Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Positional Analysis: Defensive End, Part 1/7

Going into the draft this year the Vikings had a number of pressing needs on the offensive side of the ball, quarterback, and wide receiver being the main two. However last years defense was widely thought of as being quite stout, especially against the run. But as the year dragged on teams became aware that it was possible to abandon trying to run the ball against what was the NFL's top rated rush defense and instead throw the ball. This trend began in week _ when the Vikings faced the Patriots. Bill Belichek came into the game with the plan and Tom Brady executed it to perfection, picking apart the Vikings secondary time and again as the Vikings defensive front seemed incapable of applying pressure. The trend would continue on throughout the season and would cost the team many games.

So with this years NFL draft shaping up quite well for the team with good players at many areas of need including two possible franchise quarterbacks, (Russell and Quinn), a franchise wide receiver (Johnson), and two legitimate star prospects at defensive end (Gaines Adams, and Jamaal Anderson). We all know who the Vikings went with in that first pick, and few including myself are disappointed. However the Vikings then waited until the fourth round to address their defensive end situation. With that pick they took Brian Robison, a speed defensive end who I've heard many think could become a Lance Johnstone. And while that certainly isn't bad, its not the type of impact player the team really needs. Regretfully to say before this draft the Vikings have blown a couple of first round picks on would-be star defensive ends including Kenechi Udeze, and Erasmus James. While I qualify James as a bust, he certainly has the talent to emerge as a capable or even dominant end, but his numerous knee injuries make the likelihood of his being a bust far greater than his chances of becoming the player his talent had promised.

With all of that having been said, I'll be taking a look at one of the Vikings defensive ends every day for next week to help you get to know the guys and what I expect from them this season. Today we begin with Kenechi Udeze.

Kenechi Udeze: #95/6'3"/281/USC/20th overall pick of 2004 draft:

College: Three year starter on vaunted USC national championship teams. Started off as defensive tackle but made move to D-end as a redshirt freshman. Totaled 28 sacks in his collegiate career, including 16.5 in his final year as a Junior. His 28 sacks were also a USC record. All-Pac 10, made numerous All-American team.

Pro Career: In his first season Udeze showed some promise as he recorded 36 tackles and had five sacks while starting fifteen games. However his sack numbers were immediately disappointing and it was apparent that he lacked high-level NFL burst to go around offensive tackles which meant he usually had to bull through blockers to reach the ball carrier.

In the third game of the 2005 season Udeze suffered cartilage damage to his left knee and would miss the remainder of that season. He registered only one sack.

Last Year: Depending on how you look at it, Udeze either had a promising season or a very bad one. While he rebounded from his injury to start 15 games, its questionable whether he belongs as an NFL starter. The upside? He led the team in tackles for a loss with 13 and was second in quarterback hurries with 41. The downside? He had no sacks, and that is completely unacceptable for an NFL defensive end, where 8 should be the minimum number expected from a quality DE.

The forecast: I wouldn't expect Udeze to be held sackless once again given the number of times he hurried the quarterback as some of those numbers are sure to translate into sacks. But I also wouldn't expect him to break out as a solid pass-rusher. That said, he is probably one of the top 20 run-stopping defensive ends in football, but is that enough? I'll predict 30-25 tackles with 10 for a loss, but still only 3 sacks.

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