Leading into the NFL Draft starting Thursday, April 25th, the Star Tribune will assess the Vikings roster, draft history and college prospects during this eight-part series.
Coordinator Kevin Stefanski said as much as can be expected from NFL coaches or executives this time of year when, in January, he swiftly pinpointed two primary areas of focus for the Vikings. It’s worth revisiting ahead of this week’s NFL Draft.
“When you talk about the offensive line and defensive line, it starts there,” Stefanski said. “That’s kind of going to be our thing moving forward.”
General manager Rick Spielman followed through in free agency. After signing linebacker Anthony Barr to a massive extension, the Vikings’ two biggest moves were signing guard Josh Kline and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (after losing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in free agency). More help should be on the way out of a highly-regarded defensive line class in this week’s NFL Draft.
Level of need
No. 2. The depth of this 2019 draft class is considered strongest along the defensive line, where difference makers may be found in the middle rounds. So Spielman will most likely consider the positional value when deciding which player to take in the first round. A generational talent, like Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, may need to fall in order for the Vikings take a D-lineman at No. 18. “You have to understand the strengths in each area,” Spielman said this offseason, “and maybe you’re patient.”
Defensive line remains a priority, including end where Griffen’s contract can void after this season.
Danielle Hunter (2023)
Everson Griffen (2022, but can void after 2019)
Stephen Weatherly (2019)
Tashawn Bower (2019)
Ade Aruna (2021)
Ifeadi Odenigbo (2020)
Hercules Mata’afa (2020)
Karter Schult (2019)
Linval Joseph (2022)
Shamar Stephen (2021)
Jaleel Johnson (2020)
Jalyn Holmes (2021)
Curtis Cothran (2020)
DE/DT Jalyn Holmes (2018, 102nd overall)
DE Ade Aruna (2018, 218th overall)
DT Jaleel Johnson (2017, 109th overall)
DE/DT Ifeadi Odenigbo (2017, 220th overall)
DE Stephen Weatherly (2016, 227th overall)
DE Danielle Hunter (2015, 88th overall)
DT B.J. Dubose (2015, 193rd overall)
Don’t forget about
Stephen Weatherly. The Vikings really like Weatherly, and it’s easy to see why. During his six starts for Everson Griffen last season, Weatherly accounted for 10 run stops, two sacks, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. Even with Griffen returning this season, Weatherly should command a role while playing for a new contract — if an extension is not reached before the season opener. The former seventh-round pick has become another example of the team’s ability to draft and develop defensive talent.
Five names to know
DT Ed Oliver, Houston: A five-star recruit who chose to play for Houston in the American Athletic Conference, Oliver (6-2, 287 pounds) combines rare athleticism with impressive college production. Regarded as one of the quickest defensive tackles in this class. Tabbed as a little “undersized” for the NFL, but so was Aaron Donald. There seems to be little chance Oliver will be available at No. 18, but he’d be worth the pick should he slide.
DE Brian Burns, Florida State: Another premiere athlete in this draft class, Burns (6-5, 249 pounds) is the type of defensive end the Vikings could mold into an NFL star with a little strength added and technique refined. Possesses top-end speed to beat offensive tackles around the edge, where Burns draws a noteworthy comparison to the Bears’ Leonard Floyd. It’s why Burns may be gone before No. 18. But if not, it’s why he’s worth the first-round pick.
DT Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State: Mike Zimmer and Spielman were on hand to watch Jones, and many Buckeyes prospects, during Ohio State’s pro day in March. Jones (6-3, 281 pounds) might be a first-round pick in a different draft class. But he’s projected to go in rounds two or three due to the abundance of talented DL prospects. Began living up to his potential as a redshirt junior last fall, when Jones was tabbed a first-team All-Big Ten pick with 13 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown.
DL Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M: At one point, Keke (6-3, 288 pounds) was playing north of 300 pounds as a defensive tackle in college. He dropped about 20 pounds before last season, when he showed the versatility to play at defensive end. The Vikings could draft him in the middle rounds and figure it out later. Another excellent athlete for his size, Keke’s quick feet led to a breakout senior season for the Aggies with 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks.
DE Charles Omenihu, Texas: Considered still “raw” as an NFL defensive end prospect, Omenihu (6-5, 280 pounds) certainly looks the part. He starred at the combine, where the Vikings met with Omenihu before he ranked top 10 among all defensive linemen in every drill he participated. Considered a mid-round prospect.
How it’ll happen
Our best guess is the Vikings jump into a talented defensive line pool, possibly as early as Day 2 if one of the top-end prospects doesn’t fall to them at pick No. 18.