One option for the Vikings in the upcoming draft is to select a defensive end to play opposite of Danielle Hunter, and along with defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson, could make for a truly fearsome defensive line for the Vikings.
In order to select the best from this year’s crop of defensive ends, the Vikings would likely need to spend their first round pick on him, whether at 14 or preferably trading down a bit and selecting him, picking up some Day Two draft capital in the process for other needs.
Among the defensive ends that could go somewhere in the mid- to late first round, there are three that would be the best fit for the Vikings 4-3 front: Jaelan Phillips, Jayson Oweh, and Kwity Paye. But which one would be the best selection for the Vikings? Each have their pros and cons, and choosing between them is difficult.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Jayson Oweh (O-way) is probably the least developed of the three first-round candidates, but his ceiling is also probably the highest, given his length and athletic traits, which are not just prototypical for an edge rusher, they’re as close to perfection as you’re likely to get in a college prospect.
It’s not every day, or every draft, that a defensive end has a superior athletic profile to Danielle Hunter’s in 2015, but Jayson Oweh does- slightly. He has elite speed, agility and explosion grades to go along with 34.5” arms. Like Hunter, he could use to add a few pounds, but that will come in time. And like Hunter, Oweh’s college production was lacking in the sack department.
Oweh’s college grading is right there with the two other candidates, even if his sack production was not. He’ll need to develop his pass rush tool kit, and his play and blocking scheme recognition, but these are things that will likely happen with practice and good coaching, especially if Andre Patterson should be that coach. The other thing Oweh could improve is timing the snap a little better. He has an explosive first step, but can be a bit tardy with it off the snap.
With how paramount athleticism is at the defensive end position, Oweh is the next athletic freak that continues to push the envelope for standards at the position. Oweh is the definition of the “first man off the bus.” He certainly looks the part of the next great pass rusher to come out of the Big Ten with potential to take the NFL by storm. A honoree on the annual “Feldman’s Freak List,” Oweh’s testing numbers have become folklore at this point, almost unfathomable for a man of his size. Coupling his insane athletic profile with some outstanding length, Oweh is a tough assignment to block one-on-one. With dynamite explosiveness around the outside track, he can put offensive linemen into some very troubling positions, causing a lot of oversets. Oweh has shown a propensity to convert speed to power, feasting on oversetting offensive tackles. When tackles overset on him, he is able to immediately counter with inside moves to win both inside and out. Calling Oweh a high-upside pass rusher would be a major understatement. After being an underwhelming run defender in 2019, Oweh was very improved in that area this past season. His arm length allows him to lock out and set a firm edge. More upside than tangible play at the moment, Oweh is a mound of clay that has limited production and live reps to date. He lacks awareness working against misdirection, taking himself out of position too often. Despite some serious juice up the track, he can be a tick slow off the snap. From a raw talent perspective, Oweh is a slam-dunk early first-round selection. With the inconsistencies he shows, there is no certainty where his draft slot will ultimately land. Fit will ultimately be the deciding factor for Oweh. If he lands with a good defensive line coach who can get the most out of him, we could be looking at a high-volume sack artist that could develop into one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. - The NFL Draft Bible
Jayson Oweh projects as a developmental edge defender at the pro level. With rare length and athletic tools, Oweh has plenty of potential and his ceiling as a prospect is that of a 10-plus sack per season pass rusher. There’s explosiveness, bend, length, and ample room to build onto his frame. But any team drafting Oweh early is going to have to do so with the understanding that there’s probably going to be an incubation period before he enters the NFL and becomes the pass rusher he’s capable of being—this is a redshirt sophomore who played in just 20 collegiate football games and needs to mature both technically and physically before taking on a high volume of snaps. Oweh’s athletic ability will grant him sporadic reps, even as a rookie, to serve as a designated pass rusher, but I wouldn’t advocate for a high workload on early downs until he’s more filled out with his frame. Oweh is lean and can give up valuable real estate as a run defender; he’s lacking in the core and lower-body power to hold ground and stack up tackles. If you’re looking for a silver lining in his early-down role, he’ll win from wide angles and he has the functional athleticism in space to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker for any team looking to call upon his skills as more of a raw athlete. I do believe Oweh will reach his potential, but he’s young, relatively inexperienced, and needs more polish and more power rolled into his frame before he gets there. - Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network
Prototypical NFL build and some of the most exciting traits and explosiveness of any edge defender in this draft. Those features can’t be taught but they can be coached up, so any concerns about his lack of polish at this stage should be tempered. He has dominant potential as a run defender with burst and range to upend back-side and play-side runs, turning them into short gains or losses. While he figures to stack up stats with sheer athleticism, he does lack eye discipline and feel for blocking schemes, which tends to derail his momentum at times. He’s slow getting off the snap, which dulls the early advantage he should be able to generate with his wicked get-off as a rusher. At this point, the hand usage and overall rush plan are lacking, but he has the feet for inside counters, the power to bull rush and the bend to dip and run the rush arc with fury. It’s not all there yet, but with more coaching and experience, Oweh has the ability to rate as a Pro Bowl rush linebacker with the ability to stick a hand in the ground if you need it. - Lance Zierlein
Kwity Paye, Michigan
Of the three DE candidates, Paye is probably the most NFL-ready in terms of technical skill, and has a bit more bulk as well. He probably has the lowest ceiling of the three, given his traits, but perhaps the highest floor too.
