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Vikings Draft: Defensive Front Seven

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Tennessee v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Another position group of interest to the Vikings, based on the players they’ve met with so far, is the defensive front. This should come as no surprise, as the Vikings let both Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson go, along with Emmanuel Lamur, and with Sheldon Richardson on just a one-year deal, and salary cap issues too, the need to develop young talent across the defensive front seven is a big need for the Vikings, despite having what looks to be one of the best starting defensive front seven’s in the league this year.

Current (Unofficial) Defensive Front Seven Depth Chart

At this point, the Vikings depth chart looks something like this:

RDE: Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Caushaud Lyons

NT: Linval Joseph, Jaleel Johnson

DT: Sheldon Richardson, Dylan Bradley

LDE: Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, Tashawn Bower

WILL: Ben Gedeon, Reshard Cliett?

MIKE: Eric Kendricks, Kentrell Brothers?

SAM: Anthony Barr, Eric Wilson?

Weatherly has played both DE spots, and Johnson has played some 3-tech, but overall the backups outside of Robison had only about 160 snaps between them last year.

Hard to say who the backups are at each LB spot. My guess right now is that Kentrell Brothers may be the first backup for all LB spots, unless it’s Gedeon for the other two spots- which could be the case.

It’s an open question whether Brian Robison will play again this season, in part due to a report the Vikings may approach him about his contract, and also from his less than certain comments that he’ll be back this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired.

I’m not sure Stephen Weatherly is inline for a bigger role at this point- he’s been just a guy so far without much to suggest he’ll be more than that. Bower, Odenigbo and Bradley are still projects, and it remains to be seen if any will step up to be bona fide rotational guys this year. I suspect that is the hope. I don’t know much about Lyons, but would put him last on the DE depth chart at this point.

Jaleel Johnson is the most likely to see more reps this year- probably taking over Shamar Stephen’s role.

Danielle Hunter will likely get paid in a significant contract extension at some point this summer, Linval Joseph is under contract until 2022, or however long he can play at a high level, while Richardson will test the market again next year.

That leaves Everson Griffen, the biggest cap hit in the group, who is also under contract through 2022. However, I’ve speculated that with all the other core players to extend, the Cousins signing, Griffen turning 31 in December, and the potential to save over $10MM in salary cap if he was released next year, this could be his last year in Minnesota- at least under his current contract. Trading him in the future is also possible.

In any case, looking at the current depth chart, and considering potential departures and guys who may not pan out, and the Vikings need quality depth to develop at just about every spot.

With that, let’s take a look at the draft prospects the Vikings have met with so far in the pre-draft process.

Vikings Defensive Front Seven Draft Prospects

Taking a look at the list of defensive front seven prospects the Vikings have met with, only one of them appears to have played in a 4-3 base defense in college, which is interesting on the one hand, but also not surprising on the other hand, given that the 4-3 is becoming an endangered species in the college ranks. Most of the OLB/DE prospects here may be OLB prospects for the Vikings, but as 3-4 OLBs in college, their position if the Vikings drafted them is more of a question mark, assuming the Vikings maintain a 4-3 alignment.

In the past the Vikings have drafted defensive linemen from a 4-3 in college- Jaleel Johnson from Iowa last year, along with Ifeadi Odenigbo from Northwestern, and Dylan Bradley from Mississippi State. Tashawn Bower played in a 4-3 at LSU until his senior year, when they switched to a 3-4. In 2015, Danielle Hunter at LSU (before they switched to a 3-4). The only defensive linemen the Vikings drafted from a 3-4 who is still on the roster is Stephen Weatherly. Newly-acquired Sheldon Richardson played DE in a 3-4 with the Jets for four years before being traded to Seattle last year, where he played in a 4-3.

Of course all of the Vikings starting linebackers came from a 3-4- Barr and Kendricks from UCLA, and Ben Gedeon from Michigan.

Be that as it may, this year the Vikings don’t appear to be focused on guys with experience in a 4-3 base defense, as only one of the prospects they’ve met with had any in college. The other aspect of that is that among the potential DE candidates, only one (the 4-3 guy) weighs more than 250 pounds. That was the case with Danielle Hunter as well, who came in at 240, but now goes around 260, but still that is a little light for a traditional 4-3 LDE. That is the trend- lighter, more athletic edge rushers, but more so among 3-4 defenses than 4-3.

I’ve linked each prospect’s draft profile to their name/position, for more details.

Lorenzo Carter, 3-4OLB/OLB, Georgia

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll start with Lorenzo Carter, as one of the higher ranked prospects. The Vikings met with Carter at the Combine. Carter is built like Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter- 6’6”, 250lbs., highly athletic, ran a 4.46” 40- same as Stefon Diggs. His coaches at Georgia said that while he played OLB, he has the skill set and athleticism to play CB too.

Carter was the top football prospect in the state of Georgia out of high school, and decided to stay home- choosing the Georgia Bulldogs- where he ended up behind Leonard Floyd. But Carter disappointed expectations at Georgia, and never had the type of production Floyd did, despite being compared to him by many scouts.

