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Updated: April 17th, 2011 10:54pm
Vikings by position, Day 1: Defensive line appears headed for makeover

Vikings by position, Day 1: Defensive line appears headed for makeover

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Each weekday until the NFL Draft begins on April 28, Tom Pelissero breaks down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 1

Defensive linemen.

On the roster (8)

RE Jared Allen, DE Adrian Awasom, DE Everson Griffen, DT Letroy Guion, DT Tremaine Johnson, DT Jimmy Kennedy, DE Brian Robison, UT Kevin Williams.

Unsigned (3)

LE Ray Edwards, DT Fred Evans, NT Pat Williams.

Breakdown

Despite public hints to the contrary, the Vikings appear prepared to part ways with half of their starting defensive line. They did place a first-round restricted tender ($2.836 million) on Edwards (6-foot-5, 268 pounds), who led the team last season in total quarterback pressures (69) and ranked second in sacks (eight). But Edwards is a five-year veteran who most likely will be unrestricted under the next labor agreement, and concerns about how a big contract would affect his production mean he'll probably get paid elsewhere. Robison (6-3, 259) signed a three-year, $14 million deal on March 3 that included $6.5 million to sign -- solid money for a rotational player who had two clean-up sacks while playing 31.9% of snaps in 2010. There is no clear succession plan for Pat Williams (6-3, 317), who remains serviceable in a limited run-stopping role. But he's in obvious decline at age 38, has said he lost trust in the Vikings front office and is coming off a 14th NFL season in which he played 53.9% of snaps and recorded his lowest tackle total (42) since 1998. Though Guion (6-4, 303) made enough of limited snaps (26.1%) to deserve more time, he's a one-gap penetrator, not an anchor. Kennedy (6-4, 320) looks the part but couldn't even get on the field last season (11.5%). His $2.5 million scheduled base salary puts him on the short list of players who could get cut once the salary cap is set. At age 30, Kevin Williams (6-5, 311) remains one of the best when he comes to play -- although that didn't happen as often as coaches wanted last season. His base salary soars to $6 million in 2011 on a contract that has four years and $29 million (plus $4.5 million in escalators) remaining, making renegotiation a possibility down the line. Allen (6-6, 270) is set to be the Vikings' highest-paid defensive player ($8,979,438 base salary) and the team has to hope he'll avoid a repeat of 2010, when his production slipped badly along with his technique over the first seven weeks. He had only one trash sack in those games and finished with 11 -- a four-year low -- while logging a line-high 93.3% of snaps. Scouts still see Allen as an elite pass-rusher, though, and at age 29, he has a shot at one more big contract when his deal expires after 2013. Edwards' likely departure could create opportunity for Griffen (6-3, 273), whose two arrests in January and attempt to throw a party-bus trip to Las Vegas didn't sit well with coaches. Griffen is uber-talented and flashed on special teams as a rookie, but he has to grow up. Evans (6-4, 305) played only 73 snaps last season, was inactive eight times and didn't receive a restricted tender. There's a chance he could return for less money. Awasom (6-5, 280) joins the Vikings as a 27-year-old UFL refugee who hasn't played in the NFL since 2007. Johnson (6-2, 285) has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad.

One scout's take

"I hear they're not going to bring back Ray Edwards. When I hear that, the first thing I always think is there's got to be some other reasoning behind that, because he is a 4-3 left end as the day as long, and he's a good football player. So, they'd have to replace that production somewhere along the way as well. (Robison is) a hard-nosed, try-hard kid, high motor. You like those things about him. But in the end, the other kid (Edwards) is a proven guy, and it's not like he's an old guy either."
-- AFC personnel director

Draft outlook

Frazier has placed an emphasis on shoring up a run defense that slipped to ninth in the NFL last season (102.2 yards per game, 3.9 average). So, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Vikings to use at least one and perhaps two picks to inject some youth into the line. A surplus of first round-caliber pass rushers makes end an option as early as the Vikings' No. 12 overall pick. However, a draft class widely regarded as deep -- particularly at end -- and the team's past success with mid-round selections may give vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and company confidence about finding immediate contributors later on.

Last 10 drafts

• 2010: Griffen (fourth round, 100th overall).
• 2009: None.
• 2008: Guion (fifth, 152nd).
• 2007: Robison (fourth, 102nd).
• 2006: Edwards (fourth, 127th).
• 2005: Erasmus James (first, 18th), C.J. Mosley (sixth, 191st).
• 2004: Kenechi Udeze (first, 20th), Darrion Scott (third, 88th).
• 2003: Kevin Williams (first, ninth).
• 2002: None.
• 2001: Willie Howard (second, 57th), Shawn Worthen (fourth, 130th).

Linked in

According to various reports, the Vikings held a private workout with Arizona ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore and hosted official visits with several other defensive line prospects, including Georgia's Justin Houston, Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers.

High fives

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Defensive ends -- 1. Bowers. 2. Robert Quinn, North Carolina. 3. Cameron Jordan, California. 4. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin. 5. Aldon Smith, Missouri. Defensive tackles -- 1. Nick Fairley, Auburn. 2. Marcell Dareus, Alabama. 3. Wilkerson. 4. Corey Liuget, Illinois. 5. Marvin Austin, North Carolina.

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Defensive ends -- 1. Quinn. 2. Jordan. 3. Watt. 4. Smith. 5. Bowers. Defensive tackles -- 1. Dareus. 2. Fairley. 3. Liuget. 4. Austin. 5. Wilkerson.

Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: Defensive ends -- 1. Bowers. 2. Quinn. 3. Watt. 4. Smith. 5. Jordan. Defensive tackles -- Dareus. 2. Fairley. 3. Liuget. 4. Phil Taylor, Baylor. 5. Wilkerson.

Up next

Linebackers.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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