Apr 27, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings first round draft picks Matt Kalil from Southern California (left) and Harrison Smith from Notre Dame (right) sign autographs for fans following a news conference at Vikings headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Vikings draft needs, part two: The Defensive & Specialists

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After recapping the current Minnesota Vikings roster on offense, we move the defense and specialist and try to identify the most pressing needs.  I provide some draft day options that fit the Vikings schemes with round projections and analysis.

On defense, the positions that could be upgraded via the draft are middle linebacker and cornerback. There are needs to rebuild the defensive tackle positions as well as find depth at outside linebacker, defensive end and possibly safety.

Defensive Tackle

On the roster: Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Chase Baker

Vikings DT Kevin Williams is the longest tenured active Viking, he also restructured his contract to essentially a one-year deal which means he is eligible for free agency after 2013.  The three-technique defensive tackle spot now becomes one of the bigger priorities either this draft or next. The Vikings could decide to replace Williams’ role after the 2013 season but if the right player is available they could build for the future.  They could look at cheaper, depth options in later rounds as well.  Backup DT Christian Ballard has shown very little to keep the Vikings from spending a day one or two pick on the position.

The nose tackle position is another area that could use an upgrade.  Both Fred Evans and Letroy Guion are converted three-technique players that are being rotated at the nose tackle position.  Neither player made fans forget the run-plugging force that Pat Williams used to be.  The Vikings could look at the position early in the draft if the right player is on the board. The only players likely to be gone before the Vikings first pick (Shariff Floyd, Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei) are two three-techniques and a combo player in Lotulelei.  This is a deep draft class and at least one pick should be spent on a DT or NT.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ DEFENSIVE TACKLES

1st round

DT Sylvester Williams, UNC (6-3, 313)

Played both three-technique and one-technique, but a better fit at three-technique in the NFL. Doesn’t use his size and strength enough. Does well when he gets his pads low and anchors against base blocks and double teams, he can be impossible to move.

DT/NT Jonathan Hankins, Ohio State (6-3, 320)

Load to handle with flashes of impressive fluidity and coordination skills. Lined up both outside at DE and inside at DT. Rarely left the field and high football character, but often looked fatigued and worn down throughout games, meaning his snaps (and weight) will need to be monitored at the next level. Rare combination of size, strength and foot quickness for a defensive lineman to be a force against both the run and the pass. Versatile enough to line up as a traditional 3-technique DT in a four-man front or an effective two-gapping 0-technique NT for a 3-4 defense.

2nd round

DT Kawann Short, Purdue (6-3, 299)

NFL size and surprising athleticism, and potential starter in 4-3 three-technique at the next level if he controls his weight and improves his consistency. Good athlete for his size, but needs to get stronger and get in better shape.

NT Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-4, 323)

Australia native uses his size, consistent motor and supreme toughness to drain his opponents at the point of attack. His best NFL position is likely at nose tackle.  Still developing.

NT John Jenkins, Georgia (6-4, 346)

 Massive JUCO transfer with great upside as a run-stuffer, but best fit as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme because of his lack of quickness. Impressive size and strength will likely make him coveted, but needs to improve his balance and pad-level.

3rd round

NT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern (6-1, 335)

Combination of strength and agility not usually seen at the Division II level. Talented enough to be at least a solid rotational tackle who could stick in the league.

DT Akeem Spence, Illinois (6-1, 307)

Good build and displays a strong set of hands. Physical tackler, and will make tackles all around the line of scrimmage. Needs to improve how he comes off the ball, and needs to make better use of the power in his upper and lower body.

4th round

DT Jordan Hill, Penn St. (6-1, 303)

Doesn’t possess the ideal size for a defensive tackle, but he does use his short build to his advantage in terms of low pad level and the obtaining of leverage. Flashes strong and active hands, but not always consistent with this effort. Not tremendously quick, and can be worn down when he sees too many snaps.

