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The Vikings Finally Have a Homegrown Offensive Line

On the Minnesota Vikings, you asked for it. And, alas, you got it.

For the first time in arguably 10 years, the Vikings have a golden opportunity to field an offensive line that is astute. Some groups of purple men from time to time amid the last decade have performed aptly with pass protection and run blocking — but those are usually limited to “stretches” instead of longstanding continuances. The 2012 and 2017 seasons come to mind for somewhat formidable bunches of offensive trenchmen.

Minnesotans can feel the pass-blocking futility in their bones. The consistent, menacing criticism of the franchise is the offensive line. Seemingly every year — hell, every game — is plagued with “why can’t they figure out” this offensive line thing. To be clear, that critique is on-point.

Why do the Vikings offensive trenches have newfound hope? Well, it’s simple. On paper, the 2021 NFL Draft completed the puzzle.

Reiff, Remmers Were Supposed to Fix It

Minnesota’s offensive line woes certainly didn’t commence in 2016, but that Sam Bradford-led season was a glimpse into putridity. Minnesota struggled mightily upkeeping clean pockets for their “new” quarterback, creating an aura that represented Bradford as a small-ball passer of the football.

At heart, that is not what Bradford is (was).

Consider 2016 the smoking gun. The Matt Kalil era was plummeting like a zeppelin in New Jersey. Adrian Peterson was finishing up with the franchise. And then the aforementioned Bradford wasn’t very mobile to negate some of the offensive line deficiencies.

The “fix” the following offseason was the signing of free agents, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Reiff was fairly good for four seasons. Remmers was not. Reiff departed in March of 2021 while Remmers lasted for just two seasons.

The OL malfuction “should” have been repaired by Reiff and Remmers — based on the money allocated to their bank accounts. It was not.

So, Spielman Chose the Draft

The next sensible step was to shore the offensive front five. That began immediately after Reiff and Remmers were signed. General Manager Rick Spielman drafted Brian O’Neill in the 2nd Round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Since then, O’Neill has served as the lone-but-bright beacon of hope up front for the Vikings offense.

After that, the choice was Garrett Bradbury the following year, 2019. That was 1st-Round draft capital. Bradbury has battled curious guard play to his left and right, so the adjudication of his abilities is half-complete. Sometimes he looks good — sometimes he does not. Yet, in 2020, he was bookended by guard play from Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia for a lot of snaps. Try eating a sandwich with moldy bread — does it really matter how delicious the meat in the middle tastes? No, the entire helping of food is denounced and discarded.

Therefore, 2021 will be a make-or-break season for Bradbury — with Cleveland and a reputable newcomer next to him.

Last weekend, Spielman filled out the offensive line with Christian Darrisaw, a 1st-Round selection from Virginia Tech, and Wyatt Davis, a 3rd-Round choice from Ohio State University. Rather than splash into free agency a la Reiff and Remmers from 2017, Spielman chose the organic approach. You know the brand — the kind that is sought after akin to the 1990s Dallas Cowboys.

This Is It

Head coach Mike Zimmer’s job largely depends on the success of this newly constructed fivesome. From left to right, the 2021 starting group will likely resemble this:

(LT) Christian Darrisaw, (LG) Wyatt Davis, (C) Garrett Bradbury, (RG) Ezra Cleveland, (RT) Brian O’Neill.

It should be mentioned that Davis and Cleveland might switch spots. Stay tuned.

But that’s the new conglomeration of talent. There are zero free agents on that depth chart of men. It’s all biological product. Indeed, it is not entirely ideal that quarterback Kirk Cousins will be protected by untested NFL personalities on the blindside — Darrisaw and Davis. However, it’s the “best we got” if you’re inside the Vikings interworkings.

Minnesota requires a winning season — and probably a playoff triumph — for Zimmer to see 2022 employment. The instant jellifcation from Darrisaw down the line to O’Neill is incredibly vital. And the output is a crucial indicator of Spielman’s effectiveness, too.

This is it. The Vikings have a homegrown offensive line, built on youth, potential, and obvious collegiate talent. Mike Zimmer, Rick Dennison, and Klint Kubiak must now cultivate the pieces.

