In the lead-up to the 2020 NFL Draft, Vikings.com is taking a position-by-position look at prospects who have garnered a range of attention from national outlets. The series will include rankings by national outlets, stats and background information for multiple prospects. We'll also include comments that experts shared during interviews.
Vikings Status at Defensive End/Edge Rusher
Minnesota is returning two-time Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter, who set an NFL record as the youngest player to record 50 career sacks last December (stats became official in 1982). Ifeadi Odenigbo is back after recording the first 7.0 sacks of his career. Minnesota also has Eddie Yarbrough, who was signed from Buffalo's practice squad late last season, and the Vikings added veteran Anthony Zettel during free agency. Stacy Keely, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2019, also is under contract. Everson Griffen, who voided his contract and became a free agent, remains unsigned. Stephen Weatherly departed in free agency for Carolina.
About the expert
It's not like Pete Bercich needs an introduction to most fans, but just in case, the analyst for KFAN and the Vikings Entertainment Network has built on his experience as a player and assistant coach for the Vikings.
Originally selected in the seventh round (211th overall) of the 1994 NFL Draft, the former linebacker played in 57 regular-season games and seven playoff contests that included NFC Championship Games after the 1998 and 2000 seasons.
Bercich was an assistant coach for the Vikings from 2002-05.
He also can shred on the guitar, in case you didn't know.
You can follow Bercich on Twitter @PeteBercich.
Draft and develop
The Vikings have run a 4-3 defensive front for years, even beyond Head Coach Mike Zimmer's hire in 2014. The addition of assistant Dom Capers, who has had a high level of success by using a 3-4 front, has prompted some questions about the possibility of blending a 4-3 and 3-4.
Bercich explained a significant difference is the way a team approaches defending the run.
"As a 3-4 [edge rusher], you're going to be rushing and then dropping probably 50 percent of the time. With an odd front, that's what they do," Bercich said. "You don't know what side – it usually ends up being a four-man pass rush, and they send one of the two linebackers, and the other one drops into coverage. So you're going to find guys that are a little bit more linebacker-sized, that are going to be dropping a lot more. Most of the time, they're in a 2-point stance.
"Whereas, a defensive end is going to be probably a 3-point stance type of guy, which does matter quite a bit. How it matters is about how you play the run. Defensive end is going to be inside of the tight end most of the time, having to play that block between the tackle and the tight end, whereas if you're an outside linebacker, you're usually almost always outside of the tight end – you just keep containment."
While some mock drafts have projected that the Vikings will look to replace Griffen as early as the first round, Bercich pointed out the team's success at developing later-round picks.
Hunter was a third-round pick in 2015 who became a starter in 2017, and Griffen was a fourth-round selection in 2010 who became a starter in 2014. Weatherly and Odenigbo were seventh rounders in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
"One of the things that you look at with this franchise and with this defense is their ability to develop defensive linemen," Bercich said. "You don't have a first-round pick up and down this defensive line, so I think it gives you some flexibility later on in the draft to pick up a defensive lineman who eventually will fill that position.
"Hunter is obviously going to be the premiere defensive end. Now, whether or not he'll move maybe over to the right side and you need a new pass rusher from the left side, which, it does kind of matter because teams are more right-handed, quarterbacks are right-handed, teams run the football more. So your left defensive end needs to be a little bit better against the run. But I have confidence that the organization will find somebody and develop them and get them out on the outside."
Bercich provided a take on a couple of players below who have shown up as predictive picks in multiple mock drafts. Vikings 2020 Mock Draft Tracker: Version 7.0 posted on April 14.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah currently has five edge rushers in his overall Top 50: 1. Chase Young, 25. K'Lavon Chiaisson, 26. A.J. Epenesa, 30. Yetur Gross-Matos and 34. Marlon Davidson. Young headlined the Top 25 by ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. He is joined on the list by Chaisson at 16.
PFF included 14 edge rushers in its overall Top 100: 3. Young, 20. Epenesa, 26. Curtis Weaver, 28. Julian Okwara, 42. Zack Baun (he will be covered more in the linebacker group), 44. Davidson, 46. Chaisson, 63. Darrell Taylor, 66. Josh Uche, 68. Gross-Matos, 83. Kenny Willekes, 84. Terrell Lewis, 92. Trevis Gipson and 99. James Lynch.
Positional rankings by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., analytics site Pro Football Focus and The Athletic's Dane Brugler impacted the players listed for this series. Rankings are noted under each prospect. Brugler recently released his comprehensive draft guide that he affectionately calls "The Beast."
Players listed below are organized alphabetically by last name.
Defensive Ends/Edge Rushers
School: Utah | Year: Senior | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt. 257 pounds
Rankings: No. 5 DE by Kiper; No. 5 EDGE by Brooks; No. 9 EDGE in Brugler's final Draft Guide
2019 stats: 14 starts; 35 tackles (26 solo); 13.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks, forced fumble; consensus All-American
Showcase game: After setting a school record with 30 career sacks, Anae showed up at the Reese's Senior Bowl and showed out. He recorded sacks on consecutive snaps and registered a QB hit on another play to force an interception. He finished the all-star game with 2.5 sacks.
School: LSU | Year: Redshirt Sophomore | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt. 254 pounds
Rankings: No. 4 EDGE by Brooks; No. 2 OLB by Kiper; No. 5 EDGE by PFF; No. 2 EDGE by Brugler
2019 stats: started all 13 games played; 60 tackles, team-bests of 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, forced a fumble; permanent team captain for season; selected to wear No. 18 jersey (in honor of former QB Matt Mauck); named Defensive MVP in LSU's win over Oklahoma in the Chick-fil-A Bowl/CFP National Semifinal
Big plays in big games: Chaisson recorded 2.0 sacks against the Sooners in the CFP National Semifinal. He also recorded career bests of 10 tackles and 3.5 TFLs in the Tigers 46-41 epic win over the Alabama Crimson Tide last fall.
