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2021 NFL Draft Prospects for Vikings: Edge Rushers

In the lead-up to the 2021 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, stats and background information for multiple prospects. We'll also include comments that experts shared during interviews.

View photos of potential defensive ends and edge rushers the Vikings can select in the 2021 NFL Draft. Read the full story HERE.

Vikings status at edge rusher

The Vikings are looking to boost their sacks total from the paltry 23 in 2020. The expected return of Danielle Hunter, who missed all of last season with a neck injury, should help considerably.

Minnesota also brought back Stephen Weatherly, who progressed with the club from 2016-19, during free agency. Other Vikings on the roster include second-year pro D.J. Wonnum, Jordan Brailford, Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata'afa and Kenny Willekes, who missed all of his rookie season after an injury during a training camp practice at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Several believe the Vikings could make a move for an edge rusher in the first round, either with the 14th overall pick that Minnesota currently has or after a trade. The Vikings have not selected a defensive end in the first round since Erasmus James in 2005, the year before General Manager Rick Spielman joined the team as Vice President of Player Personnel.

Ask the analyst

Pete Bercich, a former Vikings linebacker and coach turned analyst for the Vikings Radio Network, recently caught up with Vikings Entertainment Network's Gabe Henderson to discuss this year's group of edge rushers. Bercich was selected in the seventh round of the 1994 NFL Draft and played in 57 games for Minnesota between 1995 and 2000.

Follow him on Twitter @PeteBercich for his analysis.

Expert rankings

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah currently has seven edge rushers in his overall Top 50: 13. Gregory Rousseau, 14. Kwity Paye, 22. Jaelan Phillips, 29. Azeez Ojulari, 31. Jayson Oweh, 35. Joe Tryon and 43. Ronnie Perkins.

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., has two edge rushers in his overall Top 25: 16. Paye and 22. Phillips.

Rankings for each player within the edge rusher position group by Jeremiah, his NFL Media counterpart Bucky Brooks, Kiper, analytics site Pro Football Focus and The Athletic's Dane Brugler are listed below.

Prospects

Note: Heights and weights are from each player's profile on NFL.com (linked for each player's name).

Kwity-Paye-2560

School: Michigan | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 261 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge2 Edge2 DE1 Edge1 Edge2

2020 stats: 4 games; 16 tackles (12 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks

Michigan Pro Day results: Paye impressed by showing speed and power.

Incredible backstory: Paye was born in Guinea in 1998 after his mother Agnes fled Liberia and then Sierra Leone because of war that claimed multiple family members. Paye, his mother and brother immigrated to Rhode Island in 1999. Paye received his citizenship documents when he was a sophomore in high school. Orion Sang of the Detroit Free Press wrote about the experiences that Paye and his family have endured on the way to fulfilling a dream.

Bercich's breakdown: "If you could pick a guy as a need for this Vikings team, Kwity Paye would fill that. You watch him on film at the University of Michigan, what's amazing is some of the techniques and ways that he pass rushes is exactly how we do things here. They base up over the tackle and tight end and transition from a run style to a pass rush. He has all the speed, all the leverage, all the strength that you want a guy like Andre Patterson to say, 'C'mon over and let me teach you a little bit here and a little bit there,' and then the work ethic as well to go along with that. Kwity Paye would be a dream come true for Vikings fans if he's there at 14 — an instant starter at defensive end, and now you have four defensive linemen that are solid all the way across the board.

"You take a look at his highlights and the things he's done and his ability to get into a good tackle, to push, to get leverage and to be able to let that go and slip and get to what we call the back of the offensive lineman, meaning get that inside leg to the back and get past the offensive lineman," Bercich added. "Guys that big and that strong don't play bent all the time. He has the leverage to play with his knees bent and then to be able to push until a lineman settles and then work his way around him on the outside and those kinds of things, you either have those or you don't. They're very difficult to develop. Kwity Paye has all of that, so he has all of the tools."

Gregory-Rousseau-2560

School: Miami | Year: Redshirt Soph. | Ht: 6-foot-7 | Wt: 266 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge1 Edge3 DE3 Edge5 Edge5

2020 stats: opted out; 2019 stats: 13 games; 54 tackles (34 solo), 19.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, 1 pass defended, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles

Miami Pro Day results: Rousseau hasn't played a ton of college football, but he did fill out considerably. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds.

Outside-inside: NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter believes Rousseau has the ability to play the edge and then kick inside on passing downs.

Bercich's breakdown: "He's a tremendous athlete. Very athletic. Very smooth with his movements. You don't necessarily see the leverage and the strength and the power, which is going to be a little difficult when you're 6-foot-7. You're going to have to be taught to stay a little lower and use those long arms for leverage. Plays the run well, especially when he's on the move, and we do that a lot with our defensive ends, inside-outside.

