The Minnesota Vikings return just one starting defensive end, but the position group is deeper than it has been. Brian Robison returns as the leading candidate to start at left defensive end. The team re-signed freakish athlete Everson Griffen to starting money and added Corey Wootton to rotation mix.
With Jared Allen no longer on the roster, it is finally time to see what Griffen can do with more than spot duty repetitions. Wootton is long and strong. He is effective as both a run stopper and pass rusher.
The other two defensive ends on the roster are inexperienced young veterans Spencer Nealy and Justin Trattou. Both have been on and off the roster.
The Vikings may not have a high priority on taking a defensive end in the draft, but are in position to take the best available with each of their picks. Here are the top five defensive ends as well as an underrated, an overrated and a sleeper prospect.
No. 1 - Jadaveon Clowney, South Carolina
Clowney is a once-in-a-generation talent, according to almost every draft expert out there. He has the size, explosiveness, strength and straight-line speed to dominate a game. While having all of the qualities scouts love, he doesn’t always play up to his skills and turns the motor off at times. He is going to have almost unrealistic expectations of him, especially if his transition to the NFL isn’t smooth.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 266-pound former Gamecock finished his junior season with 40 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four pass breakups and nine quarterback hurries. He has drawn comparisons to Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills.
No. 2 - Kony Ealy, Missouri
Ealy is a freak athlete with a huge frame. He is a pass rushing specialist with very good straight-line speed and finesse moves. He knocks down passes with ease, but is susceptible to cut blocks. He is an edge rusher with the skills to drop into coverage. He is not a complete defensive end, but with patience can be an elite pass rusher.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 273-pound former Tiger finished his redshirt junior season with 43 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, six pass breakups, 14 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and one interception returned for a touchdown. He has drawn comparisons to Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams.
No. 3 - Dee Ford, Auburn
Ford has quickly ascended draft boards. He is a tremendous athlete with outstanding straight-line speed and acceleration. Even thought he has the size to hold up against the run, he needs to develop the skills to do so. He didn’t really emerge as a top-tier prospect until last season.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 252-pound former Tiger finished his redshirt senior season with 29 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He has drawn comparisons to former Auburn teammate Corey Lemonier of the San Francisco 49ers.
No. 4 - Trent Murphy, Stanford
Murphy does not have the elite athleticism of the higher rated prospects, but production does not lie. He has a knack for getting in the backfield and making plays against both the run and pass. He has a tough-guy mentality, but does not have the frame most scouts look for in a defensive end. He may be a ‘tweener due to having a linebacker frame and defensive end athleticism. Despite his lack of ideal measureables, he will be a successful NFL player because of his toughness and work ethic.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound former Cardinal finished his redshirt senior season with 62 total tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, one interception, six pass breakups, seven passes defensed, seven quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one blocked kick. He has drawn comparisons to Jared Allen of the Chicago Bears.
No. 5 - Kareem Martin, North Carolina
Martin (No. 95 in the picture) is a big defensive end with good athleticism. He was a highly recruited high school, but didn’t quite live up to the expectations. He may not be a great or even good pass rusher, but will be a wall in run support.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 272-pound former Tar Heel finished his senior season with 82 total tackles and 11.5 sacks. He has drawn comparisons to Justin Tuck of the New York Giants.
Underrated - Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Jeffcoat (No. 44 in the picture) has good bloodlines and a good background. His father played in the NFL for 15 seasons and he was a highly recruited high school prospect from Texas. He does not have the athleticism to be an elite pass rusher, but his overall skill level will make him a complete quality NFL defensive end.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 247-pound former Longhorn finished his senior season with 86 total tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, three pass breakups, four passes defensed, 19 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one blocked kick and one interception.
Overrated - Aaron Lynch, South Florida
Lynch is blessed with freakish athleticism, but the highly recruited prospect did not always show up in games. He had a solid freshman season, but he transferred to USF and sat out a season. He was not the disruptive force he was expected to be. It was a mistake to leave with two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 249-pound former Bull finished his redshirt sophomore season with 30 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one pass breakup, four quarterback hurries and one fumble returned for a touchdown.
Sleeper - Zach Moore, Concordia (Minn.)
Moore is one of the better prospects at the Division-II level. He has a good frame and strong work ethic. He is not the best athlete, but has good technique and uses his skills to his advantage.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 269-pound former Golden Bear finished his redshirt senior season with 33 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, three pass breakups, three passes defensed, 12 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one blocked kick.