The NFL Is High on Minnesota’s Offensive Tackles

Vikings Get Steal
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

The Minnesota Vikings might not have a complete roster with star talent all over the place, but they are set for the future at a few spots. Tight end T.J. Hockenson and wide receiver Justin Jefferson should be the foundation of the receiving corps for years to come. Depending on the development of Jordan Addison and the future of the QB position, the Vikes could have an elite passing attack in the near future.

The NFL Is High on Minnesota’s Offensive Tackles

Part of that passing attack, of course, is the offensive line, a problematic part in the last decade. Minnesota’s decision-makers put a lot of emphasis on run-blocking and, to some extent, neglected the significance of pass protection. Sam Bradford in 2016 and Kirk Cousins since his arrival faced countless pressures.

The NFL Is High on Minnesota's Offensive Tackles
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Although the line is struggling overall, the Vikings have two valuable assets – the offensive tackles. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill are two of the best players at their position and form one of the elite tackle tandems in the NFL.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler released his annual list of the ten best players at each position, and the two Vikings appeared on this year’s version. To assemble the rankings, Fowler “surveyed league executives, coaches, scouts and players.”

Darrisaw was unranked last year but came in 9th this year. The highest spot he received on one of the ballots was the 3rd spot, but some had him unranked:

Darrisaw showed enormous potential in his second season. After missing five games as a rookie in 2021, he posted an 80.5% run block win rate in 2022, second-best among tackles in this group.

While some voters think he isn’t ready for the top 10, those who are high on him are very high.

“Supreme talent,” an AFC executive said. “Really natural athlete. He’ll be higher on this list next year. He’s essentially still a rookie because he’s missed some time.”

It takes years to earn a reputation around the league, but Darrisaw did it in two seasons and 26 games. The missed time and the inexperience are the two reasons he didn’t rank higher and why Vikings fans shouldn’t be mad about the list.

OL Ranking for 2023
Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw (71) prepares to block against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Darrisaw came into the league as the 23rd overall pick in 2021 out of Virginia Tech. He missed time in the offseason and the first few games in his debut season because of a core muscle surgery. Once healthy, he provided a serious upgrade over Rashod Hill, and his talent was easily visible. An enormous year-two jump placed him among the best OTs in the game with dominant play, a true nightmare for defenders who are pushed around more often than not when facing the 24-year-old.

His counterpart Brian O’Neill doesn’t produce highlight plays at Darrisaw’s level, but his steady play year in and year out didn’t go unnoticed. He didn’t make the top-10 list but was named one of five honorable mentions. So the people in the NFL view him as a top-15 tackle:

O’Neill has been one of Minnesota’s most consistent players for the past three years. Before an Achilles injury shortened his 2022 season, he had started every game since the 2020 season. “When he got paid, I remember being surprised a bit, but he’s a quality starter,” an AFC exec said. “Maybe not elite, but really solid, good athletic ability, technically sound, can get out and run, a wall-and-seal type guy. Probably on the fringe of the top 10.”

An extremely fair assessment of O’Neill, he has been solid and dependable. Mostly reliable but not elite and dominant like other guys. Tristan Wirfs, Lane Johnson, and Penei Sewell are the three right tackles in the top 10.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) and Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) in action at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

O’Neill was a second-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh in 2018 and was considered a raw player with excellent athleticism. He had to replace Rashod Hill early in his rookie campaign, and his talent immediately showed. Still making some mistakes, he played at an acceptable level from his first game on and became one of the best players at his position, rarely making a mistake. That led to his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2021.

Having two excellent offensive tackles is a dream for quarterbacks. The next step must be to solidify the line’s interior, but the Vikings appear to trust Ed Ingram, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland to provide solid protection, as they didn’t add anyone notable to the group.

The quarterback of the future will most likely be drafted in the next few years, and he will enter an extraordinary situation with an elite wideout, a good tight end, two fantastic tackles, and an offensive-minded head coach.

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