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The Vikings Don’t “Ignore” the Offensive Line

Those That Say So Are Simply Wrong.

The Minnesota Vikings have funneled ample draft capital into their offensive line as of late. There was a long period after the selection of Matt Kalil that the Vikings attempted to skimp with later-round draft choices while shoring up the offensive trenches via free agency with names like Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff.

Recently, however, general manager Rick Spielman has used high-round draft capital to rebuild the offensive line. Even so, a narrative exists that the Vikings notoriously ignore the offensive line. Pertaining to the last three years, this talking point is categorically false.

A brief glimpse at Minnesota’s depth chart showcases names like Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland. Those players are not menial prospects scooped from the draft’s later rounds. It is fair game to criticize some of those players’ performances, but to assert that “Spielman ignores the offensive line” is rooted in no basis of fact.

In 2020, the Vikings offensive guard play was laughable. Perhaps that is why onlookers of the team pivot to the fallacious narrative about ignoring the offensive line – call it frustration.

What’s more, Minnesota may even draft another offensive lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft. Mock drafts aplenty theorize Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC joining the franchise in April.

So, let’s stop proclaiming that the organization disregards the offensive line. They used to do it – from about 2013 to 2016. They do not anymore.

O-Lineman Picked Each Season since 2018

Since 2018, the Vikings have selected Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland with 2nd-Round draft picks or higher. That’s three drafts.

Minnesota is the only NFL franchise to spend 2nd-Round-or-higher draft capital on an offensive line in each of the last three seasons. Period. No other general manager has done that.

With this fact in mind, the narrative should be diametric. Instead of seeing “the Vikings ignore the offensive trenches,” readers of Vikings-themed material must understand that “the Vikings, as of late, draft more offensive linemen than anybody else.”

Now – the merits of these choices can be reasonably debated. The Vikings have flanked Garrett Bradbury with unusually bad guards, so his full blossom has been thwarted. To nurture the offensive linemen that Spielman has drafted in the last three years, the team should probably invest in guards that are at-least decent.

The Nucleus

An offseason development is nearing vis-a-vis the future of Riley Reiff. If he is retained, the Vikings only need one guard to present a decent offensive line for Week 1 of 2021. Should Reiff receive walking papers, well, Spielman needs two guards. Free agency – which kicks off in mere days – will give onlookers clues as to the team’s plan at guard.

Reiff or no Reiff, the Vikings have a three-headed young nucleus on the offensive line: O’Neill, Bradbury, and Cleveland. Generally speaking, that should be “enough” players selected with high draft capital to outfit the rest of the line with free agents. That’s how other teams do it. Then again, other NFL franchises can normally find offensive linemen later in the draft. But the Vikings are not good at that – see: Willie Beavers and T.J. Clemmings.

Minnesota is one or two good guards away – via free agency or draft – from seeing how good the O’Neill-Bradbury-Cleveland nucleus can be.

And poor Bradbury – the players to his left and right struggled mightily last season. Imagine eating a sandwich with moldy bread. You wouldn’t really care how the meat tasted and would probably decry the sandwich contents. Bradbury, for now, is not given a fair shake.

Pass Protection Still Not Very Good

To reiterate: even with the Vikings selecting offensive linemen via upper-echelon draft capital, the pass protection for quarterback Kirk Cousins stinks. The bunch run-blocks quite well for Dalvin Cook, but the pass-blocking is often embarrassing.

Accountability can reside with – you knew it was coming – the guard play. 40% of the Vikings line 2020 was subpar damn near every game. That makes the sum of all parts suffer. Minnesota does not need Top 5 NFL guards to make the thing thrive. To explore the potential of the aforementioned nucleus, the Vikings merely need guards that do not inhabit worst-in-the-league rankings. It seems like an open-minded ask of Spielman – find guards that are not horrid.

Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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Bill nye
Bill nye
1 month ago

The problem is they haven’t FIXED the o line. The o line yuh beer spielman and Zimmer has been at the very bottom of the league every year save for 2017. The superbowl shows that no matter how great the qb, he cant win the game on his own. Teams need a strong o line to win. The vikes haven’t had that. They also love to draft guys that play a position and move them to another and it has backfired and left 2 holes to fill, yet they CONTINUE to do it. Spielman and Zimmer may have used some draft picks but are entirely to blame that the o line is always one of the worst.

