2014 Minnesota Vikings Free Agency: Vikings to Sign OL Vlad Ducasse–UPDATE: Confirmed!

Evidently not satisfied with the state of their offensive line, the Minnesota Vikings are planning to sign former Jets offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse, who chose Minnesota over Cincinnati, per Kristian Dyer of the Metro New York Newspaper (and occasional contributor to Yahoo Sports  and ESPN).

Ducasse has been a disappointment for the New York Jets, and was largely seen as a project with enormous potential. He has the prototypical size (listed at 6’5″ with 34.5″ arms) and weight (323 pounds) of a top-tier offensive lineman. When at UMass, he was extemely quick and light on his feet, which is why he was initially projected to play tackle when the Jets drafted him in the second round. From what it sounds like, the Jets haven’t decided to pursue him in free agency, though it may be telling that some of the best developmental staff in the NFL did pursue him.

**UPDATE: Per Darren Wolfson , there’s no verbal agreement in place yet, and we’ll likely hear news in the coming days about Ducasse’s decision. Given that the Bengals signed Marshall Newhouse as a swing player, it does not seem like the Bengals are at the top of the list. Wolfson also reported there’s another “mystery team” in the running.

**UPDATE: Confirmed, per Adam Caplan!

The biggest issue coming out for Ducasse was his limited exposure to football. An immigrant from Haiti, he didn’t really start playing football until later in his life (though at this point has had about ten years of exposure). His issues in college were all related to experience: technique and play recognition. He did a poor job recognizing stunts and though he had light feet, they weren’t often in put the right spot.

New York hasn’t elected to play him at tackle all that often (and right tackle when they have), but he has played a significant amount of snaps at guard. For all his upside, however, he hasn’t blossomed into a very good NFL player. In fact, he’s been abysmal.

Ducasse has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic, but that hasn’t translated to skill on the field. He was named the starter at left guard for the first time this year, but was quickly replaced by rookie (and fellow small-school swingman) Brian Winters after four disastrous starts (though according to Pro Football Focus, only three of the starts were disastrous and one was good).

Though he played with a mean streak in college, he’s played with some tentativeness in the NFL, though some Jets bloggers chalk this up to hesitancy in recognizing his assignment rather than shying away from physicality. There have been some bursts of brilliance, but he’s been largely disappointing. On a per-snap basis, he ranks 72nd of 81 guards in Pro Football Focus’ rating, and one Jets blogger told me he was the “worst offensive lineman I’ve ever seen.”

There’s reason to believe that offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is one of the best in the business, and therefore able to develop Ducasse, but even if it saves a draft pick by avoiding the typical late-round lineman pick, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Ducasse was new to football. He isn’t anymore and has been bad in all but the simplest of assignments. The fact that there’s a great likelihood that Davidson will be in charge of the running scheme once more means that Ducasse will be expected to back up linemen in one of the most complex systems of the NFL. It may be better to pick a younger lineman with a larger band of uncertainty surrounding his NFL talent than Ducasse (who in fairness is 26), who will have four years of experience and a smaller likelihood of turning into a reliable starter.

I’m not sure he’s shown much progress over his four years in New York (New Jersey), and I’m not sure he has much more progress left to show. He’s a mountainous man who can move quickly (though without a ton of burst), but much more than that is needed to compete at the highest level.

The Vikings have a short history of trying out their biggest offensive linemen at right tackle (Bond, Love, Kropog and Loadholt) instead of guard, and that may be where Ducasse is primarily expected to back up witht he option to kick in, if need be. While this better takes advantage of his physical skill set, I’m not sure it really takes into account the limitations of his technical and mental skill sets.

**UPDATE: Darren Wolfson tells us that Vlad Ducasse has only been discussed as a guard for the Vikings, and that they did not mention tackle in their discussions with him.

For now, this signing draws skepticism from me, but if you trust Davidson (and there is ample reason to), there’s some hope in it yet. Especially if it saves a draft pick.