One Area Missing from the Vikings Draft
Overall, with the limited draft capital they had at their disposal, the Minnesota Vikings put together a solid draft. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah turned five draft picks into six and a fifth-rounder next year. The Vikings were also busy at the end of the draft, signing 15 UDFAs. One area was missing from the Vikings draft that I excepted to be addressed.
One Area Missing from the Vikings Draft
That area is interior offensive line; most thought the Vikings would at least look to add a guard and maybe even a center too. I’m sure they had players in mind for these positions, but perhaps the board didn’t fall that way. Anthony Bradford, who had a top-30 visit with Minnesota, looked like a good option for the Vikings at 119; however, the Seahawks drafted him at 108, and the Vikings would trade back with the Chiefs.
The only new faces in Minnesota for the interior offensive line are two undrafted free agents, Alan Ali, and Jacky Chen. Either could be the rare commodity of a UDFA that makes the team and proves himself an NFL-caliber player. However, that should be considered unlikely, so the Vikings are set to go in with the same IOL group in 2023. The centers on the roster are Garrett Bradbury, Austin Schlottman, and Josh Sokol, while the guards are Ezra Cleveland, Ed Ingram, and Chris Reed.
Last year wasn’t the worst we’ve seen from the Vikings interior offensive line, but it was far from good when stopping pass rushers up the middle. It was a clear area of weakness, and it seems the Vikings are content to seek improvement from the three starters in 2022 rather than try something new. I don’t foresee any of the backups making a claim to be a starter, and although Dalton Risner is still available in free agency, I don’t expect the Vikings to make a move.
Can Existing Players Improve?
There is reason to expect improvement from Bradbury, Cleveland, and Ingram. In one season under this coaching staff, Bradbury improved to have his best season as a Vikings. Using Pro Football Focus as a measuring stick, his 70.2 overall grade was precisely 10 higher than in 2021 (60.2); the previous two seasons, he was grades 61.1 and 58.1. After no noticeable improvement in his first three seasons, offensive line coach Chris Kuper and Kevin O’Connell’s scheme found some. Can they find some more? The doubt comes in the form of Bradbury’s anchor against the big interior pass rushers.
O’Connell has suggested the Vikings will run the ball more this season, which can help Bradbury in this area, and will undoubtedly help Cleveland. Drafted as a left tackle, Cleveland has become one of the best run-blocking guards in the league. He uses his athleticism to thrive in the run game but also has trouble not getting rolled over by the bigger interior pass rushers. It’s a big season for Cleveland, who is in the last year of his rookie contract. Improvement in his pass blocking will line him up for a big contract next year.
Ingram came straight in as a rookie, and there were growing pains. During the first half of the season, there were times when watching Ingram was grim. There was an improvement over the second half of the season, and his run blocking was solid – another reason for the Vikings to want to run the ball more. After spending second-round draft capital on the LSU alumnus, it makes sense to give him time. If Ingram can make a second-year jump, the Vikings will be in better shape. The question is, how far can a guy improve in one year?
IOL Will Be Vital to Success of Offense
The Vikings offense is stacked everywhere else. Jordan Addison was added to Justin Jefferson and KJ Osborn at wide receiver – I also think the speed of Jalen Nailor can be used more this season. TJ Hockenson is one of the best tight ends in the league, Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill are up there with the best tackle duos in the league, and then we have running back. Dalvin Cook is assumed to be on his way out of town, but the Vikings RB could still be in good shape with Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, and rookie DeWayne McBride if the blocking is good.
The main thing the Vikings need to improve is keeping quarterback Kirk Cousins clean in the pocket. It was never more evident than on the last play of the season; the Vikings IOL wasn’t doing a good enough job protecting their QB. If they can get that bit right, everything is set for not only Cousins to succeed in the short term but his eventual replacement in the long term.
The Vikings are hoping for Bradbury, Cleveland, and Ingram to improve while addressing other areas of the team – most notably the defense. Results will determine whether it’s the right move. If it doesn’t work, it will be an important area to address next year.
Vikings New Defender: “Y’all Done F—-d Up.”
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