The Minnesota Vikings have used a somewhat strict policy of creating workout thresholds for potential rookies at the combine and various pro days and might do so again. A number of teams do so to cut their board down from 300-plus players to 150 – the Patriots board is often 75 players – and though the Vikings have moved on from their old models, they may be implementing a new set of thresholds when selecting their players.
We don’t know the new set of thresholds the Vikings have implemented over the last two years, but we may be able to reasonably guess. For defensive tackles, the Vikings seem to have two categories of player. The first are the smaller, pass-rushing three-technique tackles. Generally, the tackles they’ve acquired in that role have weighed less than 300 pounds, though that’s likely not a requirement. Those faster defensive tackles have run the short shuttle in 4.65 seconds or faster and a three cone of 7.65 seconds or faster.
For bigger nose tackles, they tend to weigh over 310 pounds, they want vertical leaps of 28 inches or higher and broad jumps of 8’4” or further. They have acquired three hybrid tackles in the past in Isame Faciane, Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson but they tend to hit the nose tackle workout requirements, not three-technique.
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The best defensive tackle in this draft class may be Maurice Hurst, but he went home early from the NFL combine because of a potential heart condition. A similar issue cropped up when he was attending Michigan, and it won’t necessarily prevent him from playing in the NFL or even working out at his pro day on March 23. If his medicals check out, the Vikings are probably extremely interested in him, even if he doesn’t work out at his pro day.
In the other category of defensive tackle, Vita Vea could be one of the most athletic nose tackles the NFL has seen in some time. The Vikings don’t really need to invest in this position, but he’s likely high on their board anyway by sheer force of his talent and athletic ability. Vea tweaked his hamstrung running the 40-yard dash and therefore didn’t participate in any of the other workouts. Given how soon Washington’s pro day is — March 10 — he may have to schedule a private workout at a later date or skip the process entirely.
The Vikings have converted a number of defensive ends to defensive tackle to play the three-technique position. Last year, they brought in Dylan Bradley from Southern Mississippi and not too long prior to that drafted B.J. Dubose to play the under tackle role. They’ve also converted defensive end Scott Crichton — though that was the product of frustration at his slow development as an edge rusher. They even did that with first-round pick Datone Jones, who they signed in free agency.
There are a couple of defensive ends who could transition to defensive tackle, but only one of them completed and passed all of the tests — Sam Hubbard of Ohio State. He apparently transitioned from safety to linebacker to defensive end, and it wouldn’t be too hard to ask him to do it one more time. Though fairly productive in producing pressure, he didn’t do a great job finishing. He was a very good run defender and could end up being a good backup defensive tackle, where his quickness will match his peers instead of falling behind like it would on the edge.
Hailing from USC, Rasheem Green is already considered a ‘tweener, who doesn’t have a true position. He tested pretty well as an edge defender, but not so well that it’s clear he should play on the edge. At USC, he played more of his snaps on the inside. For the Vikings, he cleared the thresholds for a three-technique tackle. At 275 pounds, he would have to gain weight to play on the inside more consistently. Nevertheless, his fluidity, quickness and explosion would serve him well as a pass-rushing specialist at defensive tackle. While his run defense is a concern, he would be an intriguing project to convert.
Otherwise, the Vikings will have to wait for Jalyn Holmes (Ohio State), Kentavius Street (NC State), Chad Thomas (Miami – FL) and JoJo Wicker (Arizona) to complete their workouts at their pro days.
Taven Bryan, Florida
One of the top pressure producers in college football, Bryan is an athletic defender who came out ahead of positional averages in every category, even after accounting for his weight (291 pounds). His speed surprises opposing offenses and his burst off the line will be his calling card until he can get more NFL coaching to take advantage of his flexibility, quickness and power. For a lot of teams, he’s not quite the size they want, but he fits what the Vikings want to do at the position. Not only that, he should be a demon on stunts and twists.
Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
Payne would be a hybrid defender for the Vikings, capable of playing both the nose and the three-technique positions. At 311 pounds, he matches what they look for athletically in nose tackles, but could still be in play as a starting pass-rushing tackle to compete with Jaleel Johnson. He doesn’t quite have the Vikings’ athletic thresholds for a three-technique, given that his short shuttle is a little slow, but he passes their nose tackle thresholds by barely hitting the vertical requirement (jumping 28.5 inches) and clearing the broad jump requirement at 8’11”. He doesn’t stuff the statbox (one tackle-for-loss and one sack), but he was asked to take on blocks more than create — but he can if that becomes his role, especially if the Vikings ask him to lose a little weight.
