Note: For the next three days, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ draft on the blog and with an Access Vikings video you can find on this website. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post each day through April 28.
The issues: The Vikings are likely to lose starting left end Ray Edwards in free agency (once the lockout ends) and 38-year-old nose tackle Pat Williams also might have played his last down for the franchise. Coach Leslie Frazier has made it clear that given some of this uncertainty that defensive line is a priority in the draft.
What they have: Starting right end Jared Allen (29) and tackle Kevin Williams (30) will return and end Brian Robison was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million deal before the lockout began.
Robison, a fourth-round selection in 2007 who could have been a free agent if he wasn’t given an extension, might be a candidate to take over for Edwards. Robison, 6-3, 259 pounds, had two sacks last season and was fourth on the team with 15 quarterback hits. However, he might be better suited to be used on a situational basis at end and also slide inside in the nickel package to provide a pass rushing presence.
Everson Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010, would be the ideal guy to step in for Edwards but he dropped in the draft because of character concerns and he has had two run-ins with the law in Los Angeles since the NFL season ended. Griffen certainly has talent, but assuming he is completely committed to playing in this league might be a big gamble.
The Vikings also added Adrian Awasom (6-4, 270 pounds), who had spent the past two seasons with Las Vegas of the UFL and will be competing to earn a roster spot. Awasom, a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants in 2005, signed a two-year futures contract with the Vikings.
Allen had a team-leading 11 sacks last season and has 40 regular-season sacks in three years with the Vikings. However, he got off to a slow start in 2010 and had only one sack in the first seven games. Clearly, the Vikings will be hoping Allen will be more consistent in 2011.
Kevin Williams has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times in his eight seasons, but did not go last year. His one sack last season was easily a career-low.
The Vikings options at nose tackle include veteran Jimmy Kennedy and Fred Evans, if he returns. Evans was due to be a restricted free agent but the Vikings did not extend him an offer and thus he’s free to negotiate with any team once the labor situation is settled.
The Vikings’ list of defensive tackles also includes 2008 fifth-round pick Letroy Guion and Tremaine Johnson, who spent last season on the practice squad. Guion was listed last season as the backup to Kevin Williams at the 3-technique spot but his playing time should begin to increase this coming season.
What they need: Likely replacements for Edwards and Pat Williams.
Although the assumption has been that Pat Williams will not return, Frazier told reporters last month that they should not dismiss the possibility the veteran will be back. That doesn’t mean the Vikings don’t need to start thinking long term about who will be their next nose tackle because at this point Williams is a situational player.
Alabama’s Marcell Dareus will be long gone by the time the Vikings pick 12th in the first round, but there sounds like a chance Auburn’s Nick Fairley could drop because of question marks surrounding him. It doesn’t help that some are comparing his work ethic to Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who a year ago was on the radar of many Vikings fans who thought Washington might move him.
This is an extremely deep draft when it comes to defensive ends and many mocks have predicted the Vikings will use their first-round pick on this position.
The recent popular pick seems to be California’s Cameron Jordan (6-4, 287 pounds). Jordan is the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan.
Other ends who could be available to Minnesota include Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, whose stock seems to be plummeting because of concerns about his knee; Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt; and North Carolina’s Robert Quinn.
Quinn, who did not play last season because the NCAA ruled him ineligible, was tied to the Vikings in early mocks but there is now a feeling he might go before the 10th pick. Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan also has had his name tied to the Vikings.
Bowers might be tempting – he was projected as a top-10 pick early on – but whether he goes in the first round is going to depend on how the medical evaluations turned out.
Conclusion: While the Vikings need for a quarterback is obvious, Frazier’s desire to add young quality depth on the line will mean it won’t be a huge surprise if the Vikings elect to take a linemen with their 12th pick.