Miner Rick: Oli Udoh Could Be Another Late-Round Gem

Rick Spielman
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports.

As the day began on Saturday, August 14, 2021, one thing became abundantly clear to Vikings multi-positional offensive lineman Oli Udoh. 

He made it.

See, the coaches for the Vikings decided to rest 30 plus players entering the preseason Week 1 game against the Denver Broncos. The rested players were compiled predominantly of starters or heavy-usage backups. For Udoh, the extra rest essentially cemented him as a Week 1 starter in the trenches, most likely at right guard. His work is not done, as offensive coordinator, Klint Kubiak has grandiose plans for Udoh.


Kubiak wants Udoh ready for the starting right guard position — he also wants him ready to be the starting left tackle, if that is needed. This is incredibly high praise from the coaching staff and a testament to Udoh’s work this summer. It also lends credence to general manager Rick Spielman’s signature late-round draft pick stockpile. 

Another 6th Round Steal?

Udoh was selected in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the 193rd overall pick by the Vikings. That is six picks from 2000 NFL Draft steal, Tom Brady, who went off the board at pick 199 to the New England Patriots. Udoh came to Minnesota after a redshirt senior season with the small-school Elon Phoenix football team. His pre-draft profile contained a mixed bag of intel, but the overall consensus was that Oli possessed the physical makeup for the position. He just needed coaching development to unlock his full potential.

Drafted as a tackle, the Vikings got to work with Udoh coaching him on the nuances of the position. The Vikings, like many NFL clubs, in this post-Moneyball era have emphasized positional flexibility. So, this summer, after seeing Udoh fill in admirably at right tackle in 2019, the coaching staff approached Udoh about playing guard. Sometimes the talent demands attention and playing time — that appears to be the case with Udoh.

Udoh’s thoughts on playing time can be watched here.

About Those Late Round Fliers

Since Spielman took over the general manager duties in 2012, the Vikings have averaged six picks between rounds 5 through 7 each year. Some years there have been less, some years more, but the median amount has been six. These are often considered lottery ticket picks as the rate of success surrounding these draft prospects is typically less compared to a higher-round pick. 

Teams should maximize on high-round draft capital, right? Not necessarily. Although the success rate is higher with the higher picks, there is no guarantee. Also, premium draft picks come at a cost. It behooves a general manager to take a few late-round fliers in an attempt to fill out rosters. The realistic goal isn’t to draft all All-Pro dudes but rather players who can be developed into solid starters. And this sentiment is often ignored by fans and pundits. Serviceable starters are vital to football operations. 

That brings us back to Spielman, who’s had his share of late-round misses but also many success stories. Success for a late-round pick should be viewed as players who have contributed numerous games or snaps on either offense, defense, or special teams.

When looking at that criteria, here are a few of Spielman’s “hits” — Blair Walsh, Audie Cole, Robert Blanton, Jeff Locke, Antone Exum, Shamar Stephen, Stefon Diggs, David Morgan, Stephen Weatherly, Jayron Kearse, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Tyler Conklin, Daniel Carlson, Armon Watts, Oli Udoh, Kris Boyd, Bisi Johnson. The class of 2020 was omitted as more time is needed to identify potential “hits” from that group.

Udoh is the Latest, Not the Last

By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the success Udoh is experiencing with the Vikings. Spielman has been almost surgical with these late-round picks. When factoring in the above information — then looking at the success rate from 2012 to 2019 (an eight-year span) and accounting for six late-round players to be drafted each year on average — you end up with 48 players drafted over that timeframe. The 17 players listed previously give Rick a 35% hit rate on late-round players producing meaningful minutes. That is a fantastic hit rate for what is often considered a lottery ticket bet.

Udoh is just the latest to fulfill the promise his pedigree demanded. As he continues to be a sponge to the coaching and dedicate himself further to his craft, a long-term contract and potential All-Pro or Pro-Bowl votes could very well be in his future. For now, we will need to continue to marvel at how he has held his own going up against numerous Pro-Bowl defensive tackles in practice.