Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Defensive Targets for the Vikings in the NFL Draft

Image Courtesy of First Round Grade

Daniel House discusses several options the Vikings could have if they decide to select a defensive player in the 1st round of the NFL Draft in April. 

Updated: March 3rd, 2015 10:00am

By: Daniel House 

The Vikings want to improve their linebacker corps and could do so by adding one of several speed rushers in this draft class. Many of these edge players could play at 4-3 outside linebacker or on a rotational basis at defensive end. Mike Zimmer likes flexibility and needs more rotational pass rushers on the defensive line.

Robert Blanton might not have been terrible in run support, but he didn't get the job done in pass coverage. Teams were shredding the Vikings underneath and over the top on a frequent basis. They must find a safety that can cover to pair with Harrison Smith's physicality. There aren't many options early in the draft, but the team could address this need in the later rounds or through free agency.

Finally, Mike Zimmer likes defensive backs and in order to shut down a "pass-happy" NFC North, the Vikings might need to invest in another lock down cornerback that can play opposite of Xavier Rhodes. This could be done in later rounds, but a player like Trae Waynes provides an exciting perspective to how the Vikings defense could be structured.

Vic Beasley- DE/OLB: Clemson- Beasley considerably improved his draft positioning after putting together an excellent scouting combine. Beasley (6-3, 246) officially ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds. That time was especially impressive considering Beasley added about 10-15 pounds of weight this offseason. Beasley is a solid passer rusher, but struggled during certain moments of the season at defending in the run game. This type of evaluation provides more insight to the belief that Beasley should be moved to outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He would be a great fit in the Vikings system and could play opposite Anthony Barr in Mike Zimmer's defense. Beasley could play a similar role to Bronco's linebacker Von Miller and could be a huge edge rusher for any team that selects him. His success at the combine is sure to improve his draft stock and he could be selected as high as the fifth pick if he continues to make a good impression on NFL evaluators.

Dante Fowler Jr.- DE/OLB: Florida- After proving he can pair his athleticism with the game tape he provided during the 2014 season, Dante Fowler Jr. is starting to rise up draft boards. He was most impressive in the on-field drills during the scouting combine. Fowler's ability to move laterally up the field with a burst adds to the intrigue. More importantly, he proved that at his size (6-3, 261) he could still play defensive end or outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. Defensive coordinators like players who can provide flexibility and play multiple positions. Mike Zimmer has indicated he likes these type of players, as well. Fowler has a great first step off the line of scrimmage and was forcing holding calls on a consistent basis. Not to mention, he was destroying quarterbacks, especially during his bowl game against East Carolina. I could see the Vikings selecting Fowler and playing him at defensive end on a rotational basis with Brian Robison, while allowing him to play a dash of 4-3 outside linebacker in certain packages.

Shaq Thompson- OLB: Washington- Shaq Thompson's combine numbers might not have been off the charts, but his game tape further suffices how he could transition to the NFL. Thompson moves laterally up the field and is smooth when changing direction. He has the footwork and tangibles of a defensive back and many have referred to this by his position flexibility. Thompson has repeatedly indicated he will be playing linebacker at the next level. Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman talked with Thompson at the combine and you have to believe they like his athleticism. His ball skills and coverage abilities are the best in this linebacker class. However, I question whether his size (6-0, 228) can translate to the linebacker position. He's aggressive, but lacks direct strength at the line of scrimmage. Mike Zimmer would love to have a tool in his box like Thompson, but it might take more time to develop him into the scheme.

Landon Collins- S: Alabama- Collins had a relatively solid combine to solidify his first round status as a safety. He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash time at 6 foot 228 pounds and performed average in the on-field drills. Collins has the physicality to play in the backend of the defense, but his balls skills aren't as desirable. He dropped plenty of passes in his game tape and showed flashes of this skill during the combine. Mike Zimmer might be looking for a safety to pair with Harrison Smith in the back portion of the secondary. However, I think he will be looking for a player who is better in coverage and can handle more of the underneath throws in the second level of the defense. Collins will cover these plays well, but I don't see the execution and the big play ability. If the Vikings secure a safety that can cover well, they can place Harrison Smith in the box more and let him do what he does best. Collins has tools, but he would need time to work with the coaches and develop his playing making skills.

Trae Waynes- CB: Michigan State- Trae Waynes ran a 4.31 40-yard dash and showed insane athletic ability and game changing speed. On the tape, you can see he has the physicality and can play plenty of man and press coverage. I worry about his hip strength and lower body physicality as he matches up with bigger wide receivers in the NFC North. I would like to see him gain some more mass, but his athleticism, combined with his coverage skills are very attractive. He doesn't allow much separation and in short, he is fast and physical. Mike Zimmer could pair Waynes with Rhodes on the outside and have physical and fast cornerbacks on the edge. Zimmer can coach defensive backs and with the intangibles that Waynes has to offer, this type of pick becomes even more attractive for their Vikings and their defense.

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