In my first article in our series of training camp battles, I discussed Aviante Collins and Rashod Hill. Those two should be a fun battle to watch, but when it comes down to it, we hopefully won’t have to consistently see either play too much in the regular season. (Except when the Vikings are blowing everybody out by 40+ points.
So, for this second installment, I want to talk about a big battle that might make all the difference in the season. I am of course talking about the starting guard battle between Pat Elflien, Dakota Dozier, and Dru Samia.
With the departure of Josh Kline, the Minnesota Vikings have a lack of really solid options at the offensive guard position. Elflien slid over to left guard last season after Rick Spielman drafted the new center of the future, Garrett Bradbury. The hope was that Elflien moving would help him improve his blocking as left guard is supposed to be his more natural position.
Well, the move wasn’t the sudden fix that the team hoped for. Elflien was bullied over and over again in pass protection and was only marginally better in the run game. For a guy who started his career with so much promise, Elflien has become a guy that a lot of Vikings fans are sick of.
Granted, at the beginning of his career he was in an even worse position group and the mediocre performance could be excused with saying “he just needs more experience.” However, entering year four of his NFL career, Elflien is running out of excuses and time.
Unfortunately for Vikings fans, top brass obviously didn’t feel confident enough in any of the top guards available in the NFL Draft to take somebody to put pressure on Elflien. This leaves us with this short list of players really competing for the starting job and gives Elf a really good chance to hold onto his position for the last year of his rookie contract.
Dozier was one of two free agent guards the Vikings signed last offseason, the other being the now free agent Josh Kline. Although Kline was a better player, and started most of the season, Dozier got his chances playing when Kline was injured. He proved that he deserved to stick around, at least as a backup.
However, he never showed enough to crack the starting lineup except when Kline was out. He was often overmatched against better defensive tackles, particularly against Chicago’s Eddie Goldman in Minnesota’s week four loss at Soldier Field. However, Dozier did redeem himself with a decent performance for about half of Minnesota’s week 17 game against the Bears.
Dozier has less of a guarantee of a starting spot than Elflien, but he does have the most years of NFL experience of these three candidates. That doesn’t really give him much of an advantage though as it’s only a year more than Elflien and his snap count is significantly lower being a career backup so far.
The youngest, and least experienced, player on this list, Samia was the Vikings fourth round pick in 2019 and got a lot of hype during last year’s preseason. Samia became known for his nasty run blocking and high motor. However, this didn’t translate into many regular season opportunities for Samia.
Samia took a few special teams snaps against the New York Giants in week five, but saw a majority of his work in the Vikings week 17 game against Chicago. In that game, Samia didn’t start, but came off the bench to play about half of the game.
It’s very possible that Samia needs more time in the film room and with offensive line coach Rick Dennison. However, it seems like he has the physical tools and attitude to be a starter at the NFL level. It’s just a matter of whether he deserves that opportunity now, or in a year or two.
By The Numbers
|Pat Elflien||Dakota Dozier||Dru Samia|
|Weight||303 lbs||312 lbs||305 lbs|
|Arm Length||33 1/4″||33 7/8″||33″|
|Hand Size||9 3/4″||9 7/8″||10 1/8″|
|Bench Press Reps||22||23||28|
|Cap Gain/Loss If Cut||$2,133,000||$750,000||$675,000|
|PFF Offensive Grade||62.3||51.5||47.8|
|PFF Pass Block Grade||46.8||47.4||57.6|
|PFF Run Block Grade||66.2||51.4||46.8|
Cap numbers provided by OverTheCap.com, combine measurements provided by mockdraftable.com, other data provided by ProFootballFocus.com
This is a tough call as you have two spots available for three candidates, none of which I feel 100% confidence in as a starter. First things first, I don’t like Pat Elflien as a long-term option. However, he does grade higher than the other two in PFF’s system, has the most experience, and does at the very least maintain continuity.
I want to see more of Samia, but he’s likely still a raw product, although we’ll see when the Vikings play their two preseason games. Relying on him to give you a solid performance for 17 weeks is a big gamble. However, you have to give him a chance eventually. Maybe he pulls a Brian O’Neill and is far better than expected and ahead in his development.
Dakota Dozier. I like him as a veteran option to have around, but his terrible performance against better defensive tackles is very concerning. He also just got worse as he has to play more. He definitely shouldn’t be relied upon as your starter, but he can handle a backup role.
Now, this discussion assumes some things, mostly that these are the only three competing for these two spots. This discounts both rookie Ezra Cleveland, who Rick Spielman will reportedly look at sliding inside while he learns how to play left tackle in the NFL under Riley Reiff. It also ignores the chance of Aviante Collins, Oli Udoh, and others sneaking into this competition.
I chose these three because they were the easiest to compare because they are all the guards on the roster, minus seventh rounder Kyle Hinton. I also will have a chance to talk about others (Udoh, Reiff, Lacina, Cleveland) in other articles so I don’t want to be redundant with them.
Now that my due diligence is done explaining the limitations, I’ll say that I firstly expect this to be a “prove it” year for Elflien. He’s going to start the year as the starter at left guard, but he’s finally going to be given a short leash. If he figures it out, great, give him another contract. If he flops, again, show him the door.
Second, I think Samia gets his chance to start the season. I think he’s gonna do a lot of growing with in-game experience and unless he is way behind during training camp, he should win his battle. Dakota Dozier will either hang around to backup both guard positions or be a casualty of the roser size. There are many higher upside guys the Vikings need to keep and that could spell the end for Dozier.