DT Bennie Logan, LSU (6-2, 309)

Maintained his athleticism while gaining 30-plus pounds to become a strong nose tackle prospect. His tackles stats aren’t overwhelming as part of a strong LSU tackle rotation, but his leverage at the point of attack and short-area quickness give him the tools to succeed in the NFL. His frame and quickness suggests that he has untapped potential, but he needs to improve as a pass rusher.

5th round

DT Everett Dawkins, Florida St. (6-2, 292)

Active interior presence who didn’t rack up huge numbers due to Florida State’s constant defensive line rotation but possesses the quick first step and hands to be a thorn in the side of NFL offensive lines. If a coach can work on his pad level and improve his ability to anchor, he might have potential as a starter down the line.

Defensive End

On the roster: Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, D’Aundre Reed, George Johnson

At first glance the defensive end group is strong as any unit.  While that is true the future of the group is what raises the most questions.  Of this group of five players only Reed has a contract past the 2013 season.  Allen is easily the star of the group but is having offseason shoulder surgery and may start to decline entering his age 31 season.  Robison will turn 30 during the 2013 season and has far fewer snaps on his body, though, and figures to enter his contract year as the starting left end. Griffen might be the most likely to get a contract extension even though he has only one NFL start. His versatility has made him a valuable role player and he’s showing signs of maturity at age 25. Reed simply hasn’t gotten on the field and probably is down to his last shot. Johnson was added as a stopgap after parts of three seasons in Tampa.

The Vikings could look to add a player that can be a long-term solution.  If a player is added in rounds one or two it could be at the expense of a player like Robison in a salary cap cut.  If the Vikings want to retain Allen they would be wise to get him under contract and free up some salary cap space for 2013.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ DEFENSIVE END

1st round

Tank Carradine, Florida State (6-4, 276)

JUCO transfer that sat behind Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins in limited snaps in 2011. Flashed real athleticism and strength and was able to take the starting right defensive end spot when Jenkins was sidelined for the season. Appeared to be headed for a first-round selection, but a torn ACL will limit his work prior to April’s draft. The talent is evident.

Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (6-5, 250)

“DaMonster” moved from the top rush linebacker position to defensive end, developing into one of the most destructive defensive players in the country in 2012. He lacks edge athleticism, but wins with a great motor and has flashed hand use to disengage.

Bjoern Werner, Florida State (6-3, 266)

Developed his football knowledge and technique substantially the past five years, flashing a top football IQ and instincts. Frame and athleticism to win with flashes of speed or power, although needs to improve his motor for all four quarters. Proven to be much more than just a pass rusher, showing much better awareness against the run and at the line of scrimmage to swat passes down with the potential to be an impact starting strong-side DE in a four-man front.

2nd round

Sam Montgomery, LSU (6-3, 262)

Used very good quickness, high motor to rack up nine sacks in 2011. Progression as a defensive player stagnated during his LSU career. Limited as a pass rusher, but is a high motor player who holds his ground well against the run and constantly making tackles in pursuit.

Alex Okafor, Texas (6-5, 264)

Offers a different skill set with powerful hands and length to press and attack. Dealt with an ankle injury in 2012 and was forced to miss his first start in 33 consecutive games, but finished the season on a high with 4.5 sacks in the school’s bowl game against Oregon State. Projects as a true left defensive end in the NFL.

4th round

Lavar Edwards, LSU (6-4, 277)

Hasn’t started a lot of games, and his statistics aren’t exceptional. Even in limited reps, scouts can see he has the physical tools to contribute as a mid-round 4-3 defensive end prospect able to play on either side of the line of scrimmage. Should be able to find a niche in the NFL as a swing man defensive end, just like he plays at LSU.

6th round

Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6-7, 266)

Physical specimen in his own right, but does not display proper quickness or pad level in order to be a consistent starting player in the NFL. Has a high motor, and his length will make him an intriguing target to a team that thinks they can fix his pad level and pass rushing technique. Frame does not appear to be maxed out yet. It seems as if he can easily get to around 300 pounds, without sacrificing athleticism, which could interest 32 teams.