Justin
Justin
Reply to  Bill nye
1 month ago

Over and over again. The weakness has been left, and center mostly year after year. Right side is lacking as well but still. When you watch elite qbs and teams operate they all have one thing in common. The line generally is solid. Imagine brady playing behind our line. He’d loose his mind. Imagine even a dual threat elite. Would be on thr move and forcing plays over and over. We need to address this as the most basic necessity in football. Protect the qb. We are lucky we have not ruined kirk yet, not many guys can take that amount of pressure game in week after week without it leading to horrible tendencies. Hes done fair with what he’s had, especially for a “run first ” offense. We need to unbias that just a bit, we have a great young receiver who could be something special. Let’s not just shit on all the talent we have. I think kirk with a line something he’s never had in his career could be competent enough to get it done. A good defense is always nice, but it should be second to having a competent oline, especially when you have a fair amount of money in a qb. Protect him, then address defense. Fixing a line ain’t that hard, and it’s be more or less ignored from the coaching staff since day one with zim. Hanging on to guys because they are good people is a nice thought and admirable. But if they can’t deliver its time to look else where. It’s time for a new look upfront and to find some proven talent to lead any young guys and to help them form good habits. Because shitty footwork is rampant on that line from left to right. Not sure how coaches allow that,but watch tampas line, that line is nuts. Savages up there who take issue with their guy on his back. They know it starts with him. And that’s how it should be. I don’t see that same fire, i see our guys get out of position play after play and tossed down and around like they weigh 120lbs game after game. Fix the olin this year for the love of God.

cka2nd
cka2nd
Reply to  Bill nye
1 month ago

The move of O’Neill from college LT to Rt has worked very well. Elflein played his college position of center for two years before he was replaced and moved to guard, a position some thought he belonged in all along. Bradbury has now played two years at his college position of center and shows no sign of being supplanted there. So your argument really only comes down to Ezra Cleveland, whose rookie PFF grade was actually higher at RG than was Brain O’Neill’s at RT.

We have one hole to fill on the OL, at left guard (Dakota vs. Collins, what were they thinking?).

Biglar
Biglar
1 month ago

Cleveland had his struggles on the right side, but 1) he was a rookie, and 2) they were nothing compared to the horror show on the left. Let’s fix the left guard position, and I think the Vikings might be able to field something that works on the o-line next year. Tucker would be great, unless the brain trust is convinced that Hinton is coming in this season and starting.

MilesC
MilesC
Reply to  Biglar
1 month ago

The problem is that Cleveland isn’t a gaurd. His body will not hold up at that position, he needs to be moved to tackle unless he beefs up this offseason, and even then, his body isn’t really built for all that weight. He’s lean and strong, not plump and huge.

Greg B
Greg B
1 month ago

He hasn’t ignored the problem. He’s bad at fixing the problem. We either have a bad eye for talent or ruin what comes in. My guess is a little of both.

cka2nd
cka2nd
Reply to  Greg B
1 month ago

He successfully built an O line that PFF ranked among the top 10 three years in a row from 2011 through 2013 (Sullivan, Loadholt, Johnson, Fusco and Kalil). That line was destroyed by injuries, starting in 2014 (Fusco and Loadholt), continuing in 2015 (Loadholt and Berger) and climaxing in 2016 (Loadholt, Harris, Kalil, Smith and Long). He briefly and successfully rebuilt the line for the 2017 season, but then a combination of injury (Easton), off-season surgery (Elflein) and Rick’s failure to replace Joe Berger and the stupid move of Remmers to guard killed us in 2018. 2019 was a bit better, but concussions seem to have ended Josh Kline’s career, and Rick Dennison has not impressed as the OL coach.

As I mentioned in my other comment here, Rick (and Zimmer) have made serious errors on the OL in 2016, 2018 and 2020. However, we are now one decent starter away from having a good O line (if Dennison doesn’t f*** things up). Extend Reiff and draft a guard in the first after first trading back to get a second rounder pick!

Frank Badstuebner
Frank Badstuebner
1 month ago

I agree with the need to have someone who is really solid with the scouting activities with O linemen. Talent, athleticism, attitude, and chemistry, will always be the key to getting back to the days when Vikings had some All-Pro
O linemen!
Randall McDaniel, Steve Hutchinson, Gary Zimmerman, Korey Stringer, Matt Birk, Ed White, Todd Steussie, Matt Kalil (1st 4 seasons), Ron Yary!!!
It can be built again…… right?
Go PURPLE!

ripset
ripset
1 month ago

assessment is spot on. The skill set the look for in these players does not line up with modern football theory. Trying to build denver’s zone blocking scheme of the 90’s has created a squad that is great at getting to the edges for outside zone plays, but they are sorely lacking in PP obviously. Hopefully they can keep Rieff for one more year and acquire a guard in the draft, getting rid of rudolph was the right move I see Rick trading down in the first to pick up a second. Sombody will want to get above New England for a QB.

