[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida, Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt and Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver from Oklahoma]
Many of the mock drafts, knowing the Vikings' need for a pass rusher, but thinking that Derrick Harvey will be drafted higher than #17, have guessed that the Vikings will draft Phillip Merling, a junior defensive end from Clemson. It makes a certain amount of sense-Merling is the only other defensive end seen as a mid first round pick aside from Harvey. Of course, like all things, it's slightly more complicated than that. As you may have heard, Merling hasn't yet worked out for anybody due to a sports hernia, an injury for which he just underwent surgery.
According to about.com, a sports hernia is "a weakening of the muscles or tendons of the lower abdominal wall". It's not a muscle injury, however. "The problem with the abdominal wall in people with a sports hernia is not a muscle strength issue. Rather, the abdominal wall in a particular region is too thin, allowing the hernia to form. The sports hernia does not occur in the area of the large, thick part of the muscle." It usually requires surgery, and it takes about 8 weeks to recover from the surgery. Which means that the Vikings, were they to draft Merling, would be drafting someone they had never seen workout in person, and someone coming off an injury that sidelined him for months. Not exactly the recipe for a successful draft pick.
Aside from that whole surgery thing, Merling does have quite a lot going for him. He racked up 7 sacks and 17 TFLs as a junior, despite being the primary focus of opposing blocking schemes. He's a big guy, standing 6'4" and weighing in (pre surgery) at 276 pounds. He has a good burst as well, but he isn't so fast that he can just run past offensive tackles. He has enough moves, however, that he can get off of a block, and he routinely showed the ability to split the double team his junior year. He also plays the run well, is a solid tackler and was routinely praised for his backside pursuit, all of which he displayed while making 78 tackles last year.
The surgery wasn't the only question about Merling, however. Despite having Gaines Adams (4th overall pick in 2007) to draw the offense's focus, he only had 3 sacks his sophomore year. His 12 career sacks aren't as impressive when one considers that he played in the worst BCS conference. He also lacks the speed and quickness that a dominant pass rusher needs in the NFL, and he never displayed the strength necessary to compensate, leaving him as something of a tweener. Big linemen were able to swallow him up, and his burst, reactions and pass rush were significantly worse when he was set then when he was moving in a stunt or a twist.
With a good workout, in which he was able to address the questions about his speed, quickness and strength, Merling might have been able to justify his selection at #17. He wasn't able to work out, however, and is likely even further behind where a first round pick should be, in terms of conditioning, strength and ability to make an immediate impact. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Merling missed his chance because of an injury. It would be a mistake for the Vikings' to draft him in the first round because they need a defensive end, when other talented players are available at other positions that the Vikings could use more talent at.