 

 

Dustin Baker

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

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Fred
Fred
1 month ago

Remmers was not close to being the answer. He has always been a below average Tackle, and yet Hill couldn’t beat him out. Think about what that says about Hill. I would be happier with yet another Guard so they could move Cleveland to swing Tackle. I hope they keep trying to improve.

cka2nd
cka2nd
Reply to  Fred
1 month ago

I disagree. Remmers is a more than solid right tackle, and has been graded as such by PFF. His problems have mostly come when he has been moved inside to guard or over to left tackle.

Viking44
Viking44
1 month ago

I loved the 2 offensive line selections also. But I believe it is fair to dispute your conclusion that Zimmer some how failed. I don’t believe for one second that two Offensive Lineman with the draft profiles of Darrisaw & Davis would have possibly happened without Zimmer demanding that Vikings Offensive Line Draft Profile be changed from maximum mobility & position flexibility to this new and much improved draft profile: Size – Strength in Run game – Anchor in Pass Protection & Solid Mobility. This was a major shift. I believe it produced superior selections. Zimmer identified & demanded that change. The old model spits out G/T tweeners with great feet but no strength or anchor. I credit Zim…

Purple_Mountain
Purple_Mountain
1 month ago

YESSS !!! We are not after a winning season or a playoff win , Purple Captain Kirk holding the trophy high over his head , then turning his buttocks towards the camera and slapping his hand on it ! Kiss my lilly white cheek. SKOL VIKINGS

cka2nd
cka2nd
1 month ago

There’s a lot of history left out of this piece.

For three straight seasons, from 2011-2013, the Vikings’ offensive line was ranked in the top 10 by Pro Football Focus.

Rick Spielman rebuilt the 2007-08 offensive line of McKinnie, Hutchinson, Birk, Herrera and Cook starting in 2009, replacing Birk and Cook with Sullivan and Loadholt, respectively, and then completing the job in 2012, with Kalil, Johnson and Fusco taking over. The line of Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Fusco and Loadholt would start every game of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and begin the 2014 season together. Going into the 2014 season, Johnson was signed through 2015, Sullivan, Loadholt and, through his fifth-year option, Kalil, through 2016, and Fusco through 2019. Having this top 10 offensive line locked up mostly through 2016 is why the team didn’t spend top draft capital on the line between 2013 and 2016.

But injuries wiped out that line, with Fusco missing most of the 2014 season and Loadholt the last five games, Sullivan and Loadholt missing the entire 2015 season, Loadholt’s career ending before the 2016 season began (along with 2015 starter Mike Harris), and Kalil being one of three starting offensive tackles to miss most of the 2016 season. Fusco was never the same after he returned in 2015, and Kalil never regained the Pro Bowl-replacement touch of his rookie season.

Reiff and Remmers were not supposed to “fix” the offensive line on their own, and fixating on them ignores what would become the Achilles Heel of the OL, its interior. The fix was supposed to be a combination of 2016 free agent LG Alex Boone, 2017 free agent OT’s Reiff and Remmers (who PFF graded very well for his work at RT, as opposed to when he was moved inside to guard), incumbent C/G starter Joe Berger, and 2017 3rd rounder Pat Elflein, the first O lineman taken on the first or second day of the draft since Kalil. However, Boone had become a distraction, not a leader, so he was cut on the verge of the season and replaced by Nick Easton.

Having begun spending Day 1 or Day 2 draft capital on the O line again in 2017, Spielman was set to do the same in 2018 to replace the retired Joe Berger, but the team’s Rd. 1 targets were all long gone before the #30 pick rolled around, and then Spielman and his staff failed to anticipate the predicted run on IOL at the top of the second round, so we settled for the best available offensive lineman left, OT Brian O’Neill, which resulted in life-long OT Mike Remmers being asked to move inside to RG, with predictably terrible results. Losing Easton for the season didn’t help, but it was missing out on Frank Ragnow in the 1st and, alternatively, James Daniels in the 2nd round that really set back the OL rebuild begun in 2017.

Since 2018, Spielman has continued trying to rebuild the OL with a combination of the draft (Bradbury, Cleveland and now Darrisaw and Davis) and free agency (Kline in 2019), but concussions seem to have ended Kline’s career. I, too, am excited by this year’s draft, and look forward to the line of Darrisaw, Davis, Bradbury, Cleveland and O’Neill being together a long time (though I wouldn’t be shocked if Rashod Hill and Mason Cole open the season on the left side), hopefully longer than the line of Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Fusco and Loadholt lasted.

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