7th round

Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky (6-5, 250)

Part-time starter in 2011 who displayed great upside to NFL scouts due to his length and explosion off the edge as a pass rusher. Lined up as a starter full-time in 2012, showing a much improved all-around game. Tore his ACL in November, ending his senior season after just ten games. How he checks out medically will have a huge effect on his stock.

Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (6-3, 251)

Saw a drop in production in 2011, and then suffered a Lisfranc injury in the Seminoles’ 2012 opener. Gas the talent to be a NFL 4-3 end in the second round of the 2013 draft but his injury history could make him a day three selection.

Outside Linebacker

On the roster: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean, Audie Cole (ILB)

At Strong-side Linebacker Chad Greenway is playing at a very high level.  His running mates have not been up to par the past few years.  Erin Henderson returns for a relatively low two year contract to play Weakside Linebacker again.  Henderson is strong against the run but struggled in coverage again in 2012.  There is some talk that Henderson could slide inside and the Vikings could draft a player that can play the outside better than he can.  I wouldn’t rule this theory out at all. Mitchell and Dean are purely depth and Cole is still finding is role but is versatile enough to play SLB or MLB.

I would gladly pass, Alec Ogletree, who has multiple red flags even though he is physically gifted.  He seems to be to closer to the next Rolando McClain than the next Brian Urlacher to take a chance on in round one.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

1st round

ILB/OLB Arthur Brown, Kansas St. (6-1, 241)

The Miami (Fla.) transfer made an impact at Kansas State and became the Wildcats’ most consistent force. Questionable size, but plays much bigger than his frame suggests due to strong hands and a physical attitude on contact. Projects as either an inside linebacker or weak-side prospect in the NFL.

2nd round

Khaseem Greene, Rutgers (6-1, 241)

Prototypical 4-3 weak-side linebacker. Tremendous speed and athletic ability. Struggles to work through traffic, and needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage. While not as refined, shares many similar traits with 2012 second-round pick Lavonte David, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sio Moore,UConn (6-1, 245)

Not the biggest of linebackers, but is productive.  Plays stronger than his frame indicates, and has the athleticism to play either strong side, or weak side linebacker in the pros.

3rd round

Zaviar Gooden, Missouri (6-2, 234)

Speed to cover a lot of ground at the next level, as well as surprising strength and form tackling to bring down big ball carriers in the open field and handle himself in traffic. Injuries hampered his senior season, but that combination of attributes helped him lead the Tigers in tackles as a junior and should allow him to be a potential starter, he should be a valuable contributor on special teams while being groomed as a linebacker.

4th round

Jelani Jenkins, Florida (6-1, 243)

When healthy, Jenkins is a dynamic athlete who possesses great value with his ability to cover. However, he’s had a hard time staying healthy, and struggles when run at.

Gerald Hodges, Penn St. (6-1, 243)

Converted safety who is growing into a NFL starting Sam linebacker’s frame -– but he still has the movement skills to bring down ball carriers in space. Impressive trait is his ability to cover. He needs to improve at disengaging from blocks.

5th round

Jake Knott, Iowa State (6-2, 243)

Team leader and productive player alongside fellow linebacker A.J. Klein. Athletic enough to play the Sam position or inside in a 3-4 scheme, as well as a special teams contributor at the next level. If shoulder checks out medically, he should be a mid-round selection.

Michael Mauti, Penn State (6-2, 243)

Extremely intuitive and instinctual player. Far from a remarkable athlete, but he is coordinated in changing direction, and is fundamentally sound in taking on blocks and making tackles. Versatile enough to play multiple linebacker spots. Tough and physical, but his injury history is a major worry. His medical exams are going to be crucial to his draft stock.

