Vikings

Which Front-Seven Combine Standouts Best Fit the Vikings?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no question that the Minnesota Vikings need to shore up their front seven – defensive tackle, edge defender, and linebacker are arguably their greatest needs. With the 2024 NFL combine featuring workouts on the first day of athletic testing at these positions, we can get an early look at the players who performed at a high level to see who might be a good fit for the team.

Chop Robinson, ED Penn State

A preseason darling, Chop Robinson didn’t have the box-score production typically expected out of a first-round pick. Part of that was a product of his playing time. He only played 148 pass-rushing snaps in his final year at Penn State, a product of multiple factors that includes injury and second-half rest periods as Penn State coasted to victories early in the season.

But Robinson also didn’t generate that many sacks in games he was playing, pushing him down mid-season draft boards until the draft circuit started and shined a light on what Robinson offers. Robinson is an unreal athlete who put together the best weight-adjusted composite scores at his position at the NFL combine, running a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at an astonishing 254 lbs.

He also put together one of the fastest 10-yard split times we’ve ever seen from an athlete weighing 250 lbs.-plus at 1.54 seconds, putting him in company with Cliff Avril, Khalil Mack, and Will Anderson.

In total, we can compare his athletic package to Mack and players like Danielle Hunter, Connor Barwin, Josh Sweat, and Jaelan Phillips. However, his length doesn’t quite match Hunter’s.

Robinson didn’t run a three-cone drill, so the score above is projected from his performance in other drills. But it’s clear that there are some lofty athletic comparisons. That’s not the only exciting comp to draw from his profile, either.

Robinson’s underlying production metrics are also a fair bit more encouraging than his box-score numbers. His production comparisons – based on measures like win rate, pressure rate, true-pass set success rate, and so on – match closest with Julius Peppers, Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Jabaal Sheard, Ryan Kerrigan, and Jason Babin.

That’s an astounding set of production comps. It’s a product of his 95th-percentile win rate and 97th-percentile pass-rush grade from PFF. Despite the low sack totals, Robinson is an exciting prospect.

Marshawn Kneeland, ED Western Michigan

Like Robinson, Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland also has a poor traditional production profile. He only generated 4.5 sacks in his final year in college, but with a higher snap count total and against inferior competition.

Nevertheless, he’s worth a look, given his athletic profile. Kneeland ran a 7.02-second three-cone, the fastest time of any edge rusher this year in the drill that best correlates to edge-rusher production. He followed that up with a blazing 4.18-second short shuttle – one of the fastest ever at the position – and good explosion and speed scores for his size.

At 267 lbs., it would have been much more difficult for him to catch everyone’s attention in some of these drills, with a lackluster 40-yard dash time (4.75 seconds) to dull his spotlight. But the full 40-yard dash doesn’t give us much information, especially compared to agility and explosion drills.

Heavier players with comparable 40-yard dash times and fast agility scores include Jared Allen, Chandler Jones, Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, Joey Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, and Aidan Hutchinson. That’s definitely not bad company to keep.

Logan Lee, DT Iowa

Few players performed the agility drills this year – a common occurrence over the past several years as combine drills continue to be pushed back later into the evening. The drive to put drills on primetime television has encouraged players to opt out because they don’t want to record scores as the day is ending without having had much food or time to sleep.

That means we have little to go off of when it comes to the front-seven positions. Fortunately, a few players participated, including Iowa’s Logan Lee. As a 281 lb. defensive tackle, he would need to perform well in agility drills to stand out, and he did exactly that.

His 5.05-second 40-yard dash time is pretty disappointing for his size, but a 4.37-second short shuttle and 7.16-second three cone are stunners, leading all defensive tackles in both categories. Lee added a respectable vertical leap (31.5 inches, just above the position average) and good broad jump (9’6”, well above the position average) to give him a more well-rounded athletic profile than his sprint speed would suggest.

T’Vondre Sweat, DT Texas

On the other end of the spectrum from Lee is 366 lb. T’Vondre Sweat from Texas. Sweat didn’t weigh in at the Senior Bowl, making his enormous combine measurement the first time he’s been reliably weighed during the process.

That size needs to come with explosion numbers at his position – though having a short shuttle would have helped – and he produced excellently. At first glance, his 26” vertical leap and 8’2” broad jump seem more like disqualifiers than a credit to his name. But his performance at 366 lbs. is equivalent to a 31” vertical and 9’2” broad jump from a 300 lb. athlete.

Those are fantastic numbers for a nose tackle. Very few tackles have tested at 350-plus lbs., and Sweat’s 1.80-second 10-yard split is the fastest of that group. His 8’2” broad jump is the second-longest.

Ultimately, Sweat’s numbers should be thought of as a Haloti Ngata or B.J. Raji-type performance. In context, it’s astounding.

Payton Wilson, LB NC State

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a short shuttle score from Payton Wilson, but we did get a show. Though his 34.5” vertical leap didn’t top the charts at the position, his complete athletic package at 233 lbs. was among the best at the position.

A 4.43-second 40-yard dash (with a class-leading 1.54-second 10-yard split) spoke well of the NC State product, who wowed evaluators in the position drills with his fluidity and agility. The 40-yard dash is often a good predictor at the position, especially when paired with a strong 10-yard split. It also gives us a better understanding of the player than it would at almost any other defensive position aside from cornerback.

Those linebackers still need a good broad jump to have a complete athletic profile, and Wilson’s great score at 9’11” more than meets the threshold. There aren’t many players with an excellent broad jump and average vertical to provide a clean comparison. But former Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy matches Wilson in size, speed, and explosiveness.

Trevin Wallace, LB Kentucky

At 237 lbs., Trevin Wallace is closer to the size of a linebacker a decade ago than he is to the 225 lb. athletes we tend to see today. Nevertheless, Wallace moves as well as any of them – something we saw with his 4.51-second 40-yard dash.

Exciting explosion numbers matter quite a bit for the position. When paired with a fast 40-yard dash time, it can mean a good fit at the position. Like Wilson, Wallace didn’t perform the agility drills necessary to build a complete profile. But a performance at 37.5” in the vertical and 10’8” in the broad jump put him in rarefied air, equivalent to someone like Demario Davis.

Wallace’s production was mediocre. He might need time to develop before he could be a contributor, but his athleticism is intriguing.

Edefuan Ulofoshio, LB Washington

Anyone jumping 39.5” in the vertical leap had a good day, but the ability to do it while carrying 236 lbs. is eye-popping. Ulofoshio played well in coverage for Washington but needed to do a bit more as a run defender. However, he managed an astounding vertical leap and killed the broad jump with his 10’8” leap, giving him the best explosive package in the class.

His faster-than-average 4.56-second 40-yard dash also put him in some exciting company. His scores hew closely to the scores of players like Eric Kendricks and Luke Kuechly – although agility testing still needs to be done to get a more complete comparison.

It was a good day for Ulofoshio. He stood alone among the off-ball linebackers as a true show-stopping athlete.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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