Garrett Bradbury Will Confront Huge Expectations in 2023

the Vikings Last 5
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) on the sidelines during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

If a comfortable Kirk Cousins is a competent Kirk Cousins, then a lot hinges on the performance of the man snapping the football. In Minnesota, that’s Garrett Bradbury.

A 1st-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bradbury looked like a bust after a trio of seasons playing for the Purple & Gold. In fact, he temporarily lost his starting spot in 2021. An injury to the C1 opened the door for Mason Cole and the journeyman was actually an improvement.

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Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Mason Cole. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports.

Thankfully, last season marked a bit of a turning point for the North Carolina alumnus. Working in Kevin O’Connell’s offense and under the tutelage of offensive line coach Chris Kuper seemed to revitalize the beleaguered center. The question, though, is if there’s more upside.

Is Bradbury still getting better? If so, the Vikings’ offense will get an unexpected boost.

Garrett Bradbury and The Vikings’ 2023 Offense

The dominant offseason trend has been to say goodbye to veterans, many of whom are still strong players. Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Kris Boyd weren’t brought back. Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Eric Kendricks were cut. Za’Darius Smith was traded. Cameron Dantzler was waived.

Not Garrett Bradbury, though.

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Jan 2, 2022; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) is chased by Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos (31) after recovering a fumble at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Wm. Glasheen/Appleton Post-Crescent -USA TODAY NETWORK.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed his starting center to a brand new deal. The 3-year, $15.75 million agreement keeps Mr. Bradbury in town through the 2025 season. Crucially, a pair of void years have been added on the backend to get the price down in the short term. His cap charge in 2023 is a very modest $2,629,805. Put differently, the center will account for 1.2% of the budget this year.

Expectations were supremely high coming out of college. An incredible athlete, Bradbury seemed like the ideal fit for Minnesota. He’d instantly take over at center, allowing the team to flip Pat Elflein to guard, potentially improving a pair of spots in a single draft pick.

And, to be sure, Bradbury seemed to justify the hype. Led by a 4.92 forty and 34 reps on the bench press, Bradbury snagged a truly sensational 9.96 RAS Score. In other words, the NFL has barely ever seen a center as physically gifted as him.

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Aug 18, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury (56) snaps to quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

What soon became apparent, though, is that he’d struggle in pass protection. In particular, he’d struggle to corral powerful defensive tackles. A persistent inability to anchor effectively meant Cousins commonly faced pressure right up the middle.

During his opening three seasons in the NFL, Bradbury piled up 10 holding penalties. During that same timeframe, he allowed 11 sacks. Pressure up the middle was a consistent feature of his time.

Last season, the story changed. His holding penalties dropped down to 0. Similarly, his sacks allowed shrunk; he allowed a pair. His overall pass blocking grade finished at 68.1, easily the best mark of his career.

He did struggle mightily in the playoffs, but some have pointed to his recent return from injury as a reason why. Putting up a 28.0 pass blocking grade against the Giants in the Wild Card Round was still discouraging. He was dinged with allowing 5 pressures, 4 QB hits, and 1 hurry. He added on a penalty, as well.

Despite the regular season improvement, Cousins was still sacked far too often. Kirk Cousins got sacked a whopping 46 times, the most of his career. The basic reality is that Minnesota’s pass pro will need to improve in 2023.

Some of the improvement will come from running the ball more effectively, thus introducing greater balance and unpredictability to the offense. Moreover, running well on 1st and 2nd down creates more manageable passing situations. Throwing on 3rd & 9 is different from 3rd & 3. Plus, adding Jordan Addison and having a full season of T.J. Hockenson should help. Excellent pass catchers can get open in a hurry, meaning the OL doesn’t have to hold their blocks for as long.

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Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) prepares for the snap from center Garrett Bradbury (56) against the New York Giants during the second quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Even still, Bradbury is carrying a heavy burden. Somehow finding a way to ensure he keeps ascending rather than simply maintaining is an overlooked way for Minnesota to once again assert themselves in the NFC North. Indeed, inching closer to the play of someone like Jason Kelce – an impossibly high standard – would represent a boon for the Vikings.

Recently, PFF put the Vikings’ OL at 15th in the league. Alongside Ed Ingram, Bradbury is listed as “weak links and in need of an upgrade.” The point about improved play is well taken, but the hope is that both are still getting better. Indeed, having a DT-stifling player at center would go a long way in making Kevin O’Connell’s second year at the helm a surprising success.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece. This piece originally appeared on PurplePTSD.