Middle Linebacker

On the roster: Tyronne McKenzie, Audie Cole

E.J. Henderson and Jasper Brinkley have both come and gone the past few years at the middle linebacker spot.  Neither player has filled the role of middle linebacker in the Vikings Tampa 2 scheme perfectly.  Brinkley is taking his run-stopping talents to the desert so the Vikings have a vacancy in middle of their defense.  They could decide to move WLB Erin Henderson, who is a good run-stopper but only fair coverage ‘backer to the middle instead of adding a rookie.  If they don’t go that route there will options available in the first few rounds of the draft to groom a new starter.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ MIDDLE LINEBACKER

1st round

Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)

High character and leadership ability. Took a step back against a very good Alabama offensive line during the BCS National Championship. Hammer between the tackles,projects a great inside backer for any 4-3 team, but questionable ability to reach edge plays or get over blocks in time.

ILB/OLB Arthur Brown, Kansas St. (6-0, 241)

The Miami (Fla.) transfer made an impact at Kansas State and became the Wildcats’ most consistent force. Questionable size, but plays much bigger than his frame suggests due to strong hands and a physical attitude on contact. Projects as either an inside linebacker or weak-side prospect in the NFL.

Kevin Minter, LSU (6-1, 241)

 Only one full season in the starting lineup, but was easily the most consistent defender on a very talented LSU defense during the 2012 season. The junior fills lanes with force and takes great angles to work through trash while finishing tackles authoritatively. Some evaluators may have a concern with his lateral speed since Minter seemed to reach running backs with just enough time to spare, not to mention his tendency to lose ground when forced to open his hips and drop in coverage. Minter’s toughness against the run, specifically between the tackles, and reliable angles will likely land him in the top 64 picks.

2nd round

Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245)

Absolute hammer in the middle of the Gators defense, especially against the run. He fights to take out blockers and to accomplish his assignment, but when he attacks with his shoulder he fails to make a play on the football. His on field attitude and instincts for the ball make him a potential day two pick and gives him a chance to eventually earn a starting job at the next level.

3rd round

Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-1, 245)

Off-field problems and injuries kept him from making his expected impact until into his junior season, but once he got past those two alcohol-related incidents and a torn right ACL, opponents began feeling his presence. Linear athlete, but he still remains an explosive one. He could potentially fit into many different roles at the next level but could fit best into an aggressive scheme as an OLB. If not a future starter, he should be capable of becoming a nickel ‘backer that has special teams value.

4th round

Kevin Reddick, UNC (6-1, 243)

Size and athleticism NFL scouts covet. The four-year starter presents some position versatility in the NFL. He could start in the middle in the NFL as a thumper for a 3-4 team, or, if he proves he has the athleticism, could possibly be a candidate at strongside linebacker for some teams. This position versatility, his production over four seasons starting, and excellent size make him a likely late second to early third day candidate.

6th round

ILB/OLB AJ Klein, Iowa St. (6-1, 250)

Tough-minded, instinctual, and productive linebacker. Plays inside and outside, showing the strength against the run and enough instincts in coverage to do potentially play all three downs at the next level as well as contributing heavily on special teams early in his career.

Cornerback

On the roster: Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, AJ Jefferson, Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton, Bobby Felder, Roderick Williams, Greg McCoy, Nick Taylor

The Vikings released team leader Antoine Winfield which leaves CB’s Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to pick up the slack.  Cook has had issues staying healthy for a full 16 games. Cook is also entering a contract year so the team needs to be looking to the future if he doesn’t improve. They drafted speedy, former UCF product Robinson, who played well at times, but struggled down the stretch of his rookie season. Jefferson returns for his second stint with the Vikings after acquiring him in a last minute trade with the Cardinals.  He will get his first offseason with the Vikings coaches to hone his skills.  The youngster stepped in for Robinson and did a good job but gets caught gambling too often.  Sherels and Burton have done next to nothing to show they can play when the opportunity presents itself.  Felder, Williams, McCoy and Taylor are likely battling for Practice Squad spots.

