As we have mentioned before, the Vikings starting defensive line is a bastion of strength and productivity. But as you venture further down the depth chart, the names become more mysterious and, frankly, less inviting. The defensive ends in particular are packed with young names that bring potential, but little productivity in their past.
With at least two end spots up for grabs this camp, the list of players vying for them appears to be five names long: Tashawn Bower, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly, Ade Aruna and Jonathan Wynn. Bower, Odenigbo and Weatherly all have Vikings tape, mostly in preseason. Weatherly was the only one with consistent regular season time, playing in 15 games last season. Wynn and Aruna, on the other hand, only have college tape to go on. Over the next few weeks, we will examine each of these five players, the pros and cons of their respective games and their path to making the Vikings roster.
First, the most recent draft pick in the group, Ade Aruna out of Tulane.
Of all of these young ends, Aruna appears to have the highest upside thanks to his physical traits. At 6-foot-5, 265-ish pounds, he has the adequate size and length for the position. Aruna also adds 4.6 40-yard dash speed and some elite jumping numbers that would suggest top level leg power. The college stats do not jump off the page: Only 10 sacks in three full seasons at Tulane. And for the most part, the pass rush tape gives credence to those numbers. But the potential is intriguing, due in large part to his size, speed and potential versatility.
One thing evident in virtually every snap of Aruna’s tape is his alignment. Most of his reps have him lined up no wider than a tight 5-technique. Some even bump him into a 4i. This could explain some of his mediocre pass rush numbers, as he did not get as much of an opportunity to bounce out and bend around the corner. This also shows us two things that could help his chances of making the Vikings’ roster. One, Aruna played with his hand on the ground a lot, something Viking ends are required to do. Two, He could, in theory, bump in to play tackle in pass rush downs.
For reference, here is what Aruna’s pass rush style is on about 90 percent of dropbacks:
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His burst is good, not great, he stands fairly tall but uses his length to keep separation. From there, he is straight ahead, relying on his speed to get to the quarterback. There are not many counters, moves or quality bull rushes, it is “here is my line, I am going to try and run it before you stop me.”
More often than not, this is the result. Once his initial punch is neutralized, he struggles to find another plan or to transition speed to power to fight through the pass protection.
But then, sometimes there are plays like this where he is able to land a strong punch, get separation and then use the window to fire at the quarterback. These are the plays that should bring some optimism. When in space, Aruna can work windows fairly well. It is when engaged face up that he struggles.
As a run defender, Aruna shows polish. His length and strength allow him to engage, separate and discard fairly well, something he has had to perfect given that he was essentially a 3-4 end at Tulane. The place the Aruna shows surprising maturity is in his ability to set an edge.
Though his get off is only OK, the power is clear from the start. His extension allows him to get first contact and then set a good anchor to read the play. He controls his blocker all the way down the line. The only thing keeping Aruna from making the tackle is the obvious hold, which drew a flag.
Putting this all together, there are a lot of things to like about Aruna’s game. His inadequacies are workable, the product of a one-dimensional play style in college. If he can shore up technique, learn some counters and use his physical traits more effectively, Aruna may be the favorite of the young ends to make the 53-man roster out of camp.