Harrison Phillips, Stanford
Perhaps the most productive defensive tackle in the draft, Harrison Phillips is a bit of a polarizing player. His production is incredible for a defensive lineman — 98 total tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. But he’s been knocked for his change-of-direction ability and balance, potentially not having a true position in the NFL. That said, he surpassed the league-wide standard in agility drills for three-techniques and could be excellent fodder for Andre Patterson, the Vikings defensive line coach — especially with his wrestling background, something the Vikings love in their linemen.
Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
Shepherd qualifies both as a nose tackle and three-technique for the Vikings in terms of their thresholds. He’s explosive and agile, and it’s likely that he’ll play three-technique in the NFL. He had to add mass to hit his combine weight of 315. He was 310 pounds at the Senior Bowl and though listed at 300 pounds, likely played closer to 280 pounds at Fort Hays State. His natural playing weight might be closer to typical Zimmer under tackles than a nose or hybrid tackle.
His fluidity during the Senior Bowl was extraordinary and he looked like the best defensive tackle there before an injury to his hand took him out for the rest of the week. While raw, he comes off as coachable — improving every game in technique and awareness — and his physical talents might be among the best at his position in this year’s draft.
Andrew Brown, Virginia
With extremely poor explosion numbers, a defensive tackle that some thought would get drafted early in day two may end up falling much further. That said, the Vikings haven’t demonstrated an enormous affinity for explosiveness for quicker defensive tackles so Brown may get a pass from them. His agility scores aren’t great for his weight, but they do pass the Vikings’ thresholds. On the field, Brown doesn’t always show that agility, but does have good hands as a pass-rusher and great awareness.
Foley Fatukasi, Connecticut
Despite weighing 318 pounds, Fatukasi scored pretty well in both defensive tackle categories — timing faster than three-techniques in the agility drills with a respectable 4.53-second short shuttle and functional 7.44-second three cone, while also beating out most nose tackles in explosion categories – posting a 30” vertical and a fairly astonishing 9’4” broad jump. At his height and weight, that he means he beat his expected agility drills by half a second combined and his explosion drills by two inches in the vertical and ten inches in the broad jump.
On the field he showcases power with pass-rushing upside, though he doesn’t have the production of a powerful run defender or quick pass-rusher. He needs to do a better job of recognizing the offense in front of him and his agility is only occasionally on display, sometimes getting washed out by the offensive players ahead of him.
Breeland Speaks, Mississippi
Speaks is a bit of a one-year wonder, but there’s precedent for those kinds of players doing well – like Kamerion Wimbley or Vince Wilfork. Speaks is a smaller tackle that will likely need to add a little bit of weight, but he does have good strength for his size. With that comes versatility and pursuit speed, though on film he could show more quickness, even though he had alright testing in that capacity; he barely squeaked by the Vikings’ thresholds for smaller tackles in the agility drills, passing by with a combined 0.02 seconds to spare. There are maturity issues to resolve and he’s been ejected twice from games, but coaches may like that because he clearly plays with an edge. Even if he never resolves those concerns, he will have to answer for inconsistent game-to-game performance, often playing too high or without leverage.
John Franklin-Myers, Stephen F. Austin
John Franklin-Myers attended a school that won zero games in four years, but he still made All-District twice. Though he largely went unrecruited, he ended up making enough of an impact at Stephen F. Austin that he made All-Conference teams three years in a row. He doesn’t quite have the flexibility to play on the edge and so he’ll have to consistently find ways to keep his weight up as an interior player, but he’s a powerful, quick and explosive athlete who plays with balance and intuition. He has a few moves in his arsenal and just needs refinement and consistency to make an impact at the next level.
Though a bit small for the position, Henderson’s on-field play is good enough for him to get drafted and make waves on a roster — the biggest issue with him has to do with off-field problems and on-field consistency. Off the field, an arrest for aggravated assault after allegedly pointing a rifle at a group of people forced Texas A&M to suspend him indefinitely.
On the field, Henderson’s instincts and power allow him to consistently attack the core of offenses and he’s done a good job playing with leverage and technique. His quickness on film isn’t amazing, but it’s more than functional. There are some concerns about his length and ability to maintain a weight above 290 pounds, but he tested well at that weight and should be able to show NFL teams that he can perform when on the field.
McKenzie first went by the name Kahlil for a couple of years at Tennessee before going by Reginald, the name of his father, in his final year for the Vols. His father is the current general manager of the Oakland Raiders, which will likely be mentioned endlessly from here on out if he ends up being successful in the NFL.
To that end, he’ll have to overcome concerns that he’s only been a starter for one year in college and hasn’t had a good run of production in his final season. That said, his traits should translate; his strength is obvious and his get-off from the snap is consistent and a big asset.
Balance concerns do make it difficult to project him as a reliable nose tackle, and he needs to do a better job reading the offense, but his tools should make him a viable backup at the position, if not a starter after some development.