Note: This Article originally appeared on our sister-site purplePTSD.com. For this and other daily articles, check out purplePTSD as we get closer to the season!
If you’ve followed purplePTSD.com or it’s main podcast, The purpleJOURNAL Podcast, this off-season, you’ll know that I’ve fluctuated between completely panicked and downright hopeless when it comes to what is arguably the most important position group on any football team, the offensive line or namely, the Vikings offensive line. I was one of the first and loudest proponents of the Vikings adding quarterback Kirk Cousins earlier this off-season and when passionately debating whether or not the Vikings should break the bank to acquire him with fellow host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast Luke Braun, who rightly pointed out that Cousins has struggled while under pressure in his career, I stated that I wasn’t particularly worried about that, as the Vikings would still have the money and draft picks necessary to add some offensive line depth (and potential starters) as the off-season progressed. The draft and the rest of free agency have come and gone and depending on what happens with second round pick Brian O’Neill, the Vikings will most likely end up going into the season with a group of offensive lineman that struggled mightily in the playoffs last season, with Nick Easton returning at left guard but without arguably the best player on the line in Joe Berger at right guard. The only silver lining is that Mike Remmers will be playing at right guard as opposed to left guard, but that isn’t enough to alleviate the concern that people like me have had about this unit and what it means for this teams chances in a crazy competitive NFC and now someone at Pro Football Focus is joining in and stealing my thunder (kidding (sort of)) by shining a light on the potential disaster that is the 2018 Minnesota Vikings offensive line.
Mike Renner of PFF recently ranked all 32 offensive line units and had the Vikings all the way down at 28. Of the unit, he said:
“28. Minnesota Vikings
While the Vikings line certainly made strides in 2017, Case Keenum was still the third-most frequently pressured quarterback in the NFL. After investing heavily in it last offseason, their starting five may very well remain status quo heading into 2018.
The only likely change is if second-round pick Brian O’Neill can win the starting right tackle job. Based on his 1-on-1 performances at the Senior Bowl though, where he won only 27 percent of his reps, he may not be NFL ready anytime soon.”
I hate to say I told you so… But, yeah. After the draft I wasn’t necessarily angry, as I was just confused as to why the Vikings ended up taking another corner in the first round when they obviously had so many needs at the offensive line position. After an off-season last year in which the team seemed to be making all the right moves to build a serviceable line after a 2016 season that was a complete disaster mostly thanks to a offensive line that was patchwork at best and then historically bad after the older, more injury prone offensive lineman starting doing what they did best and getting injured (and aging). For whatever reason, call it greed, the Vikings rolled the dice at the end of the first round this past April in drafting Mike Hughes, as they most likely thought that they would have a bunch of interior lineman to choose from with their second pick the next day. That clearly didn’t end up happening and while some people, whom I really respect, are really bullish on Brian O’Neill and his potential to contribute both this season and the future, it’s safe to say that the Vikings plan back in April backfired big time and they’re now attempting to compensate for that by doing what they did during the playoffs last year which is moving Remmers to guard.
I’ve been talked off the ledge by other writers for purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, who have said that O’Neill will contribute earlier than expected, as he’s been able to put on a tremendous amount of weight this off-season. A former tight end, perhaps the reason that O’Neill was blown up off the ball in the above-mentioned Senior Game was simply because he didn’t have the weight necessary to play his position and now that he’s weighing in at over 300 pounds, it could mean that he could fill-in this season if/when needed. That raises the question as to what the team would do with Riley Reiff, the left tackle who they brought in last off-season (outside of what I’ve heard which is basically that the team could cut Reiff for the cap space but that doesn’t help the team now or this season). Reiff did play some guard in college, so perhaps they could move him to left guard, Easton to center or right guard and then Elflein to right guard (as he did play some guard in college, also). Elflein played both left and right guard at Ohio State, as recently as his junior year in which he played all 13 games at the right guard spot. That could allow Remmers to play right tackle, which’d be a better scenario than Rashod Hill playing the position. Considering the fact that the line was the reason that the offense turned the ball over twice early in the NFC Championship game with Hill at right tackle, which basically ruined any momentum that they did have, one has to worry about what this means about the 2018 season.
Either way, the fact that it’s the middle of July and we’re having these conversations is nigh infuriating, as you’d think that the team that just gave out the biggest contract in NFL history would want to protect that investment. The only actual silver lining is the potential that the team will be able to snag some depth during training camp once teams start making cuts of veteran players to save cap space (or perhaps even some younger players get cut by a team that has actually done their due diligence and built a team/offense around their offensive line). We have all seen, recently, what can happen to a season when the offensive line falls apart and while it may be hyperbolic to compare the current Vikings line to the unit this team had during the 2016 season, it’s only one or two injuries away from being in a similar position and basically destroying a rare draft pick at the position because they end up using that young player as a band-aid and destroying their confidence a la T.J. Clemmings (with the player in this instance being Brian O’Neill). I really wouldn’t mind if I ended up being wrong about all this because it’d mean great things for the team, but considering that PFF is now putting numbers behind my feeling of panic, it’s starting to look like my biggest fears are coming true.
But, I hate to say I told you so…