Paye has prototypical speed and explosion grades for a defensive end (he didn’t do the agility drills), but has less than desirable length at 6’2” and 33” arms. Paye’s strength (36 BP reps) and power gave him an advantage in college that he won’t have as much against the big boys in the NFL. He’s got the speed, twitch and explosion off the edge, but his length and less bend may limit his pass rush ceiling relative to the others. Still, he’s comparable to Nick Bosa in size, length, and athletically, and he seems to have done alright in the NFL, so it’s not like he’s got a low ceiling based on his measurables either. However, Bosa was clearly more advanced entering the draft, and with better tape, which is why he went #2 overall.
Paye is the most experienced of the three candidates, and overall put up the most impressive college grades of the three as well.
Arguably one of the premier athletes at the defensive end position in all of college football, Paye is fresh off a berth on the Feldman’s Freaks List. His high level of athleticism is constantly on display, flashing the type of first-step explosiveness and juice to get offensive tackles to open up early. That allows them to become susceptible to inside counters and power moves, which Paye uses to round out his pass-rush arsenal. He sports a well-proportioned body with a ton of power in his lower half. This allows him to stick his foot in the ground, attack down the middle of opposing offensive linemen and overwhelm at the point of attack. There is some alignment versatility for Paye as he possesses the ability to rush from both inside and out. While a little more explosive, Paye has a lot of Brandon Graham in his game. It’s his versatility that really highlights the best of his athletic profile. In the run game, Paye does an excellent job setting a physical edge. He isn’t overly bendy or long, having to win more from a technical side and twitch. His hand usage can get sloppy at times when attacking leverage, but there are some legitimate tools to work with from Paye. While he may never be a high-volume sack threat at the next level, his combination of power, explosiveness and alignment versatility should be highly coveted somewhere inside the first two rounds of the draft. - The NFL Draft Bible
The explosive testing will surely get teams and evaluators excited, but it might be hard to bang the table for him based on the tape. Paye’s traits and potential should not be discounted, as he’ll continue to be skilled up in technique and fundamentals. However, he’s a choppy-stepping short-strider who doesn’t play with the feel and instincts of an NFL playmaker. He can overcome his lack of stride length as a rusher with a more focused, upfield attack and better hands at the top of his rush, but he might be better-suited as a reduced rusher on passing downs, where his quickness could overwhelm guards. The traits and explosiveness are enticing but the film says “good” rather than “great” at this time. - Lance Zierlein
Kwity Paye is an exciting prospect whose potential and physical ability is only now beginning to be realized on the gridiron. There’s an extremely high ceiling in Paye’s game thanks to his athletic abilities; if his NFL team is able to continue to draw fundamental improvements out of him to allow him to continue to simply react to discard or defeat blocks, he’ll be in line for plenty of explosive plays in opposing backfields. The steps Paye made in 2020 during the abbreviated season should only further fuel optimism that his development is still on an upward trajectory. Paye has won in the past most sufficiently from tight alignments and utilized his powerful hands and functional strength to diminish angles and find creases to press through and rally to the football. I do feel he’s a bit more of a linear athlete and his ability to collapse tackle sets with speed to power is going to shine more frequently than his reps when looking to crash off the edge and win with finesse. Paye has been forged by fire through a challenging upbringing as an immigrant and finds his “why” in taking care of his family—he’s internally driven and appears to be the kind of individual you want in your building to buy into the process. He’s a home run from an intangibles, effort, and tools perspective, but his scheme fit is an important accommodation to make for optimal success. - Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network
Jaelan Phillips, Miami/UCLA
Jaelan Phillips maybe something of a middle-ground between Oweh and Paye, but closer to Oweh overall. Phillips has length and athletic traits closer to Oweh, but not the strength, power and experience of Paye. Phillips may be a bit ahead of Oweh in his understanding of the game, having played it longer, but similar in amount of college reps. Similar college grades as the other two, but more production last year- most of it coming over the last seven games. Perhaps a similarly high ceiling as Oweh, but also a very low floor due to his history of concussions, rather than ability or aptitude. Phillips retired from football at UCLA after suffering a concussion in a scooter accident, and then again in a game. He retired at that point, but then decided to play again. Not with UCLA, somewhat mysteriously, but with Miami. He missed the 2019 season before finishing strong in 2020, beginning to show the promise he had as the #1 recruit in the country out of high school. Phillips has all the potential to be a big-time pass rusher, but his concussion history could scare some teams off, and perhaps even take him off their board.
