Apart from the tremendous turnover on defense, perhaps the most striking part of Minnesota’s offseason rests in how little they did to address their offensive line.
Their o-line has been among the worst in the league during Mike Zimmer’s time as the Vikings head coach. Rick Spielman did surprisingly little to address this issue during the offseason. Recently, Spielman’s biggest moves have all involved the draft. Four years ago, Spielman chose Pat Elflein in the third round. Three years ago, Spielman selected Brian O’Neill in the second round. Two years ago, Spielman chose Bradbury in the first. This year, Spielman picked Ezra Cleveland in the second round.
Spielman’s strategy, quite evidently, rests in picking young, athletic linemen who can grow in Gary Kubiak’s system. The ones who thrive will be rewarded with a long-term contract. The ones who struggle will serve as inexpensive, athletic players for their rookie deals.
Bradbury stands out in this group because he is the lone first-round lineman chosen by the Vikings. Bradbury is among the most athletic centers in the league, so he should thrive in Kubiak’s system. His rookie year was by no means a failure, but his play was inconsistent. Vikings fans were likely expecting more from the first-round pick, especially given that he is older than most rookies. He is already twenty-five.
Given his age, it’s not unreasonable for the Vikings to expect Bradbury to progress quicker than most players. One of the biggest ways that he can improve in his sophomore season rests in elevating his floor. He had some awful games last season. Eliminating these games will go a long way in improving Minnesota’s overall performance.
Furthermore, the Vikings will expect Bradbury to raise his ceiling. Simply elevating his play to an average level across a full season isn’t enough from a first-round pick. The Vikings chose Bradbury because they believed he could be an elite center in Kubiak’s system. The fact that they haven’t made any significant moves to address the interior of the offensive line suggests that they believe he will take a step forward.
In his rookie year, Bradbury finished with a 57.8 grade on Pro Football Focus’s grading system, which results in him being the 28th ranked center. Jason Kelce – an undersized, athletic player – was the best center in the NFL last season with an 81.1 grade.
In his rookie year, though, Kelce finished 28th overall, the same position that Bradbury finds himself after his rookie year. In his sophomore year, Kelce’s rating jumped from 62.5 to 80.2. From his sophomore year onward, Kelce has consistently been a top-five center. Perhaps even more encouraging is that Kelce has been the best center in the NFL over the past three years in spite of being in his early thirties.
For the first-round investment to be worth it, Bradbury will need to make a similar improvement. It may be unrealistic to expect Bradbury to jump into top-5 production in his sophomore year, but the jump isn’t without precedent. For the Vikings offensive line to make a significant improvement, Bradbury will need to elevate his game and maintain a strong level of play for several more seasons.