Will D-linemen be victims of their depth?
Adrian Clayborn (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Adrian Clayborn (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Posted Mar 28, 2011

The 2011 defensive line class is said to be as talented and deep as ever. Several analysts have more than one-third of the first round comprised of defensive linemen in their round. Will that be enough to get teams to hold off? It’s happened before.

The Vikings have been linked to both the quarterback and the defensive end position with their first-round pick. However, they are far from alone in both respects. But, could the deep defensive line class be its own worst enemy?

The position is as deep as it has been in years with top-end talent, especially at defensive end. In some mock drafts, as many as a dozen defensive linemen are projected to come off the board in the first round, but could that end up being a curse, as teams buy into the fact that there are so many defensive linemen that are going to be available that the depth serves as reason for several of them to ignore D-line in the first round?

The last time we saw such a glut of highly rated prospects was in 2008 when the wide receiver class was viewed as deep and loaded with specialist types that could provide immediate lineup help. There were big receivers. There were speed receivers. There were receiver-returner combo platters.

In the days leading up to the draft, some of the most respected draft experts had as many as a half-dozen wide receivers going in the first round of the draft. Instead, with the dearth of talent available at the position and several other positions being viewed as having good blue-chip talent but little in the way of depth, the other positions were attacked.

Viking Update sensed this mindset that there wasn’t a head-and-shoulders top candidate at the WR position and that a positional slide could happen. By the time we did our final mock draft, we only had two wide receivers going in the first round. Even with that conservative opinion, we were still overshooting.

As it turned out, the entire NFL collectively ignored the WR position. Not a single wide receiver ended up going in the first round, but the value of the draft class was readily apparent when 10 of them went in the second round and five more came off the board in the third round.

The problem turned out to be that, despite a wealth of players, there wasn’t the wealth of talent expected to be in the draft. The Rams made Donnie Avery the first WR off the board when they selected him with the 33rd pick, which started the dominoes falling. From picks Nos. 32-58, 10 receivers were drafted – Avery, Devin Thomas (Washington, pick No. 34), Jordy Nelson (Green Bay, 36), James Hardy (Buffalo, 41), Eddie Royal (Denver, 42), Jerome Simpson (Cincinnati, 46), DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia, 49), Malcolm Kelly (Washington, 51), Limas Sweed (Pittsburgh, 53) and Dexter Jackson (Tampa Bay, 58).

In hindsight, this was as weak a group three years into their pro careers as we’ve seen. Jackson is the only one that became a star and Avery and Royal are the only others members of this Gang of 10 that have become starters. Even so, both have been hit with injuries that have sidelined them and reduced their effectiveness.

All the analysis and “can’t miss” projections failed to live up to expectations. It’s hard to imagine that the 2011 defensive line class will provided such a high failure rate as the 2008 wide receiver class provided, but we may see a similar trend take place – teams being so confident in the depth of the Class of 2011 that they address other need positions and, as a group, the class is devalued and becomes the talk of the second round, not necessarily the first.

Given the importance of defensive linemen, it’s doubtful that they can come close to being ignored, but all you need is a couple of teams that will start a trend. Given the Vikings’ ability to find defensive ends after the first round of late (Ray Edwards, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen were all fourth-round picks), they may well be one of the teams that says “thanks, but no thanks” to the D-line crop with their first pick. It’s happened before and will be something to watch when the picks starting coming off the board a month from today.

The D-line class is being touted as the best ever, but some of the same things were being said about the wide receiver class in 2008. That proved to be horribly wrong. There are a lot of teams banking on the fact that history isn’t going to repeat itself this time around.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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