Lance Zierlein’s bottom line on him is as follows:

Carter was a five-star prospect and one of the most heralded players in the nation when he was recruited by Georgia but he never made the impact expected of him as a Bulldog. However, Carter played with increased toughness and confidence this year and his NFL potential began to reassert itself once again. Carter is an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 with sideline-to-sideline range and the tools to become a productive edge rusher in sub-packages. He needs to add more bulk, but he is a future NFL starter.

Carter moved around a lot while at Georgia, which may have contributed to his not developing as well as expected, but sort of the underlying criticism from scouts is that he hasn’t really found his niche yet.

What is intriguing to me, is what role the Vikings would consider him for if they drafted him. They’ve got Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr at the two positions he’s got the most familiarity with, sort of, as an OLB in a 3-4 defense. Is he a potential replacement for Everson Griffen? Or Barr? Or could he be considered for a Kam Chancellor-type role as a strong safety? Carter has the ability to play at all three levels. He would need to put more lead in his pencil if he was to play up-front, however - as Danielle Hunter did.

I’ve thrown out the idea of the Vikings going to a 3-4 or hybrid defense, and Carter would certainly fit in that scenario. But he could also be considered as a strong safety, linebacker, or defensive end in a 4-3.

Drafttek currently has Carter as their #47 ranked draft prospect overall, 6th ranked edge rusher, and 5th ranked OLB. He’s been rising in their rankings of late. I suspect if the Vikings have him high enough on their board, they’d consider him with their 2nd round pick, if he was available at that point.

Here are the highlights from Lorenzo Carter’s 2017 season:

Uchenna Nwosu, 3-4OLB/OLB, USC

The Vikings met with Nwosu at USC’s pro day. He goes 6’3”, 250 lbs., and Drafttek has him ranked the 32nd highest overall prospect and 4th ranked OLB, having shot up 93 spots recently. Looking at his profile, I doubt he goes anywhere near that high- not sure why he shot up the draft rankings. Here is the lowdown on him:

Flashes the athletic traits and speed off the edge that teams will be looking for but the overall tape is very uneven. Nwosu may not have the edge strength to handle run downs, however, if he tests well at the Combine as expected, teams may fall in love with his burst and eyeball a future role as a designated pass rusher.

Tape being far and away the most important aspect of a prospect’s scouting profile, it’s hard to see Nwosu as anything more than a mid-round pick at most.

In any case, here is another guy that looks more like a potential backup to Anthony Barr at SAM than anything else. Having lost Emmanuel Lamur to free agency, or let him go more like, the Vikings need a backup at the SAM spot, and a guy like Nwosu could fit there.

Marquis Haynes, DE/3-4OLB/OLB, Ole Miss

Wofford v Mississippi'n

The Vikings met with Haynes at the Senior Bowl. He is considered an edge rusher, even though he’s 6’3” and weighs only 225 or 235 lbs. This is another guy that even more than Carter, doesn’t seem to be a DE candidate for the Vikings, but rather a LB or even SS. Although with a 4.67” 40, he’s a bit slow for the latter. He’s a lesser version of Carter in almost every respect, and projected much later in the draft as a result. His main strength, however, is his burst from the edge. So what do the Vikings, running a 4-3, have in mind for Haynes if they drafted him? He’s clearly too small to play DE. He could use a few pounds to play OLB for that matter.

Once again, here’s the lowdown:

Slender, productive pass rush specialist who features an outstanding upfield burst, but an alarming lack of anchor. While Haynes could get a trial as an early down 3-4 rush linebacker due to his pass rush potential, he isn’t built to handle the physical nature of NFL run games. Haynes is a likely fit for teams looking for a designated pass rusher for sub-packages, but he’ll need to become more toolsy and unpredictable as an NFL rusher if he wants to duplicate the success he had in college.

Drafttek has him as the #190th overall ranked prospect, having moved up 169 spots recently to reach the draft-able rankings. He sounds more like a prospect the Vikings may take a flyer on as a UDFA, maybe as a safety or linebacker, but hard to see how he fits into the Vikings defense otherwise.

Kylie Fitts, DE/3-4OLB, Utah

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings met with Fitts at the Senior Bowl, and he’s the only DL prospect with college experience in a 4-3, and also the only DE prospect over 250 lbs, going 6’4”, 263lbs. Fitts checks most of the boxes as a viable 4-3 LDE with starting potential, but has significant durability concerns, having played in only 12 games his last two years at Utah.

Drafttek has him ranked #151 overall as a draft prospect, and #13 among edge rushers, so another mid-round prospect at best, but more likely Day 3 pick or UDFA due to injury concerns, but his ceiling also seems a lot closer to a backup than a Pro-Bowler. Realistically, he seems more like a guy the Vikings may take a flyer on as a 7th round pick (assuming they pick up some), or a UDFA if he goes undrafted, which is a distinct possibility as well.