Barring a trade up in the first round, Alabama’s Dee Milliner will not be an option for the Vikings.  There is a wide varying reports on the draft order of this prospect group but two or three of the other corners could be gone before the Vikings are on the clock.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ CORNERBACKS 

1st round

Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (6-1, 210)

Thrives in physical press coverage. At times his tackling technique is questionable, but locks up boundary receivers with a balanced and strong jam followed up by enough speed to stick in their hip pocket. Shows tight movements when forced to pass receivers to a separate area. Somewhat scheme dependent.

Desmond Trufant, Washington (6-0, 190)

Flashes playmaking ability and very good foot quickness, but must play stronger, smarter, and avoid technique breakdowns to be considered a sure-fire NFL starter.

D.J. Hayden, Houston (5-11, 191)

Won JUCO national championship in 2010, and then finished 13-1 finish in 2011 as Conference USA’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a junior. He was having a fantastic senior campaign until a life threatening injury cut it short. How he checks out medically will play a major role in his draft status.

Jamar Taylor, Boise State (5-11, 192)

Physical and athletic cornerback. Missed most of the second half of 2011 with a stress fracture in his leg, but returned with a vengeance during his senior year by excelling in man coverage on downfield routes. Since he remained healthy during his senior year, but needs to improve his play against the run when in space.

2nd round

Darius Slay, Mississippi State (6-0, 192)

Aggressive corner with good length. Silled in playing the hands of the receiver and forces incompletions because of it. Toughness translates when it comes to his run defense and special teams play. Fastest forty-yard dash at combine for CB sky-rocketed his status.

Logan Ryan, Rutgers (5-11, 191)

Physical corner with a great tackling ability. He’s an active, physical player that often finds himself around the football. He’s not the fastest, and will need to clean up his technique in order to be successful at the next level.

Dwayne Gratz, UConn (5-11, 201)

NFL-quality size, strength, and agility to handle receivers on the outside. As there are some questions about his long speed and hips, a potential move to safety could be in his future.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn (6-1, 195)

Tall, tough corner, with some ball skills. His length and short area quickness makes him an intriguing prospect, but his inability to quickly flip his hips and his lack of deep, recovery speed will likely limit him to a zone-based scheme.

3rd round

Jordan Poyer, Oregon (6-0, 191)

Once drafted as a major league baseball prospect, Poyer is now an All-American cornerback who uses his athletic prowess to make plays on the ball in coverage and tacklers miss as a kick and punt returner. He’s a fluid athlete who is quite agile and intelligent. He plays bigger than his size, but lacks strength and great speed.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (5-9 186)

Decorated defender was dismissed from LSU for multiple violations of team rules. Subsequently, he decided to enter a drug rehab center and ultimately ended up declaring for the draft instead of transferring. When on the field, the undersized but ultracompetitive turnover machine brings the physicality of a bigger player in his tackles, no matter where he plays. Game-changer as a punt returner, ranking fourth in the country last year with 16.2 yards per attempt and scoring two touchdowns.

Robert Alford, SE Louisiana (5-10, 188)

 Missed a season due to a shoulder injury, but is one of the more physical cornerbacks in the country, and looked absolutely dominant at times during his senior year. His willingness to press, compete for balls downfield, and support the run as well as fair size, overall athleticism, and potential return ability will make him a highly sought-after player.

4th round

Tharold Simon, LSU (6-2, 202)

Length and play-making ability are great intanglibles, along with the fact that his hips are much more fluid than most other tall corners. Some length is mitigated by the fact that he doesn’t press very well, and he’ll need to clean up his footwork and technique at the next level.

B.W Webb, William & Mary (5-10, 184)

The four-year starter has the hands and cover skills (if average size) to be one of the top “small school” prospects in the draft. Projects as at least a reliable nickel back on defense and a regular contributor on special teams -– and possibly more (he has the athleticism and cover skills to play outside). Showed he can hold his own at the Senior Bowl.

5th round

Will Davis, Utah State (5-11, 186)

Good length, foot quickness, and ball skills for the position. Although his recovery speed is a question, he’s a fluid athlete with good hips who can make plays on the football. Can be beaten deep when he gets overaggressive, but he has more successes than failures in this department.