"I don't know if he's as explosive as a Kwity Paye, and that's something you like to see, 'Is the guy getting in there and blowing stuff up every once in a while?' … A guy who is going to need a year or two in the weight room to get that 'man strength,' so if you can get him in as a rookie, get him some time, teach him how to play the run game, I think there's going to be a lot of work with that with any of these guys, especially the Miami guys, but a lot of work on the running game and how to use your hands, they'll eventually become very good football players."

Jaelan-Phillips-2560

School: Miami | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-6 | Wt: 260 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge3 Edge1 DE2 Edge4 Edge3

2020 stats: 10 games; 45 tackles (21 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 1 interception, 3 passes defended

Miami Pro Day results: Phillips impressed with a time of 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a vertical leap of 36 inches and a broad jump of 10 feet, 5 inches.

Brooks also noted Phillips' showing at Miami's Pro Day on March 29, writing that he "shook up the scouting community with his exceptional pro-day performance. As a technician with outstanding hand skills, he mixes power with finesse to keep blockers off balance."

Bounced back: The California native started his college career at UCLA but suffered a wrist injury when a car struck him while he was riding a scooter. He played four games for the Bruins in 2018 and "retired" before deciding to enroll at Miami. After sitting out 2019, Phillips hit the ground running in 2020.

Jayson-Oweh-2560

School: Penn State | Year: Redshirt Soph. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt: 257 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge5 Edge5 OLB4 Edge2 Edge4

2020 stats: 7 games; 38 tackles (20 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, 0 sacks, 1 pass defended

Penn State Pro Day results: Oweh's demonstrations in the timing and testing drills were even better than Phillips' showing, with a time of 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical and broad jump of 11 feet, 2 inches.

Interesting comp indeed: Anyone raising eyebrows at Oweh's lack of a sack in 2020 might remember that Danielle Hunter had 1.5 in his final season with the LSU Tigers.

And a fair counterpoint:

Bercich's breakdown: "He's a little small, almost an outside linebacker type of guy, but you remember [Carolina's Yetur] Gross-Matos, this kid is a freak physically, and I think he has all of the skills and is very raw, even from a technique standpoint, there's so much he can be taught. The question then is, 'How much do you pay for this kid's athleticism and his potential?' But you get him in a system like ours, where he's working with Andre Patterson, oh my gosh, I think this kid can be an unbelievable asset, an unbelievable outside pass rusher.

"He does a good job against the run, a little hesitant sometimes, but you can work with that," Bercich added. "I don't think there's any lack of aggressiveness, but when he opens it up and lets it go, my goodness this kid is dynamic. He's unbelievable."

Carlos-Basham,-Jr.-2560

School: Wake Forest | Year: Redshirt Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 274 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Edge4 DE5 Edge6 Edge6

2020 stats: 6 games; 28 tackles (20 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 1 pass defended, 4 forced fumbles

Wake Forest Pro Day results: Basham ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds and had a vertical measured at 34 inches.

Greed streak: Nicknamed "Boogie" for his love of dancing, Basham also could be nicknamed "Backfield Boogie" because of his streak of games with a TFL that spanned from October 2018 to October 2020.

According to Brugler: "Basham is rarely controlled due to his active play style, power and hustle, which directly leads to production. His hands have some pop, but his stiff hips show when trying to bend the corner and he must develop his pass rush sequence. Overall, Basham needs to become a more creative pass rusher, but his size, explosiveness and effort are above average and allow him to rush from different alignments."

Azeez-Ojulari-2560

School: Georgia | Year: Redshirt Soph. | Ht: 6-foot-2 | Wt: 249 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge4 Unranked OLB3 Edge3 Edge1

2020 stats: 10 games; 31 tackles (22 solo), 12.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 4 forced fumbles

Georgia Pro Day results: Ojulari ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds, and his broad jump was 10 feet, 7 inches. Even though he is 6-2, Ojulari's wingspan measured at 82.5 inches, thanks in part to arms that measured 34.5 inches.

According to Renner: "Ojulari is quite easily the most polished pure pass-rushing prospect among the top of the class. 'If you beat the hands, you beat the man,' is the mantra he lives by, and it shows repeatedly on his tape. It's why he earned a 91.7 pass-rushing grade [from PFF] this past season."

Joe-Tryon-2560

School: Washington | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt: 259 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge6 Unranked OLB7 Unranked Edge7

2020 stats: opted out; 2019 stats: 13 games; 41 tackles (27 solo), 12.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 1 pass defended

Washington Pro Day results: Tryon was clocked at 4.68 seconds in the 40, and his vertical was 35 inches. His wingspan is 82.75 inches.

Relatively speaking: Kent Lee Platte created "relative athletic scores" to assess athleticism of players on multiple metrics, and Tryon cracked the top 100 defensive ends (since 1987).

Ronnie-Perkins-2560

School: Oklahoma | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 253 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Edge7 Unranked DE4 Edge7 Edge10

2020 stats: 6 games; 23 tackles (16 solo), 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks

Oklahoma Pro Day results: Perkins ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds. His vertical was 32 inches, and his broad jump was 9 feet, 7 inches.