Viking44
Viking44
1 month ago

Your argument that Vikings analysts & fans are wrong when we observe that Vikings draft decisionmakers neutered a legitimate 3 year Vikings Superbowl window is seriously flawed. The problem has been interior offensive line & specifically the Guard play. Vikings owners – The Wilfs” will spend $$$ on free agency and Vikes have had apx 50 draft picks in last 4 years. Here is the list of Vikings Guard starters in that period: Berger, Easton, Remmers, Compton, Kline, *Elfline, Cleveland, *Dozier OMG. Last 2 years 50% of the starting guards were not even picked to be guards. Elfline a failed center was forced in & Cleveland a rookie left Tackle was forced to play right guard for God’s Sake! I fully expect them to draft a long snapper in 2021 with eyes on starting him at Guard this year – position flexibility LOL. If you need starting Guards you can buy them Kline was bought played solid but cut him to save $$. Or draft starting guards: Cleveland was drafted as an O’Neill clone to play the other tackle. The fact he got rammed into a starting right guard spot is absolute proof Vikes don’t address Guard. Note! Guard & Tackle are different positions. The line will remain a sloppy mess until the Vikings figure that out. AV Tucker, LeatherWood, Davis are top level Guards who could start year one. D Smith, K Green, T Smith, Hainsey are mid level prospects who might be able to play year one?There is no weaker position on the Vikings team than Guard. Will we see one top level guard and one developing level one picked? I’m hoping. Note: So many say DE is key need: D Hunter/Elite, Wonnum/Rising Starter, Ifedi/Good Rotation Guy, just paid for Weatherly. CB is huge need: Danzler, Hughes, Gladney are all young 20s and starter level already. Guard Room has no starters. I pray they do not ruin Cleveland who does have O’Neils traits and should get a shot at his real position left tackle. Was hard not to notice you used a few tackle & center prospects to argue about the Guard position. Call this return friendly fire. Your turn…

cka2nd
cka2nd
Reply to  Viking44
1 month ago

Tons of college tackles and centers are converted to guard. It happens literally every year. And it was not at all surprising to have Elflein moved to guard, a position he had also played in college. And the team was talking about Cleveland possibly playing guard virtually from the moment they drafted him, and had him play there exclusively (I believe) in camp. And Cleveland’s rookie grade from PFF was actually three points higher than O’Neill’s was back in 2018.

Nevertheless, I am totally with you about drafting a guard as early as possible this year (Wyatt Davis is the guy I love in part because of his bloodlines), and I wouldn’t mind a mid-round pick there, as well, especially with Samia a likely camp cut.

HEY, JOE JOHNSON!!!!! This “crinkly paper” background makes reading these comments a living hell! Flatten it out, man!

cka2nd
cka2nd
1 month ago

As I’ve said many times over the years on a couple of different sites, the Vikes have never “ignored” the offensive line. What they’ve done is make serious mistakes on it, mainly in 2016, 2018 and 2020, and suffered from a horrible spate of injuries, starting in 2014, and continuing in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020.

2016 – It would have been a gutsy thing to do, but Spielman should have cut Matt Kalil, period, and before his fifth-year option became guaranteed for injury. Ideally, he’d have then traded up in the first round and drafted either Tunsil or Decker to replace him. And I was never a fan of the Sparano, Boone or Andre Smith signings.

2018 – They didn’t try to replace Berger in free agency – Tom Compton was a replacement for Jeremiah Sirles on the bench, not for Berger as a starter – and failed to either reach for James Daniels with their #30 pick after Ragnow, Price and Wynn were gone by #23, or trade up into the top of the 2nd to get Daniels. Daniels would be considered a mediocre #1 at this point, but he’d have earned a fifth year option, and probably would earn a second contract with the team. Thank the Gods we at least didn’t reach for Will Hernandez!

2020 – Dozier vs. Collins to start. Who the hell thought that was a good idea?

2017, Dylan, that’s when Spielman and Zimmer committed to rebuilding the offensive line (Rick’s second rebuild, by the way, after first rebuilding the O line with Sullivan, Loadholt, Johnson, Fusco and Kalil from 2008-2012, and having the 2011-2013 lines all ranked in the top 10 by PFF). 1. The team cut ties with Adrian Peterson and commits to running a zone blocking scheme, not the power one they’d been running with Peterson. 2. The team cut Brandon Fusco, who still had three years on his contract. 3. After failing to re-sign Kalil (Really, Rick?!?), the team signs Reiff and Remmers to take over at OT, and drafts Pat Elflein to immediately compete for the starting center job. 4. To put an exclamation point on the rebuild, Alex Boone is cut and Nick Easton slides over to LG. The rebuild didn’t start with the drafting of Brian O’Neill in 2018, it started in 2017, but has had some serious hiccups along the way.

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