Terry Hawthorne, Illinois (6-0, 195)

Physical defender with the size to start outside against larger NFL receivers, hands and read-and-react ability to make plays in coverage, and aggressive nature to hold up his end of the bargain in run support. Hawthorne’s extreme injury in the middle of October may have played a part in it, but the senior was not the same player in 2012 as he was in 2011.

6th round

Marc Anthony, California (5-11, 196)

Possessing the size of a starting outside NFL cornerback, Anthony has potential to be a top-100 prospect as he built upon his senior year in proving his game speed and agility in postseason workouts.

Safety

On the roster: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mitral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo

At safety, the team resigned unrestricted free agent Jamarca Sanford. Sanford showed improvement next to Harrison Smith in 2012 but he will compete with Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton for the starting job again in 2013. Sendejo has been a standout on special teams but could be replaced.

I don’t see the Vikings adding a safety before the fourth round at the earliest but could add some depth/competition entering training camp.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ SAFETY 

4th round

FS Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma (5-11, 213)

Though shorter than most top safety prospects, Jefferson’s leadership skills, physicality around the line of scrimmage and his coverage skills will entice teams to pick him early in the 2013 draft.

SS J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern (6-0, 213)

Size, athleticism and versatility caught the attention of talent evaluators. With a solid performance in Mobile, Wilcox may have put himself in position to be the first GSU athlete drafted since Jacksonville selected another defensive back, David Young, in the sixth round of the 2003 draft.

SS Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse (5-9, 213)

Thomas lost both his parents before his sophomore year in college, and is now the head of a family including six children. The hard-hitting and speedy safety considered leaving for the NFL early, but returned to get closer to achieving his degree and increase his value to NFL scouts. Though his lack of height is not ideal for a pro defensive back, his coverage skills and ability to support against the run make him a potential starting strong safety who is likely to be selected in the middle rounds.

6th round

SS Zeke Motta, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)

Nearly a carbon copy of 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith in a physical sense, Motta doesn’t have Smith’s athleticism, and hasn’t been able to duplicate Smith’s dynamic playmaking ability. However, Motta possesses intelligence and physicality similar to Smith.

Specialists:

On the roster: Blair Walsh (Kicker), Chris Kluwe (Punter), Cullen Loeffler (LS)

PK Blair Walsh was a steal in last year’s draft.  He replaced veteran Ryan Longwell and never missed a beat.  Veteran Punter Chris Kluwe enters the year with some cloudiness around his future with the team.  He has declined some in the recent years and could be replaced in a similar manner.  Loeffler is a veteran long snapper and isn’t likely to be replaced especially with the potential of a young kicker and a new punter on the roster.

This draft does have some options at punter that the Vikings could target on draft day.

MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~  SPECIALISTS 

6th round

P Brad Wing, LSU (6-3, 205)

Possesses a long, lanky build and good overall athleticism for the position. He’s an unique talent that shows remarkable power and accuracy. He may not have the professionalism scouts are looking for… Reportedly failed a drug test which led to his suspension from the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

P Jeff Locke, UCLA (6-1, 209)

Possessing a legitimate NFL frame for the position and a booming leg, Locke certainly looks the part. He’s consistently been able to flip the field for the Bruins as a punter, ranking among national leaders in net punting throughout his entire career. The leg strength is perhaps even more noticeable on kickoffs, as he has had 55 touchbacks over his career.

7th round

P Quin Sharp, Oklahoma State (6-1, 189)

Rare triple (Kicker, Punter Kickoff) kicking threat in college who will flourish as a kickoff specialist in the NFL and could grow into a solid field goal kicker or punter with experience.

Click the link to see my final 7-Round Minnesota Vikings 2013 Mock Draft and see which of my draft targets were still available in this Mock Draft.

Click the link to see my breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings 2013 Offensive draft day targets.

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