The Vikings Now Have No Excuses on Offense in 2021
For the first time since 2002, the Vikings selected two offensive linemen within the first three rounds during last week’s NFL Draft. With the selections of first-round tackle Christian Darrisaw and third-round guard Wyatt Davis, Minnesota was able to pencil in its Week 1 starting offensive line. On Day 3, the Vikings picked a receiver that Gopher fans will recognize, Iowa playmaking receiver Ihmir Marsette-Smith. With these three players, the Vikings should boast a more complete offense. While the unit can pad a stat sheet and hit explosive plays throughout games, it can also appear clunky for stretches. So with the offensive line patched up and a potentially viable and explosive WR3, the Vikings now have no excuses on offense heading into the 2021 season.
Darrisaw, of course, fills the shoes of Riley Reiff, the leader of the line since 2017. Reiff was perhaps the team’s best lineman in 2020, but after several restructures and pay cuts, the team cut the steady-yet-unspectacular veteran. Darrisaw may not be an instant upgrade Day 1 of camp, but he has tremendous upside. Standing 6-5 and weighing 322 pounds, Darrisaw possesses ideal size for the position. But he also brings exceptional footwork and athleticism that fits like a glove in the Vikings zone-run scheme. If Darrisaw can stifle the elite pass rushers that gave Reiff trouble from time to time, the Vikings will have hit a home run here.
While Darrisaw was a well-known target for Minnesota pre-draft, it was Wyatt Davis falling to the team at pick 86 overall in the third round that became a welcome surprise. Long story short, Davis’ draft stock fell in 2020, and he fell even further in the draft than expected on Day 2 of the draft. The Vikings snagged the Ohio State guard, and the hope and expectation is that he will be a Day 1 starter at either guard position.
The Davis pick showed that the team will not rely on a late-round guard project to work out. After swinging and missing on guys like David Yankey, Dru Samia, and Willie Beavers on Day 3 in the past decade, the team grabbed a sure-thing in Wyatt. He is strong at the point of contact, and a leader among his collegiate teammates.
The question about where Davis will line up comes down to the fact that he played right guard in college. The starter there for a majority of last season in Minnesota was Ezra Cleveland, a left tackle-turned-guard because of injuries. Cleveland can likely move along the line again to left guard, and the coaching staff may not love the idea of lining up two rookies next to each other. It isn’t set in stone, but expect Davis to be the starting right guard when the season begins.
Together, the Darrisaw and Davis picks will hopefully solidify an offensive line that has been the team’s Achilles’ Heel for most of the past decade. With a quarterback who isn’t reminding many folks of Fran Tarkenton, beefing up the line was essential in maximizing Kirk Cousins’ talent. And if Cousins’ talent is maximized, the full potential of the 2021 Vikings offense will be maximized as well.
WR3 Finally Gets Some Juice
If there is another glaring hole the Vikings have had for years on offense, it has been at their third receiver spot. Although Adam Thielen has formed great duos with Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson, the receivers behind them haven’t added much. Last season, Chad Beebe ranked third among all Vikings receivers with 201 yards and one touchdown. Minnesota found ways to implement tight ends Tyler Conklin and Irv Smith, Jr. into their passing game as well, but there was no one to truly take the top off the defense and provide a legitimate threat behind Thielen and Jefferson.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, drafted in the fifth round of this year’s draft, has all the tools to become that threat. He ran a 4.43 forty-yard dash and posted a 37-inch vertical. But Smith-Marsette is more than just a trackstar wearing pads. He showcased his athleticism at Kinnick Stadium, scoring 14 touchdowns through the air, four on the ground, and two via kick return. He isn’t the most polished route runner, but Smith-Marsette can be used as a Swiss Army Knife. And with an offense that already contains Thielen, Jefferson, and Dalvin Cook, that can be a weapon that defenses sometimes forget about.
Time to Perform
With the rest of the holes on offense now being filled with these three picks, the Vikings and Kirk Cousins have no room for excuses in 2021. The offensive line won’t be worse than it was in 2020, and it could even end up being pretty dang formidable. The receiving corps finally got some added pop with Smith-Marsette, and that should take pressure off every skill position player on offense.