Draft Target: Justin Pugh
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Leslie Frazier didn’t exactly give current offensive line backups a ringing endorsement when he said “we need a swing tackle, we don’t have that.” He went on to say the Vikings “need more competition at the guard position” and these comments struck me as out of character for a guy that normally seems very careful about saying anything that might shed a negative light on his current roster.
On the other hand, he certainly isn’t lying.
The Vikings could use an increase of talent at the guard position, someone capable of pushing both starters, and they don’t really have a proven swing tackle on the roster. The need is there, and it may not be a first round need, but Frazier probably isn’t sending up any smokescreens in this specific instance.
One option outside of the first round could be Syracuse left tackle Justin Pugh, standing at 6′ 4″ and 307 pounds, who was a rock solid pass protector in college but probably fits best as a utility lineman in the NFL due to his lack of size. At Syracuse he was a redshirt freshman, started every game in the next two seasons, and then had to sit the first four games of the 2012 season due to an offseason surgery on his shoulder. He played in each of the remaining nine games as a starter.
Pugh is a divisive prospect in the draftnik community. Some say that his lack of size and short arms, combined with suspect strength which leads to struggles against bull rushes, will prevent him from ever having a very high ceiling. Others say that his mobility, footwork, balance and quickness will allow him to be an immediate upgrade at guard for some NFL team.
Me? I tend to think he is a classic “mixed bag” case and will be a bit of both. He clearly has some physical limitations, but there is also a lot to like about his agile style of play for teams running a zone blocking scheme. He is not only an athletic offensive lineman, but a technician that continues to develop his craft, with plenty of starting experience (37 games) to build off of.
Lastly, Pugh is known as a very high character guy with an incredible work ethic. He has long supported worthy causes, such as the Special Olympics, and will surely make his future franchise proud with his off-field commitment to doing good.
His limited skill set may cause some teams to slide Pugh down their draft board, and he may fall as far as the third round, but that could play right into the hands of teams like the Vikings that could utilize Pugh’s attributes on Sundays. He would be well worth a second round selection for the Vikings, and would be considered an absolute steal in the third. He is someone to keep an eye on during day two.