In Our Roster Projection Series, we have covered the d-line, linebackers, corners, safeties, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. We finish off the offense by looking at the offensive line.
Not altogether unlike Sisyphus, the Vikings sometimes appear destined to an eternity of futility along the offensive line. The truth, though, is that the Vikings have some hope. Another year in Gary Kubiak’s system should help everyone, especially with Rick Dennison returning as the o-line coach. Rick Spielman has chosen to address the line primarily through the draft, as evidenced by the opening couple rounds in the past three drafts. For the Vikings to take a step forward, several young offensive linemen will need to emerge.
The Offensive Lineman:
Brady Aiello, Garrett Bradbury, Blake Brandel, Ezra Cleveland, Aviante Collins, Dakota Dozier, Pat Elflein, Tyler Higby, Rashod Hill, Kyle Hinton, Brett Jones, Jake Lacina, Brian O’Neill, Riley Reiff, Dru Samia, and Oli Udoh
Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, and Brian O’Neill
Bradbury had an unspectacular rookie season, finishing 28th overall in Pro Football Focus’s rankings for centers. For the Vikings to see a significant improvement on their line, Bradbury will need to take a step forward. In so doing, Bradbury will not only elevate his play, but also allow the guards to perform better.
Cleveland will be on the Vikings’ roster. The only question is whether or not he is ready to start immediately. There are legitimate concerns about his ability to holdup against NFL power. That being said, there were similar concerns about O’Neill, which were largely unfounded. The guess here is that Cleveland’s athleticism will get him on the field sooner rather than later.
O’Neill gives Vikings fans hope. He has the ability to become a top-tier tackle in the NFL. If he does so, the Vikings will be well-positioned to form a competent offensive line at some point in the next few years. Having a truly elite player at right tackle – one who can repeatedly win one-on-one matchups – would allow Kubiak to send help to weaker areas of the line.
Rashod Hill, Riley Reiff, Dru Samia, and Oli Udoh
As an UDFA, Hill has done remarkably well. He has great size and length. The Vikings value his ability as a swing-tackle, and it’s easy to see why. He provides tremendous insurance if one of their starting tackles goes down.
Reiff is an above average NFL tackle. Generally speaking, being above average in a Minnesota Vikings offensive line virtually guarantees a spot on the roster. The only real uncertainty comes with the contract. Reiff, according to Over the Cap, is the Vikings’ second most expensive player, costing $13.2 million. If they cut him, the Vikings would save $8.8 million.
Samia appears to have the upper hand in the RG competition. Coming out of college, Samia had a reputation as a rugged, aggressive offensive lineman. Bullying college d-linemen is different than bullying NFL d-linemen, so it will be interesting to see if Samia can live up to his reputation as he truly competes for the starter position.
Udoh has so much potential. Albeit in a very small amount of snaps, Udoh put forth strong pass blocking grades last season. There is a small possibility of Udoh being the starting LT instead of Cleveland or Reiff. With Cleveland, Reiff, O’Neill, Hill, and Udoh, the Vikings should be able to put together a relatively strong pair of tackles.
Blake Brandel, Aviante Collins, Dakota Dozier, Pat Elflein, Kyle Hinton, and Brett Jones
Brandel played tackle in college, but some athletic limitations suggest he will switch to guard in the NFL. We think he will make the roster, outperforming his draft slot by developing into a solid option at guard.
The Vikings have always been enamored with Collins’s athleticism. Injuries, though, have undercut his ability to meaningfully contribute. It may finally be time to cut Collins and move on.
Dozier is a seasoned vet who provides the ability to play multiple positions. Only $90,000 on his contract is guaranteed, so the Vikings can cut him with essentially no financial consequence.
It’s time for the Vikings to move on from Elflein. While he is still on a relatively modest deal, has starter experience, and has the flexibility to play multiple positions along the interior, Vikings coaches must be frustrated. He had a promising rookie season but has mostly struggled since then. The Vikings would save more than $2 million if they cut him.
Chosen in the 7th round, Hinton is an undersized, athletic guard. He seems like a prime candidate to spend a year on the practice squad.
In spite of their consistent unwillingness to actually play him on Sunday, Vikings coaches certainly seem to value Jones. He is a steady, veteran backup for Bradbury. He is better in pass protection than with run blocking, perhaps explaining his inability to get onto the field.
Brady Aiello, Tyler Higby, and Jake Lacina
It may be all about the practice squad for these three. Even with the uncertainty at guard and years of subpar play along the line, Aeillo, Hibgy, and Lacina will likely struggle to separate themselves from the pack.
Pre-Training Camp Roster Projection: Bradbury, Brandel, Cleveland, Dozier, Hill, Jones, O’Neill, Reiff, Samia, and Udoh
Pre-Training Camp Starter Projection: Cleveland (LT), Reiff (LG), Bradbury (C), Samia (RG), and O’Neill (RT)
We finish off the Roster Projection Series tomorrow when we look at the special teams.