It’s mock draft season, and the Minnesota Vikings are in the mix for some sort of trench-man. The Vikings offensive and defensive line performances were derelict in 2020, so most draft theories suggest that the team will fortify the trenches.
This time, Pro Football Focus nominates Christian Darrisaw for the task, an offensive tackle from Virginia Tech University.
On Darrisaw, PFF’s Austin Gayle writes:
“Darrisaw is one of the bigger college football breakouts in 2020. A former three-star recruit out of Maryland, Darrisaw has improved his grade from 68.6 starting at left tackle in 2018 up to 95.6 playing the same position in 2020. The 6-foot-5, 350-pounder earned himself some money this season, for sure.”
While offensive line is often a position that productive players can be found outside of the 1st Round of the draft, Minnesota has little luck in this regard. Notably, the Vikings nailed the selection of Brian O’Neill in 2018 (a 2nd-Rounder), but he is the exception to the rule. General Manager Rick Spielman notoriously whiffed on offensive linemen like Willie Beavers and TJ. Clemmings in the last decade.
So, the Vikings offensive line needs help. This is indisputable.
A choice of an impactful EDGE rusher at Minnesota’s 14th pick would be the most ideal, but a ready-on-day-one offensive lineman would be welcomed with open arms.
Offensive Line is Rolling Need
Minnesota’s pass-protection stinks – plain and simple. And the odor has ruminated for nearly a decade. The team generally generates commendable run-blocking for the likes of Dalvin Cook and Adrian Peterson of yesteryear, but the franchise has a difficult time keeping men like Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, and Teddy Bridgewater upright. On the whole, poor pass protection is the only consistent facet of football that plagues the Vikings. Well, maybe kicking, too.
The Vikings pass-protection was the NFL’s fourth-worst leaguewide in 2020 per PFF.
Vikings team pass block grade and rank since 2014:
2014: 72.4 (23rd)
2015: 67.9 (28th)
2016: 64.7 (30th)
2017: 71.9 (17th)
2018: 63.6 (27th)
2019: 63.0 (27th)
2020: 55.5 (29th)
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) January 14, 2021
Pass protection started off bad during the Zimmer era, became average-ish for one season in 2017, and then returned to futility. In a wildly unsurprising turn of events, the team reached the NFC Championship in the season that the pass-protection was not horrid.
Selecting a day-one starter in Darrisaw would, in theory, solidify the left tackle spot. The idea must be entertained. And that’s probably why PFF conveyed the Darrisaw-to-Vikings vision.
Defensive Line Left As-is or Fixed in FA
The choice of Darrisaw disallows the team from choosing a defensive end like Kwity Paye of Michigan or Gregory Rousseau of Miami (FL). Also per PFF, the Vikings pass-rush was the very worst in the NFL during 2020. We enter “pick your poison” territory.
Should the Vikings go the offensive-lineman route in the 2021 NFL Draft, virtually no fan will cry foul. But then the organization must hope that return of Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce is a massive remedy. It may be. It may not be. It’s a “maybe.”
Minnesota can spend its limited free-agency cap space on a veteran defensive end like Everson Griffen. Or Zimmer can roll with the Ifeadi Odenidbo-D.J. Wonnum combination.
All in all, the selection of Darrisaw – although an astute forward-thinking move – will force Zimmer to make do with his current pieces on the defensive line (or find a free-agent EDGE rusher).
This is how draft-day choices shakedown, though. What is the most-pressing need? If one believes Zimmer is more apt at fixing a defensive line (he is), then choosing an offensive lineman makes sense.
Passed on Patrick Surtain II
Interestingly, this mock draft allows the tumble of Patrick Surtain II – one of the premiere cornerbacks in the draft – to the 16th spot. There, the Arizona Cardinals scooped him to replace Patrick Peterson.
Zimmer adores corners. It would be odd for Surtain II to be available at No. 14 in the first place. Second, watching the Vikings pass on him – with his college coach, Karl Scott, now on Minnesota’s coaching staff – seems bizarre.
Minnesota’s offensive line has a current nucleus of Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, and Riley Reiff. If Spielman retains Reiff for 2020, Minnesota needs just one more piece to present decent offensive line. Maybe Darrisaw is just that. PFF thinks so.
Or the Vikings can steal a decent guard from free agency and focus on Surtain II or a pass rusher with the 14th pick. This is why mock draft season is so fun.
For now, however, PFF likes the Vikings biting the bullet on an offensive tackle in Christian Darrisaw.