Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Positional Analysis: Defensive End, Part 2/7

Yesterday we began our look at the defensive end position for the Vikings with an overview and a look at Kenechi Udeze. Today we continue that analysis with the always tantalizing, and frequently injured, Erasmus James.

Erasmus James: #99/6'4"/266/Wisconsin/18th overall pick of 2005 Draft

College: At the University of Wisconsin James was a dominant defensive end when healthy. He was a three year starter, and would have been a four year starter had he not missed his entire junior campaign with a hip injury. While at Wisconsin he had 124 total tackles (25.5 for a loss) and 18 sacks. He was widely regarded as one of the premier defensive ends in the country and was a consensus All-American and was the Big-Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He left college with nothing to prove.

Pro Career: Since becoming a Viking James has always flashed the talent necessary to be a high-end pass rusher, the quick burst, good speed, and nice moves, they're all there. To that end ESPN's scouting says,

"James is tall, rangy and flashes good pass-rushing potential. He is very athletic, has excellent change-of-direction skills and lateral mobility. He plays with natural leverage and knee-bend. He has good instincts and snap anticipation. He seems to locate the ball well and has natural playmaking tools. He has good body control and plays with discipline, even when coming off the edge. He can adjust his angles and rarely gets fooled. He uses his hands extremely well and can regularly create separation."

The problem has been staying healthy. Besides his season ending hip injury with the Badgers, James suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee in 2006, and by now I'm beginning to wonder if his hip and knee can hold up to the pounding a starting position will demand. Furthermore, it's unknown whether or not he'll return with the same burst that he used to have or if he'll be able to execute the high torque movements defensive ends are routinely asked to make.

Last Year: Played in just two games and didn't register a tackle. Missed remained of season with injury

The Forecast: Its tough to say. Once upon a time he had dominant skills and was on track to be a great pass-rusher but those hopes have faded considerably. At this point Vikings fans should just be happy to see James on the field. While he says he expects to be ready by opening day, I'd hope the team uses the utmost caution with him and makes sure he is back to full strength before playing him. This year I'd guess I'd predict him for maybe 7-8 starts and maybe 4 sacks. But I think expecting him to come back from an ACL tear and become a dominant defensive end, which he's never been at this level, would be fool-hardy.

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