The Minnesota Vikings made an anticipated offensive guard selection by drafting Stanford’s David Yankey in the fifth round.
Yankey was widely regarded as the standout performer on the supremely talented Stanford offensive line from each of the last two seasons. He started at left guard in 2011, was moved out to left tackle and did a fine job in 2012, then moved back inside to left guard in 2013.
A dud of a showing at the Scouting Combine has been pointed to as the reason for Yankey’s slide to the third day of the draft. He did forego a year of collegiate eligibility after all. The reasons must go beyond just below average athleticism.
Without further ado, let’s dig into why Yankey received all kinds of plaudits as a collegiate player and even as a prospect but also why he may have ended up so far down the draft board.
Discussing athleticism is the convenient way to start with David Yankey. He was a player pinpointed as a major faller after his poor combine performance. Mockdraftable.com provides graphical data on where Yankey falls in terms of percentiles with other guard prospects in measurable combine numbers.
Yankey is on the bigger end of the offensive guard spectrum, especially in terms of height. He is tall, thickly-built, and long-limbed. His physical measurements probably factored in Stanford’s decision to platoon him at left tackle for a season, where he more than held his own. Just seeing the size of Yankey should point to a power scheme right away. The athletic measurements back that up.
Drills like the 40-yard dash and the 10-yard split inside of it can be over-evaluated with offensive lineman. The 3-cone drill and short shuttle can be relevant though. Neither of those paint Yankey in the best picture. His jumps landing above the 50th percentile is a positive indication towards his ability to generate power from his legs.
The below average numbers Yankey put up as a whole should not have shocked anyone who has seen him play though. His game is far from reliant on athletic advantages, even at the collegiate level. Numbers related to overall speed and quickness shouldn’t factor largely into an evaluation of a guard either.
The type of athlete Yankey is requires a specific fit, which we will dig into before long. He certainly had that fit at Stanford and that’s why he thrived.
Stanford’s rushing attack specifically left nothing to the imagination. They wanted to pound the ball down the throat of defenses and it meshed with Yankey’s skills. Stanford didn’t run a huge variety of plays in the ground game either. Slight variations of this one were their bread and butter.
Yankey would pull and wrap around the center to lead block quite regularly. Sometimes there was hardly an assigned player for him to block, just a scrum to push. Notice the poor balance and overall coordination to Yankey’s movement though. That becomes a theme when you watch a large enough sample size of him. We’ll come back to it.
Stanford still had success when they got Yankey on the move. He’s smart about his angles and his approach to defenders. Cardinal backs were disciplined and patient running behind him, which was also important.
This is where Yankey’s best trait comes in. He’s really big. When he takes precise angles and gets to the right spots as a blocker, there’s a ton of man for defenders to get around and they won’t be going through him.
Even when Yankey is on the move, where he doesn’t cover ground quickly, he can be effective. Getting him moving is not easy though. Yankey’s inability to accelerate out of his stance and up the field will slow down run plays when he pulls and leads.
It’s his awareness and precision that still makes him impactful.
Yankey keeps his eyes up, locates the first inside threat, gets his own helmet across the defender and then fans the defender back away from the play. The technique is impeccable. Even though Yankey isn’t the most mobile offensive guard, he can still do sufficient work when you get him on the move.
The problems that his lack of athletic ability isn’t as much related to speed and quickness as it is to balance. Go back to the first gif where he’s falling over before he ever makes contact with the defender. That’s not a rare occurrence.
He doesn’t stay on his feet after lunging into this run block, eventually trying to save himself from his knees. This play and others paint a clear picture of one of Yankey’s biggest problems. He doesn’t have the balance to keep his feet and sustain blocks regularly. Instead, he lunges himself into blocks and ends up on the ground when defenders slide off.
Lack of outright quickness can still be problematic for Yankey at times. He doesn’t make enough of an impact at the second level in getting linebackers blocked when time is short and congestion reigns.
Yankey can’t slide around the defensive tackle quick enough to reach the linebacker, who is able to flow over the top and stuff this play. Yankey’s lack of athleticism can give him issues trying to reach defenders from the back side and cutting off pursuit.
