Vikings by position: Top five defensive linemen unsigned beyond season
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Editor's note: Each day until the NFL Draft begins on April 25, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.
On the roster (10)
Allen (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) struggled at times last season while playing through shoulder and knee issues that required postseason surgery. There is reason to fear he may be entering decline at age 31, but he remains a productive pass rusher from right end, and the feeling is he deserves the $14,280,712 he's due in the last year of his mega-contract. Robison (6-3, 259) was beat up, too, and turns 30 this month. He has far fewer snaps on his body, though, and figures to enter his contract year as the starting left end. Griffen (6-3, 273) 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. Williams (6-5, 311) already took his pay cut, dropping his base salary to a fully guaranteed $4.9 million in exchange for deleting the last year of his contract. That ensures he'll play an 11th season for the Vikings despite his decline at age 32 -- which is crucial, since there is no obvious successor at the three-technique. Ballard (6-4, 283) looks like a rotational player at best. Evans (6-4, 305) is so physically talented and was the Vikings' best nose tackle last season, even though Guion (6-4, 303) was the starter when healthy. The long-term plan there remains unclear. Reed (6-4, 261) simply hasn't gotten on the field and probably is down to his last shot. Johnson (6-4, 265) was added as a stopgap after parts of three seasons in Tampa. Baker (6-1, 298) got the largest signing bonus of any undrafted rookie last year and spent the season on the practice squad.
Teams routinely plan to avoid significant turnover in one position group at the same time. That's why it's so remarkable arguably the Vikings' top five defensive linemen -- Allen, Robison, Griffen, Williams and Evans -- all are unsigned beyond this season. This group is headed for a makeover and in need of an influx of young depth. That could start as early as Round 1, with viable options at defensive tackle (North Carolina's Sylvester Williams, Alabama's Jesse Williams) and end (Florida State's Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore) potentially available when the Vikings' picks roll around at Nos. 23 and 25. They don't necessarily need to address it on Day 1. After all, in terms of 2013, the Vikings can play with the defensive linemen they have -- which can't be said at other positions. Plus, the defensive tackle group is regarded as deep enough they may get a quality player in Rounds 2 or 3. It would be a shock if the Vikings don't fortify this spot at some point, though, particularly along a once-dominant interior that has become a weak spot.
Last 10 drafts
• 2012: Trevor Guyton (seventh, 219th overall).
• 2011: Ballard (fourth, 106th), Reed (seventh, 215th).
• 2010: Griffen (fourth, 100th).
• 2009: None.
• 2008: Guion (fifth, 152nd).
• 2007: Robison (fourth, 102nd).
• 2006: Ray 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).
No defensive linemen are known to have visited Winter Park, though it's virtually certain some were at the team's Top 30 event last month.
• Mel Kiper, ESPN: Ends -- 1. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU; 2. Datone Jones, UCLA; 3. Corey Lemonier, Auburn; 4. Bjoern Werner, Florida State; 5. Tank Carradine, Florida State. Defensive tackles -- 1. Star Lotulelei, Utah; 2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida; 3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri; 4. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina; 5. John Jenkins, Georgia.
• Mike Mayock, NFL Network: 4-3 ends -- 1. Ansah; 2. Werner; 3. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M; 4. Carradine; 5. Alex Okafor, Texas. 3-4 ends -- 1. Lotulelei; 2. Jones; 3. Margus Hunt, SMU; 4. William Gholston, Michigan State; 5. Jesse Williams, Alabama. Defensive tackles -- 1. Floyd; 2. Richardson; 3. Williams; 4. Kawann Short, Purdue; 5. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State.