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.