School: Auburn | Year: Senior | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt. 303 pounds
Rankings: No. 4 DE by Kiper; No. 4 defensive interior by PFF; (No. 3 defensive lineman in Brugler's final draft guide
2019 stats: 12 games; 48 tackles (29 solo), 12.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery; Second-Team All-America by Associated Press and First-Team All-SEC; team captain
Man of his word: Davidson opted to return to Auburn for his senior season to fulfill a promise to earn his college degree, a vow he made to his late mother, Cynthia Carter.
School: Iowa | Year: Junior | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 275 pounds
Rankings: No. 2 EDGE by Brooks and PFF; No. 2 DE by Kiper; No. 4 EDGE by Brugler
2019 stats: 13 starts; 49 tackles (32 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles; First-Team All-Big Ten; Second-Team All-America by Associated Press; Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP; named to Associated Press All-Bowl Team
Strong finish: Over the course of the five final games of the season, Epenesa recorded 11 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Bercich's take from the tape: "When you watch him on film, he doesn't have that burst, doesn't have that speed on the outside. So he may be a guy that a team would look at moving inside. Anyone who's watched this kid play knows his demeanor. This is why, as a scout, you've got to meet with coaches; you've got to meet with the secretaries at the football offices, and talk to the trainers, and talk to the [strength] coaches. He's very, very even-keeled. Not that that's a bad thing, but I just never saw the guy show any emotion. He's just stone-faced."
School: Penn State | Year: Junior | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 266 pounds
Rankings: No. 3 EDGE by Brooks and Brugler; No. 3 DE by Kiper; No. 8 EDGE by PFF
2019 stats: 12 starts; 40 tackles (24 solo), 15 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks; First-Team All-Big Ten
Elite company: In 2018, Gross-Matos became the 11th Nittany Lion to record 20 tackles for loss in a season. That tally is tied with four Penn State players, including LaVar Arrington, for the eighth-most TFLs in one season.
Bercich's take from the tape: "Good player. You take a look at his [height and weight], it's 6-5, 266, so he's long – we like that here. I do think he's a very, very raw pass rusher, though, meaning his technique and those kinds of things, he has a lot of room. You look at a kid like this, you think of maybe a Danielle Hunter down the road. Meaning that if you bring this kid in, it might take him a few years, take him some time and some development, but good speed, [good size]. You can't coach big. You can't coach a guy taller and bigger, and it's hard to coach speed. But you watch him play, he's not the most instinctive player."
School: Florida | Year: Redshirt Senior | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt. 263 pounds
Rankings: No. 8 DE by Kiper; No. 8 EDGE by Brugler
2019 stats: 12 starts; 52 tackles (27 solo); led SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, forced three fumbles and recorded one interception; First-Team All-SEC
Another opportunity: After suffering a season-ending wrist injury on the opening series of 2018, Greenard transferred from Louisville to Florida.
School: Alabama | Year: Redshirt Junior | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 262 pounds
Rankings: No. 4 OLB by Kiper; No. 9 EDGE by PFF; No. 6 EDGE by Brugler
2019 stats: 11 starts; 31 tackles (21 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks; tied for fifth in SEC in tackles for loss and ranked ninth in conference in sacks; Second-Team All-SEC
Dealt with injuries: A former 5-star recruit and Gatorade Player of the Year for Washington, D.C., Lewis changed his last name from Hall in 2017. He played four games that fall but missed 10 because of an arm injury. Lewis was able to return for the College Football Playoff games and recorded a sack in overtime of the national title game against Georgia to force a field goal. He missed all of 2018, however, after suffering a torn ACL that summer.
School: Michigan | Year: Senior | Ht: 6-foot-1 | Wt. 245 pounds
Rankings: No. 7 EDGE by PFF; No. 10 interior OL by PFF; No. 5 EDGE by Brugler
2019 stats: 13 games (nine starts); 35 tackles (23 solo), team-high 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks; named team's Defensive Player of the Year; Second-Team All-Big Ten (coaches)
A day to remember: Uche recorded career highs of 5.0 TFLs and 3.0 sacks at Illinois on Oct. 12, 2019.
School: Boise State | Year: Redshirt Junior | Ht: 6-foot-2 | Wt. 265 pounds
Rankings: No. 8 OLB by Kiper; No. 3 EDGE by PFF; No. 7 EDGE by Brugler
2019 stats: 14 starts; 52 tackles (32 solo), 18.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, forced one fumble, intercepted one pass; Second-Team All-America by Associated Press; Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year; All-Mountain West First Team for third consecutive year
Top of the Mountain West: Weaver finished his career with 34 sacks, which ranks second in school history, and broke a conference record of 28.5 by BYU's Jan Jorgensen (2006-09) and TCU's Jerry Hughes (2006-09).
School: Ohio State | Year: Junior | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 264 pounds
Rankings: No. 1 EDGE by Brooks, PFF and Brugler; No. 1 DE by Kiper
2019 stats: 12 starts; 46 tackles (32 solo), led nation with 16.5 sacks and 1.38 sacks per game, ranked second in country with 21.5 tackles for loss, forced seven fumbles; unanimous All-American; became ninth defensive player out of 159 total players since 1982 to be recognized as a Heisman finalist; won Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation's top player); won Ted Hendricks Award (nation's top defensive end); Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year; team captain
Quite the comparison: In Young's pre-draft bio on NFL.com, analyst Lance Zierlein compared Young to Julius Peppers, the 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year who tallied 159.5 career sacks (fourth-most all-time) and nine Pro Bowls over the course of his 17 pro seasons.