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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Draft preview: Vikings may add to ‘really important’ spot on defensive line

By Andrew Krammer

MINNEAPOLIS — When healthy and given three seconds, there weren’t many defensive fronts in the NFL last season that could fluster quarterbacks quite like the Vikings.

Head coach Mike Zimmer’s play calls, his coaching staff and a disruptive rotation of linemen were awarded much of the credit for Minnesota’s defensive emergence a year ago. And while they’ve retained every contributing lineman from last season (and 96.4 percent of defensive snaps overall), it becomes easy to justify what has been foreshadowed — adding another athletic pass rusher isn’t out of the question. Even though the Vikings currently carry 13 defensive linemen on the roster, they used two 30-somethings last season to play what Zimmer called a “really important position, at least for us,” while talking with reporters last month at the league owners meetings.

Let’s assess why defensive line checks in as my No. 5 draft need for the Vikings.

Depth chart

NT Linval Joseph, age 27
DT Sharrif Floyd, 24
DT Tom Johnson, 31
NT Shamar Stephen, 25
NT Kenrick Ellis, 28
DT B.J. Dubose, 24
DT Toby Johnson, 24

DE Everson Griffen, 28
DE Brian Robison, 32
DE Danielle Hunter, 21
DE Justin Trattou, 27
DE Scott Crichton, 24
DE Zach Moore, 25


The Vikings’ defensive line room holds a lot of talent, though the hands become fewer when you assess their long-term fixtures. Defensive end Brian Robison, who turns 33 on Wednesday, and defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who turns 32 in August, served linchpin roles as the Vikings’ interior pass-rush specialists, or ‘nickel’ rushers, on third downs and other passing situations. “That’s the kind of position we look for quite a bit,” Zimmer said last month. Their age precludes them from being in the conversation of five-year or 10-year players like ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter and tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. The Vikings retained the rest, including Justin Trattou, Scott Crichton and B.J. Dubose, with faith in their coaching staff to develop. Yet reinforcements could come in the draft, specifically for an athletic interior pass rusher. This draft is regarded as deep for defensive linemen. And perhaps college football’s trend toward spread systems has helped produce better pass rushers out of the big men, as general manager Rick Spielman noted.

“You see a lot more [defensive linemen] that are pretty athletic and can run,” Spielman said before the NFL scouting combine. “You see a lot of tall rangy guys now, just to combat that spread offense and guys that can get up the field more. Just like on offense, there are a couple pro-style defenses, but you see a lot more of these guys that, because of the offenses they play against, can get up the field and technically rush the passer.”

Below are three prospects the Vikings could add after the first round.

Three to watch

1. DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State (6-6, 310)

The Vikings like rare physical traits in the defensive front seven, no matter how much polishing a prospect is expected to need. And a 6-foot-6-inch underclassman like Jones fits the bill as a unique talent looking to unlock his full potential. May be under the radar in a strong class after 17.5 tackles for losses and 8.5 sacks in three seasons at Mississippi State, but he still stands out. Measured as the tallest defensive tackle prospect this side of DeForest Buckner and has the arms (34 1/2?) and hands (10 3/4?) to match, combined with 26 reps on the bench to rank 15th among linemen. Athletic for his size — 5.03 in the 40-yard dash — and that helped him wreak havoc in the backfield, though concerns revolve around consistency after he didn’t start a full slate until last year, his junior season.

“I mostly played 4-3 tackle, but if I had to play end, I could play that on third downs,” Jones said at the scouting combine. “I think I’m a defensive end that’s playing tackle, so wherever they put me.”

2. DL Charles Tapper, Oklahoma (6-3, 271)

As Robison showed, some ends can cause trouble rushing from the interior. Griffen did the same before he was promoted to full-time starter, and the Vikings had those visions for Crichton, though he’s yet to earn playing time. At Oklahoma, Tapper split time between interior and edge rusher during a disruptive senior season for the Sooners, finishing with a career-high seven sacks and four forced fumbles. Posted the top 40 time (4.59) among all defensive linemen at the combine. He’s got the coveted arm length (34 3/8?) and hand size (11 1/2?), though he’ll likely be a mid-round pick with words like ‘raw’ and ‘work in progress’ blotting scouting reports. Has experience at different spots, bringing versatility the Vikings like in defenders.

“Some teams have been saying that I might be a three technique [defensive tackle], some teams have been saying I’m an outside linebacker,” Tapper said at the scouting combine. I’d prefer a five technique or an outside linebacker where I can be an athlete.”

3. DT Darius Latham, Indiana (6-4, 311)

Another underachieving talent the Vikings could target late. Latham left college early after his best season yet — 10 tackles for a loss, 4.0 sacks and an interception in 10 games. But he has the size that could get him drafted earlier than his stats suggest. His 34 3/4? arms are among the longest of this year’s defensive line prospects and his stout frame could attract the Vikings’ sculptors.

“I think length gives you an advantage that can be important for your defensive football team,” Zimmer said. “Number one is reach, as far as getting off a block and getting to a guy. Number two is guys that are 10 feet high in the air with their hands, being able to get in the quarterback’s throwing lane, tipped balls and things like that.”

The post Draft preview: Vikings may add to ‘really important’ spot on defensive line appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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