His effectiveness as a combo blocker on the front side far outdoes his work from the back side. On plays run off his tail, the route up the field is simpler and plays into the hands of a bigger guard. Wider splits and less congestion at the line of scrimmage are also beneficial.
Yankey does a sufficient job climbing to the second level and squaring up linebackers by taking precise angles. Again, the trick is balance to sustain the block for him.
Even his lateral footwork as a run blocker isn’t that bad.
A perfect angle is once again the reason this block works. Yankey maneuvers himself well to almost sprint and get across the defensive end before then turning his outside shoulder up the field to go chest to chest with him.
At the end of the day, Yankey’s movement skills won’t be a reason for his failure in the pros if he indeed fails. His limitations give him a clear scheme fit and may keep him from becoming an All-Pro type offensive guard. Even so, he has sufficient athletic ability to more than make it if he can learn to play with better balance.
A bigger issue is actually the power and physicality, or lack thereof, which he has shown. His playing style has been described in numerous ways that often say the same thing. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports says Yankey “needs to add more glass to his diet” in his 2014 NFL Draft Guide. Mark Dulgerian of Optimum Scouting describes it in further detail, saying “…he’s not a nasty player by nature. You would also like to see more violence in his upper body, especially in his punch” in the Optimum Scouting 2014 NFL Draft Guide.
There are numerous examples where Yankey should have been more assertive and physical with his hands, but doesn’t strike the opponent with much force.
Yankey does everything right up until he makes contact with the linebacker. He fails to fire his hands and strike with any kind of impact at all. When he has a head of steam, he should be able to steamroll a sitting duck. It’s all too passive from Yankey.
As far as sheer power goes, Yankey isn’t necessarily as strong as his frame indicates he would be. He has enough bulk and resistance strength to hold his ground with ease. He’s just not a churner who overpowers opponents at the line of scrimmage.
For all these reasons, Yankey is mostly an average run blocker. He won’t run out ahead and make big blocks down the field or to the perimeter. He won’t flatten defensive tackles or linebackers almost ever. Yankey is just a bit of a technician who still has issues with balance and mentality when it comes to sustaining blocks longer than the initial contact.
Yankey’s chops in pass protection are quite different. His experience playing left tackle as well as left guard is not the sole reason here but is an important factor. He has all the intelligence, anticipation, and awareness to handle stunts, twists and blitz packages up front. Having played both guard and tackle aids that.
This is one example of the quick reactions Yankey has to various rush packages. Handling complex looks will only become tougher for him still in the NFL. Opposing teams rarely showed exotic blitzes to a Stanford team that always established the run and possessed a mobile quarterback who could elude the rush. Both of those features may remain in Minnesota but not to the degree of Stanford.
Hand usage is much better from Yankey in pass protection than as a run blocker, for whatever reason. Maybe the “defensive” aspect of pass blocking suits his mentality better than the “attacking” aspect of the run game. Either way, his hands prove stronger.
The most notable positive is that Yankey does a great job placing his hands. He keeps them inside the shoulders of the rusher while extending his hands out away from his body, avoiding holding penalties and keeping the rusher off his chest.
Yankey gained experience against a wide variety of pass rushers from his time at guard and tackle with Stanford. The cat and mouse game isn’t too much for him to handle in terms of rush moves. He also isn’t about to be driven into the lap of the quarterback. Yankey anchors himself with planted feet and is very difficult to move.
His matchups with Will Sutton in 2013 showed off the talent he has in pass protection. He shut Sutton down repeatedly.
Most battles went down this way. Yankey’s aggressive protection style is easy to pick out here. He doesn’t retreat much, sometimes even taking a step forward in his pass set and bringing himself to the defensive tackle quicker. In order to limit mistakes, he has to have the anticipation for stunts and twists that want to catch him out of position.
He also must ensure that he’s remaining balanced, which brings up back to a previous issue.
The problem is that when Yankey tries to punch, he gets his shoulders too far forward and off balance. When the defensive tackle makes his move to the inside, Yankey doesn’t have his feet under him in order to mirror it. This isn’t uncommon.