As you can see, Phillips is similar to Oweh and Hunter in overall athletic profile, but he does have shorter, 33.25” arms. Overall plenty to work with athletically, but like Oweh will need to add some weight.
Phillips has similar college grades as both Paye and Oweh, better production as a pass rusher, not quite as impressive against the run as Oweh, however. Still, overall pretty similar grades, but Phillips had more sack production this past year.
A once-prized five-star recruit at UCLA, concussions and inconsistencies threatened the success of Phillips’ career. He opted to finish his career at Miami, rejuvenating the hype that once surrounded him. He was able to put together a dynamic season in 2020 where his athletic gifts jumped off the film. Phillips is what is wanted from the ideal defensive end prospect, combining big-time talent with a long and well-proportioned frame. He is a pure speed rusher who has some insane explosiveness around the outside track for a man his size. For the most part, Phillips does a nice job setting the edge in the run game, using his length to his advantage. Lacking a lot of game experience, Phillips is still raw technically and is just starting to scratch the surface of how good he can be. He is a high-upside pass rusher whose best football is firmly in front of him. As he continues to get stronger, he has the opportunity to add a power profile to match his superb athleticism. Once he is able to put it all together, we could be talking about a high-volume sack artist. - The NFL Draft Bible
A consensus 5-star recruit, Miami EDGE Jaelan Phillips played his first two seasons at UCLA before transferring to Miami where everything came together in 2020. Phillips was flashy at UCLA but played a modest amount of snaps across 11 games in two seasons. Ankle, wrist, and concussion issues limited his time on the field for UCLA before his move to Miami. Phillips’ performance in 2020 was exactly what the Bruins thought they were getting in the former prized recruit. A balanced defender, Phillips is a playmaker against the run and pass, where his exciting blend of size, length, power, technique, and athleticism make him a challenge for offenses to neutralize. Phillips is a versatile player that has experience playing with his hand in the dirt on the edge, rushing from interior alignments, and playing in space in a standup role—which makes him a fit for all teams in the NFL. The areas of concern for Phillips entering the NFL are playing with better pad level, developing consistency with his hand technique, and becoming more consistent reducing his surface area while establishing a half-man relationship with his opponents as a pass rusher. Phillips has all the makings of an impact defender at the next level, although a large sample size of high-level production in college would have been preferred. - Joe Marino, The Draft Network
Edge defender with plus physical attributes and a motor that keeps him working and attacking throughout the rep. Philips might have the combination of length and athleticism that would allow teams to look at him with a hand on the ground or standing depending on his weight. Adding play strength will be important so that he can stack it up when setting the edge as a run defender in the league. He’s a slippery-limbed pass rusher with good first-step quickness, which bodes well for his future rush success if he gets better with his hands and learns a go-to counter. He has a shot at becoming a solid future starter along the edge if his medicals pan out. - Lance Zierlein
It’s not a given that the Vikings will draft a defensive end in the first round. They could go in at least a couple other directions as well. Andre Patterson in his recent interview said he’s got defensive line prospects lined up at different rounds in the draft, and has had success developing prospects drafted in the early, middle, and late rounds in his coaching career.
But should the Vikings pull the trigger on a defensive end in the first round, all three of these defensive end prospects have the traits to have productive careers in the NFL.
Kwity Paye may not have the length and build to be a Von Miller/Khalil Mack/Danielle Hunter-type edge rusher along the arc, but he is more developed technically and probably has the highest floor of the three. Teams looking for a DE that could rush from the inside on occasion may value Paye’s skillset a bit more too.
Jaelan Phillips has high-end traits and shows some saavy as an edge-rusher, perhaps more than Jayson Oweh at this stage, but his concussion history is a risk factor that could result in missed games and/or a shortened career. I’m not sure there is any predictive test that can be done regarding whether he is fully ‘healed’ from his concussion history. The only real thing known is that once you have concussions, the more likely you are to have one again.
Jayson Oweh may have the highest ceiling based on his length and athleticism, but he’s also probably the least developed of the three at this point, except possibly as a run defender, and would likely have the steepest learning curve at the next level.
For my money, I’d go with Oweh over the other two, knowing his first year may not be as productive. But I’d take the risk on his development knowing Andre Patterson and Danielle Hunter are there to coach him and show him how it’s done. I can’t think of a better place for a DE like Oweh to land in the NFL, and if he works hard and takes well to coaching, he could be as successful as Danielle Hunter down the road.
Ideally, the Vikings could trade down and still pick up Oweh late in the first round.
Which first-round defensive end prospect would you most want the Vikings to draft?
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