The Vikings Offensive Line Is a Work in Progress
If you’re anything like me, you’ve likely been asking yourself about how our Vikings will seek to improve their humble offensive line. There was a time when Minnesota had options at guard, and it wasn’t that long ago that we could at least be confident in the Riley Reiff-Brian O’Neill tackle tandem. Unfortunately, the Vikings have more questions than answers after a week of free agency. If anything, the o-line has gotten worse, so it’s worth questioning how Minnesota will move forward.
The Vikings Offensive Line
It’s been a long time since this unit was the strength of the team. We’ve been fortunate to have some good players, but the collective unit leaves a lot to be desired. Last season, fans became accustomed to Dakota Dozier — who has the perfect name for an offensive lineman, I hasten to add — regularly allowing near immediate pressure on Captain Kirk. The crazy thing is that he was actually better than Dru Samia.
Ezra Cleveland provided fans with more hope, but he was far from elite. Now, we need to contextualize Cleveland’s average performance. He was a second-round LT coming into the NFL during a pandemic who made the switch to RG mid-season. In other words, Cleveland performed admirably under the circumstances. The kid was set up to fail and he actually did pretty good. By no means should we be content with pretty good; by no means should we be overly critical of Cleveland’s play. If Zim calls to ask for my advice, I’ll suggest that Cleveland gets put back at tackle, but I’m still waiting on that call. The lack of free agent urgency (at least when it comes to the offensive line) suggests that Minnesota is penciling Cleveland into one of the five starting spots. The safe money is on RG.
Anyone who has followed Minnesota in recent years knows that Brian O’Neill is a stud. O’Neill has always gotten credit for his athleticism, but the dude doesn’t get enough praise for his fiery competitiveness. Go back and re-watch the Kirk Cousins You-Like-That?!? moment in Minnesota’s locker room. Who emerges from the crowd to give Cousins a hearty shake? When you partner that kind of passion with the elite athleticism, good things happen on the field.
Otherwise, Minnesota’s o-line is banking on another step forward from Garrett Bradbury. His PFF ranking was better in 2020, but still quite modest. The hope, though, is that a Bradbury-Cleveland-O’Neill trio can give the Vikings a young, dynamic right side of the offensive line. It’s no guarantee, but at least there seems to be a plan. What will they do with the rest of the line?
Bringing in Outside Talent
Expect our Vikings to target the o-line high in the draft. The safe money rests on an upside tackle at 14, but let’s not overlook Spielman’s proclivity for trading back. The dude loves acquiring more picks. If several QBs go in the top ten (spoiler: several QBs will go top ten), then Spielman will have the luxury of either choosing a player who ought to have been chosen higher or trading back. 14th overall should be a sweet spot for a player who has top-ten talent.
Fans should be keeping an eye on Christian Darrisaw. I know Mel Kiper’s recent mock suggested Minnesota would trade up for Penei Sewell, and I’m not going to say that’s not a dream scenario. A Sewell-O’Neill tandem is a world I want to live in. The problem is that it mostly seems like a dream world. I’d be thrilled if I was wrong, but I think Sewell ends up in Cincinnati.
Darrisaw certainly appears to be the next-best option. He is The Draft Network‘s second-best offensive lineman, finishing 10th overall in their rankings. They specifically note his fit in outside zone running scheme. Dalvin Cook would likely benefit from Darrisaw out in front of him, and Cousins’ life may even be easier in the passing game. Other names to remember include Rashawn Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker. If the Vikings do trade down and pickup a second round pick, Landon Dickerson and Wyatt Davis should be serious contenders for the opening at LG.
Of course, there are still some notable names in free agency, but most are tackles. Even still, the Vikings will likely bring in at least one veteran o-lineman in the next few days.
The process isn’t over. Spielman is still working the phones as he tries to improve the Vikings offensive line. Hopefully, Minnesota’s plan involves keeping some continuity on the right side, especially since O’Neill should find his permanent home at RT. From there, they’ll likely be looking to Rashod Hill or a rookie to takeover at LT. The real intrigue rests in how Minnesota will patch the hole at LG. I, like many Vikings fans, merely hope that the solution is better than last year’s.