Overall, David Yankey is an offensive guard who should be quality depth at the very least but be expected to contribute as a starter at some point. He doesn’t possess the top level athletic ability and raw power combination of most All-Pro, game-changing offensive guards. Yankey is a cog, and the Vikings will be happy to get one of those in the fifth round.
Nobody should have been surprised that the Vikings addressed the interior offensive line with a late-round selection. That has happened four of the past five drafts now. Rick Spielman and the front office have shown their hand on building the offensive line.
Average salaries from Spotrac.com.
High picks are used at the tackle position. Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are the bookends. The interior offensive line is being built through late round picks and player development. The promising thing is that it’s working, with John Sullivan and Brandon Fucso becoming a lot more than what was expected of them a few years ago.
Tradeoffs also have to be made in terms of salaries. Maybe it’s a result of the actual players on the roster, but it appears Spielman and company want to invest in the tackle positions and at center, filling their offensive line out with offensive guards on the cheap. The numerous offensive guard selections in the late rounds (Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco, Jeff Baca, David Yankey) fall in line with that philosophy.
The relatively high cost of Charlie Johnson, his age (30), and his average play means his days are probably numbered with the selection of Yankey. Few Vikings fans will be upset to see him go.
Yankey may be the only Minnesota rookie that wasn’t selected in the seventh round yet won’t see the field at all as a rookie. The experience and already-forged chemistry up front should give Charlie Johnson a big enough advantage if an actual battle does occur for the starting spot. It still seems likely that Yankey will take over Johnson’s spot at some point in the future. That could happen before the 2015 season or even two years from now, when Johnson’s contract runs out.
In looking at how David Yankey fits into the current offensive system, not a lot is different in terms of what Norv Turner will do up front compared to Bill Musgrave’s scheme. The same offensive line coach is still in place, Jeff Davidson.
The running game will still lean on a man-blocking system that identifies a rushing lane in the call. Blockers then have a point of reference for their blocks. It also involves frequent pulling of guards, which Yankey is accustomed to.
To keep things simple, we’ll take a look at four different plays types that will tell a big part of whether or not David Yankey becomes a successful starter for the Vikings.
Pass protection is the logical place to begin. Norv Turner will be more inclined to use five-man protections instead of using a tight end or running back to supplement the offensive line. Against a classic four-man rush, that means one of the guards is probably singled up without the help of the center.
Cleveland left guard John Greco has Nick Fairley to himself on this play. A guard who has a lapse or two in every game in these situations is a guard who doesn’t last, especially in the NFC North as it exists. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Will Sutton, Ego Ferguson, Mike Daniels, Mike Neal, and Datone Jones are all viable threats as rushers, just waiting to apply pressure from the interior.
Movement blocks in the run game will also be crucial. I expect Yankey can step right in and wedge defensive tackles out of plays on a typical front-side block. His effectiveness as a mover is more complicated because he was very effective doing so in college but isn’t a great athlete in NFL terms.
One of Turner’s bread and butter run plays from shotgun formations will have Yankey leading up the hole as a lead blocker.
Perimeter run plays will also increase in usage. With Adrian Peterson carrying the ball, David Yankey’s acceleration to top speed will be important. His angles are usually plenty trustworthy.
Greco fails to drive through the linebacker, who bounces off his block and makes the play.
The last part of Yankey’s game to look for is versatility. He will be asked to make blocks outside of his comfort zone as Turner varies blocking schemes and assignments. This is an example of something he was rarely asked to do at Stanford.
Zone blocking is mostly foreign to Yankey at this point. As you can see, Greco doesn’t exactly excel making this block either, at least against a defensive tackle like Geno Atkins.
From everything I’ve seen of both David Yankey and Charlie Johnson, I would expect the latter to win the starting job for 2014 handily. Seeing through to the Vikings’ long-term plan is pretty clear. Yankey will be groomed to take over for Johnson as soon as he proves to be a better offensive guard, with cost a consideration.
Don’t expect David Yankey to be the second coming of Steve Hutchinson. He’s neither a tremendous athlete nor a dominant force. If some of his highlighted shortcomings can be improved upon, he can be a viable starter.
Gifs courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com and NFL Game Rewind.