Countdown to Combine: Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to our Vikings-specific preview of the NFL scouting combine, which kicks off on Thursday in Indianapolis. We'll be previewing four positions this week the Vikings could address in the draft. I'm inclined to stay away from the quarterback position, since we've talked so much about it already (and will continue to talk about it). This can be a place to look at the other areas the Vikings could address, many of them being on defense. We'll get started there, with a look at the defensive line.

Position of need: Defensive line

The Vikings could be facing a time of transition at the position, with both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams set to hit free agency after burnishing their Hall of Fame credentials in their time in Minnesota. Defensive end Everson Griffen is a free agent, as well, though the Vikings seem likely to re-sign him. But the team could still be in the market for a taller defensive end along the lines of the ends new coach Mike Zimmer had in Cincinnati, in addition to another defensive tackle.

Three players the Vikings might be targeting:

Louis Nix (DT), Notre Dame: Nix is an absolute load at nose tackle, and could give the Vikings the kind of impenetrable force they haven't had since Pat Williams. He could free Sharrif Floyd up to be the kind of upfield pass-rusher Zimmer had in Bengals' three-technique tackle Geno Atkins (and the Vikings had for many years in Kevin Williams). There are concerns about Nix's health after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and he could have knee problems at his size (6-foot-2, 342 pounds), but he'd immediately change the face of the Vikings' run defense.

Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota: The Vikings should know plenty about the 6-foot-6 Hageman already, and they could give him a chance to continue his career in TCF Bank Stadium, where they'll play the next two seasons. The 6-foot-6 Hageman profiles as an interior lineman. He might not be refined enough to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, where he'd be asked to rush around the edge, but his size and athleticism could pique the Vikings' interest, whether he'd be an interior lineman or merit a look on the outside.

Kony Ealy, Missouri: We're assuming Jadeveon Clowney will be gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 8, but a player like Early or Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt could make sense if the Vikings are in the market for the kind of tall defensive ends new coach Mike Zimmer had in Cincinnati. Ealy had eight sacks last season, and at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, he'd give the Vikings a player with a similar physical profile to Allen, who is a free agent this spring.