The Vikings Don’t “Ignore” the Offensive Line

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 08: Minnesota Vikings Offensive Tackle Brian O’Neill (75) takes the field during a game between the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings on September 8, 2019 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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.