This is the last in a series of position previews for the 2021 NFL draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday. Today: defensive line.
THREE NAMES TO KNOW
DE Kwity Paye, Michigan: His athletic skill set and commitment to improving could be a fruitful combination in the hands of assistant head coach Andre Patterson, who'd have some work to do in helping Paye develop plans to handle NFL offensive linemen. But he's big enough to hold up against the run, while possessing the kind of explosiveness that could turn him into a disruptive pass rusher in the NFL.
DE Jaelan Phillips, Miami (Fla.):He suffered a wrist injury after getting hit by a car at UCLA, and had retired because of concussion issues before changing his mind and transferring to Miami. The Vikings are believed to have strong interest in Phillips, despite the medical questions, and his physical attributes show why: He stands 6-foot-5, with a 260-pound frame he can use to get around the edge. He might need to add weight in the NFL, and show he can hold up, but the Vikings seem keenly interested in what he could add to their pass rush.
DT Christian Barmore, Alabama: Though the Vikings solidified their second defensive tackle spot by signing Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency, Barmore would add a pass-rushing element to their defensive interior. He's built to get to the quarterback more than he is to swallow up blockers, but he finished with eight sacks last year, and his flexibility would make him a matchup problem for many NFL guards.
DE Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa: The Minneapolis South graduate would need to put on some weight to succeed at the NFL level, but he has the frame (6-foot-6, 252 pounds, 33 1/4-inch arms) and the athletic ability (a 41 1/2-inch vertical leap and 4.39-second short shuttle time) the Vikings might think they can develop. They've made a habit of searching for pass-rushing prospects on Day 3 of the draft, and Smith could be worth considering at that point.
A group that had been the strength of the Vikings' defense for years was in dire need of attention this offseason, after a year where Yannick Ngakoue — traded after six games — still led the team in sacks and a leaky run defense cost the Vikings a chance to make the playoffs in losses to Chicago and New Orleans. The line was the first priority in free agency with the addition of Tomlinson, and the Vikings are banking on quick improvement with the return of Michael Pierce (who opted out in 2020) and Hunter (who missed the season with neck surgery). The Vikings also brought Stephen Weatherly back on a one-year deal, adding another rotational piece to the line.
VIKINGS' LEVEL OF NEED
Moderate: They could use another edge rusher, and if concerns persist about either Hunter's long-term health or his contract situation, this likely becomes a high priority. The Vikings' trade for Ngakoue last August looks like a rash decision in retrospect, but it underscored just how much they believed they needed edge rushing help. Even if Hunter returns happy and healthy in 2021, the Vikings would benefit from a complementary piece, and they could also stand to restock their depth behind Tomlinson and Pierce in the middle of the line.