Balanced attack: PFF likes what Perkins did against the run and on pass plays in 2020:

Payton-Turner-2560

School: Houston | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt: 270 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked DE8 Edge8 Edge9

2020 stats: 5 games; 25 tackles (17 solo), 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Houston Pro Day results: Reese's Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy was among the folks on hand when Turner participated in multiple drills but did not run the 40-yard dash because of turf toe.

Position fit: PFF noted that Turner had a pass rushing grade above 90 in limited-action during 2020, and Brugler wrote his success could have been tied to his usage in the past two seasons:

"Turner lined up at the Bandit edge rusher position (field side) in coordinator Doug Belk's scheme while standing up and rushing with his hand on the ground. He lined up at 4i defensive end (inside the offensive tackle) his first two seasons under the previous coaching staff before moving back outside to his more natural edge rusher role in 2019. He totaled 18.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks over 17 games the last two years."

Brugler considers Turner "among the best effort players in this draft class," adding he "uses his long strides and speed to chase down ball carriers."

Joseph-Ossai-2560

School: Texas | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-4 | Wt: 256 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked DE6 Edge9 Edge8

2020 stats: 9 games; 55 tackles (25 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles

Texas Pro Day results: Ossai showed explosiveness with a vertical of 41.5 inches and broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches. He ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds. The rare company Ossai joined with his vertical and broad jump numbers includes Vikings Legend and fellow former Longhorn Brian Robison.

Up on the line: PFF's Renner views Ossai as "a loose and limber edge rusher who possesses the sort of flexibility and coordination that wins on the edge."

"After playing an off-ball hybrid role in 2019, Ossai thrived while staying on the line of scrimmage in 2020," Renner added. "He earned an 81.1 run-defense grade and an 80.5 pass-rushing grade even though he almost never came off the field, averaging 65.3 snaps a game."

Note: The following two players were not ranked by any of the external experts, but Bercich weighed in on their status as developmental players.

Jordan-Smith-2560

School: UAB | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-6 | Wt: 255 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked Unranked Unranked Unranked

2020 stats: 8 games; 41 tackles (22 solo), 9.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass defended

UAB Pro Day results: Nagy relayed that Smith's best time in the 40 was 4.79 seconds.

Bercich's breakdown: "He kind of looks like a power forward in football gear. He's 6-foot-6, almost 6-foot-7, but you watch the film of this kid, he has the best get-off that I've seen in a very long time, and by that I mean he's able to beat linemen, just getting off the snap of the football, kind of like [Hall of Famer Derrick] Thomas did with the Chiefs for so many years. That's a unique ability. That's something that defensive linemen work on every day: when the ball moves, you move.

"This kid has a freakish ability to get off the football, which means he's going to beat some offensive tackles right off the [snap]," Bercich added. "You're going to have fans back in the stands, right? So in home games, he's going to have an unbelievable advantage. He's going to need that early on because of the lack of strength that he has. He's going to have to put on some weight, and then [you have] the lack of experience and technique. We saw some of those examples down at the Senior Bowl, where he's just destroying guys off the line of scrimmage, and he's athletic enough to get low and drop his hips and get his leg through and get to the back of the lineman, so as a project, you say, I would love for the Vikings to, not take a risk per se, but at some point in the draft, invest in a guy like this."

Cameron-Sample-2560

School: Tulane | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 267 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked Unranked Unranked Unranked

2020 stats: 11 games; 52 tackles (29 solo),7.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble

Tulane Pro Day results: Sample was clocked at 4.83 seconds in the 40-yard dash. His vertical was 37 inches, and his broad jump was 9 feet, 8 inches. He benched 225 pounds 23 times.

The ideal spot?: Perhaps better suited as a defensive end in a 3-4 than in a 4-3, Sample has shown pass-rush potential that an NFL team might incorporate from the interior of a 4-3 defense instead of from the edge. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein took note of the way Sample played multiple edge positions in both odd and even fronts while at Tulane but added, "most scouts believe he has the power and frame to make the transition to defensive tackle." If 4-3 defensive tackle is in Sample's future, he will likely be asked to gain weight.

Even though Bercich views Sample as making more of an impact from the interior, we included him with this grouping instead of the defensive tackles.

Bercich's breakdown: "Size may have something to do with [him being underrated]. But nowadays, you sit down on YouTube and watch the Senior Bowl 1-on-1s, you're watching it and, 'Oh, that was a nice play.' You're like, 'What's that on his helmet? Where is that kid from?' You start doing some research on him, and as that interior pass rushing defensive lineman, I think this kid is very dynamic. He's very quick, [has] great pad level, power, leverage, all of these things that can be hard to teach. He carries them naturally, so whatever is keeping him off the top of the big board, whether it's size or whatever else that may be, you watch the film, and it translates. You need to get a guy like him into camp, get him working. I think he's going to be a good football player."

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