleticism.
Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia - Nwachukwu might actually be better suited to being a defensive tackle in the NFL, as his lack of length will likely prevent him from being a full-time defensive end. He has the ability to get to the quarterback, and would likely be able to contribute as a situational pass rusher early on, and the very least.
Jordan Willis, Kansas State - This might be a little low for Willis, but I don’t know how high the Vikings will be on him as he actually seems to be more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a pure defensive end. He’s solid against the run, but has limitations as a pass rusher as things stand right now.
Chris Wormley, Michigan - Tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds, Wormley is another player that might be better suited to playing inside. He’s very good against the run, but doesn’t have great closing speed in pursuit in the run game. That’s what I think the Vikings (and other teams) may end up having more interest in him as a tackle prospect than an end.
Later Rounds (Rounds 5-7)
Keionta Davis, Chattanooga - Davis is another player that’s very good at setting the edge, but mainly got by at the FCS level by being able to overpower inferior competition. He won’t be able to get away with that in the NFL, but does have some quickness that could make him a quality player down the line.
Bryan Cox, Jr., Florida - He definitely has the NFL bloodline, and played both linebacker and defensive end for the Gators. I’m not 100% sure which position he’s going to fit in best at in the NFL, but he’s another player that’s going to be very good against the run but limited as a pass rusher.
Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic - Hendrickson’s role might be that of a situational pass rusher, as he’s not terribly impressive against the run. He’s also a solid special teams contributor, having blocked two field goals and a punt for the Owls this past season.
Derek Rivers, Youngstown State - Another player that dominated at the FCS level, he doesn’t have a clear fit in the NFL at this point. He could develop into more of a role player down the track, but it appears that his upside is sort of limited.
That’s a look at some of the potential defensive end prospects the Minnesota Vikings might have their eyes on when the draft comes around. Again, I wouldn’t expect them to take one really early on or anything, but if someone slides to the later rounds it’s certainly going to be a consideration.