Kemoko Turay, DE/3-4OLB, Rutgers

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings had a private workout with Turay. Another edge rusher 3-4 OLB whose best trait is his ability to rush the passer. 6’5”, 250lbs. Turay is a Day 3 prospect, according to Drafttek, who have him falling to #224 overall, which is borderline in terms of being drafted. More likely a UDFA candidate.

Okay, so much for the DE/OLB prospects. Overall, the one thing all these candidates share, with the exception of Fitts, is that they are athletic pass rushers that lack an anchor. Given that, you could argue all of these guys (except Fitts) are really linebacker prospects- depth guys behind Barr or Kendricks- with some potential to become starters, or to feature in sub-packages, which could include more 4-3/3-4 hybrid alignments.

Now let’s look at the interior defensive line guys the Vikings have met with.

Harrison Phillips, DT/3-4DE/NT, Stanford

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Stanford vs Texas Christian Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings met with Phillips at the Senior Bowl. He is a strong, but not that athletic NT, listed as 6’4”, 307lbs. He was also a play-maker at Stanford, with great production from the NT spot. Here’s his bottom line, according to Lance Zierlein:

Phillips plays a little upright and looks more like a guard than nose, but he definitely has the leverage and power to play to anchor and muddy the run game waters. Phillips has a feel for blocking schemes and is able to handle down blocks and double teams while allow linebackers to flow to the ball. As a former wrestler, he’s a natural scrambler with non-traditional ways of finding the football and finding the quarterback. He has early starter potential and could find snaps on passing downs as well.

I have to admit I was a little higher on Phillips before I saw his tape, as you can see he can get high with his pad level- leading to the ‘plays a little upright’ comment. That isn’t gonna get him anywhere in the NFL. I always like interior linemen who have a wrestling background though, as it gives them a non-traditional advantage with leverage and balance that is hard to quantify, but still a clear advantage. Phillips has that wrestling background, although also more of a wrestler’s build- more upper body (he benched 42 reps by the way), but not very low center of gravity, which can be a disadvantage in the trenches.

This video draft profile is kinda slow and long-winded, but it gives a good idea of Phillips’ pros and cons:

Drafttek has him listed currently as the #46 overall draft prospect and 3rd ranked NT prospect. I wouldn’t draft him that high, and I’d be surprised if he goes that high, as he looks like he may have some development to do before he is ready for significant rotational reps behind Linval Joseph, if the Vikings were to draft him. There is a bit of a split among scouts on him as well- some see him as a Day 3 pick- saying he’s not there yet as a NT and not athletic enough to be a 3-tech. I’d be surprised if the Vikings picked him before Day 3. But with some good coaching, and maybe a little more lower body bulk, he could be a solid backup at NT with potential to be a starter one day. He’s the best of the interior DL the Vikings have met with.

Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings had a private workout with Shepherd, who goes 6’5”, 315lbs. Out of Fort Hays State, Shepherd has never been up against NFL competition, and even so is still a project in need of development. He does have all the traits, but needs probably a couple years worth of development before he’d be ready to take significant reps for the Vikings- most likely at 3-tech.

Drafttek has him as the #150 overall prospect and 11th ranked 3-tech. Hard to see him as anything more than a Day 3 pick, but if Andre Patterson can coach him up, he could pan out eventually.

P.J. Hall, DT, Sam Houston State

NCAA Football: East-West Shrine Game Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings had a private workout with Hall. A little squat for the NT spot at 6’1”, 310lbs., but has the strength. Hall benched 36 reps (having short arms helps) while also being able to squat 700 pounds. This is another guy who completely dominated in the FCS - averaging over 20 TFLs and 10 sacks per year over his four-year career at Sam Houston State. How well he does against NFL competition remains to be seen. He has the skill set to be successful, if not all the measurables- notice the arm length and hand size in the photo.

Drafttek has him as the #216 overall prospect, and 20th ranked NT, so more likely a 7th round pick or UDFA.

No First-Round Prospects Here

Once again, the Vikings have not met with any first-round draft prospects among defensive front seven candidates. My guess is that Lorenzo Carter will be drafted the highest among this bunch the Vikings have met with, but he seems more like a second round guy- and probably higher on draft boards for teams with 3-4 defenses than may be the case with the Vikings.

In any case, I don’t see a guy here who would have an impact in the coming season, but a guy like Carter could develop into a special talent, and a guy like Harrison Phillips could become a solid backup to Linval Joseph in a year or so.

Poll

Of these defensive front seven prospects, who do you most want the Vikings to draft?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Lorenzo Carter
    (559 votes)
  • 17%
    Harrison Phillips
    (169 votes)
  • 2%
    Uchenna Nwosu
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Marquis Haynes
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    Kylie Fitts
    (23 votes)
  • 1%
    Kemoko Turay
    (13 votes)
  • 13%
    Nathan Shepherd
    (135 votes)
  • 4%
    PJ Hall
    (48 votes)
992 votes total Vote Now