The Dallas Cowboys selected Zack Martin with the 16th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and many debated whether the Notre Dame tackle was worthy of a first round selection. Jerry Jones opted for the safe choice, passing on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for a chance to bolster what was then the NFL’s best offensive line.
“Is Martin as a guard worthy of a mid-first round pick? That’s debatable,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar. Other media members shared Farrar’s sentiment, and all were quickly proven wrong. Martin finished his rookie season as the NFL’s fourth-best run-blocking guard, per Pro Football Focus, and continued his elite play in 2015. The right guard position is a non-need for the Cowboys, and it will be for years to come because of Martin. This year’s draft class is a bit top-heavy with interior offensive line prospects, putting the Minnesota Vikings in a similar position as Dallas two years ago.
Widely considered the top guard in the class, Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair is drawing plenty of interest from NFL teams, one of those being the Vikings. According to reports from ESPN 1500’s Andrew Krammer, general manager Rick Spielman and staff are pouring their time into Whitehair:
#Vikings digging on Whitehair, who said he met with Tony Sparano twice at Senior Bowl and again here at combine.
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) February 24, 2016
A 50-game starter at Kansas State, Whitehair played nearly every position along the offensive line. He began at right tackle, moved to left guard and back to right tackle before finishing his senior season as the Wildcats’ left tackle. His success at all three positions has made Whitehair the top lineman in the class, and he’s projected as a first-round pick. While other, more flashy players may be available when the Vikings are on the clock at No 23, Whitehair is arguably the safest offensive line prospect since Martin in 2014.
Selecting Whitehair — if he’s available — would potentially bolster a position of need for Minnesota. The team wants to keep Phil Loadholt at right tackle in 2016, but questions surround guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris entering the offseason. Fusco struggled in the transition to left guard last season, finishing the year as PFF’s 44th-ranked guard. Harris, meanwhile, is a free agent and may demand a more expensive contract elsewhere.
A player like Whitehair has the ability to step in immediately start for the Vikings in 2016. He underwhelmed with his bench press (16 repetitions) at the Combine, and there are still concerns about his below-average arm length, but Whitehair is a technician who can easily translate his game to the NFL. Spielman would be more than happy adding the next Zack Martin to his offensive line, and it’s clear the front office is doing all the homework it can on the touted offensive lineman.