The Minnesota Vikings have consistently had problems with their offensive line under Rick Spielman. Spielman has received criticism for what seems like a lack of a plan for the line and seemingly only making moves to pick up value free agents. However, there has also been a fair amount of bad luck involved with retirements, injuries, and players not caring to put in the work to stay in shape.
The one thing that Spielman hasn’t done in the past that has worked very well for other teams is draft offensive linemen, specifically tackles, in the first round. In fact, up until the Garrett Bradbury pick last April, Spielman hadn’t drafted any offensive linemen in the first round since his very first pick as GM. Perhaps he was still nervous since that pick was Matt Kalil and we all know how that worked out.
Last year, we saw a new commitment to the offensive line when the Vikings took Bradbury with their first pick and then a couple of high upside guys in Dru Samia and Oli Udoh. However, Spielman’s work is not done as the Vikings offensive line showed they were not ready to handle the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional round of this year’s playoffs.
Of course, the problems were there all year with the line having issues controlling the line of scrimmage. The Vikings have a very small line and that can be a major problem against power rushers and when trying to open holes in the run game. If the Vikings want to keep their zone blocking scheme, but increase the size of their front, they should consider Tristan Wirfs from the University of Iowa. Wirfs, a 6’5” 322-pound Junior from Mount Vernon, IA, would already be the third biggest Vikings with only Oli Udoh and Linval Joseph weighing more.
While playing for the Hawkeyes, Wirfs 35 games over three years. He spent most of his time at right tackle, but also filled in at left tackle occasionally. He was also the first true freshman to start at tackle in the Kirk Ferentz era, which started in 1999 and includes current Minnesota Vikings Riley Reiff. This season, Wirfs was named a second team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten as voted on by the coaches and media.
The first thing you notice about Wirfs is his size and power. He can hold up against practically any bull rush and, if he gets his hands square, can drive people into the ground for his running back.
He also has the length to play on the edge, and wouldn’t need to move inside to make it in the NFL. His feet are light enough that he can play in a scheme like the Vikings and lead on screen passes. With those light feet, he can get enough depth to stop edge rushers and has the balance to be able to reset his anchor.
Wirfs brings a ton of versatility with having played both tackle positions. However, I think his best move might be to go inside. He lacks some flexibility and can get beat by rushers who are able to bend away from him and avoid his hands. He also has a tendency to get setup on pass rush moves by good rushers, and will either need to be taught how to prevent that, or make the switch inside.
If he was to move inside, he would have to get more consistent with his nastiness and driving defenders back. He’s pretty good at it, and certainly has the power, but sometimes doesn’t put up enough fight and fails to go get somebody at the second level. He also can lose his balance when going to the second level and miss blocks by leaning too much before making contact.
If the Vikings wanted to get Wirfs, they would certainly need to spend their first round pick on him and might even need to move up to get him. However, there is a chance he falls as he isn’t a sure fire top-15 pick. Wirfs could be just what the Vikings need to replace the smaller Pat Elflien. He could even replace Riley Reiff in a year or two, if they want to train him to play the left side of the ball more. However, I think he is a more natural right tackle or guard, especially in the Vikings zone blocking scheme.
Wirfs is a tough call because if you’re taking a lineman in the first, you want them to play immediately, but you don’t need him to take Riley Reiff’s spot or Brian O’Neill’s. So you would need to slide him inside, but then you would need to teach him to play guard and he might not be ready to start the season. If he is the best player available at 25, I say either take him or drop back a spot or two and see what other picks you can get. The Vikings should not move up to get Wirfs.
Projected Draft Position: First Round
Best Traits: Power, Versatility
Biggest Drawbacks: Flexibility, Inconsistent attitude