Vikings Struggles Are a Sign of Incompetence

The draft is not a science, and everyone knows it. General managers must make decisions based on input from coaches and scouts. However, the number of busts in every draft class, even among players who are viewed as top talents in the draft, proves that it is everything but easy to find the best players.

Every GM should be allowed to make mistakes, and a single draft class doesn’t say much about that GM, although a larger sample size can reveal some real problems. The Vikings have made bad decisions in the last decade at one position group.

Vikings Struggles Are a Sign of Incompetence

For over a decade, the Vikings have been incapable of building a strong offensive line, and the pass protection, especially, has been horrendous. One big myth among fans of the purple team is that the old regime of former head coach Mike Zimmer and former GM Rick Spielman “ignored the offensive line.”

Vikings Struggles Are a Sign of Incompetence
Nov 4, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

While that could be the explanation for the continuing struggles, it is, in fact, incorrect. In the last decade, ten years worth of drafts, no other team in the NFL spent more draft capital on the offensive line than the Vikings. The front office picked 21 players in the ten draft classes, more than two per season. Going by the numbers, the team should have an excellent offensive line if one of four players worked out. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the 21 players worked out to a truly pleasing level.

The full list includes some infamous and some forgotten names:

  • 2013 – Jeff Baca (round 6), Travis Bond (7)
  • 2014 – David Yankey (5)
  • 2015 – T.J. Clemmings (4), Tyrus Thompson (6), Austin Shepherd (7)
  • 2016 – Willie Beavers (4)
  • 2017 – Pat Elflein (3), Danny Isidora (5)
  • 2018 – Brian O’Neill (2), Colby Gossett (6)
  • 2019 – Garrett Bradbury (1), Dru Samia (4), Oli Udoh (6)
  • 2020 – Ezra Cleveland (2), Blake Brandel (6), Kyle Hinton (7)
  • 2021 – Christian Darrisaw (1), Wyatt Davis (3)
  • 2022 – Ed Ingram (2), Vederian Lowe (6)

Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill are the two exceptions among an extremely unsatisfying haul. While the 2022 offensive line was completely homegrown with high draft picks, the unit still struggled to protect the quarterback in the passing game, and running back Dalvin Cook was met by a defender behind the line of scrimmage way too often.

Garrett Bradbury, the highest-drafted center in two decades, had three bad seasons, followed by a solid one in 2022. Now he’s set to leave in free agency. The two guards, Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland, left a lot to be desired in the passing game.

Wyatt Davis
Sep 7, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Wyatt Davis (52) against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Many of the previously mentioned players never played a game for the Vikings. Some of them were longshots, especially in late rounds where teams just take fliers and hope someone would stick around.

While that is true, the Vikings spent a lot of draft capital in early rounds. In the last ten years, the purple team selected seven offensive linemen in the first three rounds of drafts. Five teams picked eight, so the Vikings are close to the top of the list.

If we change the timeframe to the last six drafts, the Vikings still have seven and lead the league by two. No other team selected more than five offensive linemen in the previous six drafts.

Those seven players include the whole 2022 starting lineup, but also Wyatt Davis, who failed to make the team in his second year despite his draft position, and Pat Elflein, who was released during his rookie contract in 2020.

Parkston, SD, native Riley Reiff. © USA Today via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

It should also be noted that the Vikings signed free agents Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in 2017. In addition to those two, the team added various offensive guards in free agency. Examples are Alex Boone, Dakota Dozier, and Josh Kline.

Neither the free agents nor the many draft picks helped the Vikings form a good offensive line. With all those investments, the franchise should really have a dominant offensive line instead of praying to get away with it as the team’s weakness every week.

To make matters even worse, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may address the line early in the draft once again. Bradbury could very well leave, and Ingram might not be the solution at right guard. Even a contingency play for Cleveland could be possible because his rookie contract will also expire after the 2023 campaign.

The hope is that the incapability to identify the right draft picks left the building with Rick Spielman last year. That should not be fully blamed on Spielman. His scouts and offensive line coaches failed in that area as well.

Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos guard Chris Kuper against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Another aspect is coaching. When the Vikings hired Kevin O’Connell as new head coach, he brought in a new offensive line coach. Chris Kuper was a longtime NFL guard and blocked, among others, for Peyton Manning in Denver. Coaching was undoubtedly an issue because the player didn’t develop as well as they should have.

Adofo-Mensah can hardly be blamed for something that happened before his tenure in Minnesota, but he needs to learn from past mistakes. Identifying and developing talent need to be improved in the future because it is unacceptable to burn pick after pick on a single position group without seeing massive improvement.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt