One Viking Is Quietly Earning a Starting Job

Odds for Next Year
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The Minnesota Vikings are four games into a disappointing 2023 season after going 13-4 in the previous campaign. One more loss and the purple team matches that four-game loss total, and unfortunately, the MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs are next on the schedule.

Despite the underwhelming results, some players have balled out.

One Viking Is Quietly Earning a Starting Job

1 Viking Is Quietly Earning a Starting Job
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The biggest bright spot is certainly Justin Jefferson. Entering his fourth season, his goal was to break more records, and he aimed for 2,000 receiving yards, a number he is easily on pace for through four games. Defensive back Camryn Bynum is having a breakout season next to Harrison Smith, and the offensive line has been quietly looking like one of the better groups in the NFL.

That last part is shocking for many people because Vikings fans aren’t used to having a decent offensive line, and quite frankly, it doesn’t always look like it on game day. But still, multiple metrics view Minnesota’s front as am exemplary unit.

The tackles, Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill, are widely considered an elite duo, but the interior had struggled for years. Ed Ingram, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland strangely returned, although they struggled in 2022. Bradbury hurt his back early in Week 1, and his backup, Austin Schlottman, has been replacing him ever since.

Vikings Place 2 Players
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But Schlottmann isn’t just playing like a backup; he has replaced Bradbury, and nobody can tell he isn’t the original starter.

According to Pro Football Focus, Schlottmann has logged the 12th-best grade among centers, with the 18th-best grade in the running game and the 6th-best in pass protection.

Bradbury famously struggles in the passing game, and size has been a huge issue for him. Nevertheless, he improved last season and is no longer the liability he was in the first three seasons of his career. According to head coach Kevin O’Connell, the starting center was close to returning in Week 4, so his comeback in Week 5 is likely.

However, the Vikings should consider keeping the same five guys in place. Schlottmann appears to be the better pass protector, a big plus for him in a pass-heavy offense. And in the running game, the Vikings had great success in the last two games, even without Bradbury.

Schlottmann is 28 and came undrafted out of TCU in 2018. He stuck around on Denver’s practice squad for one year and made the 53-man roster in 2019. He played 42 games with the Broncos and started seven contests.

the Vikings Last 5
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As a free agent in 2022, Schlottmann followed his former offensive line coach, Chris Kuper, to Minnesota to back up Bradbury. When the veteran missed four contests late in the season, it was Schlottmann who replaced him, at least until he also suffered an injury.

Bradbury’s benching would not be a problem long-term. He signed a three-year $15.25 million contract in free agency, but only the first year’s salary is guaranteed.

Another possible change in the blocking unit is Dalton Risner, who signed with the Vikings after the Week 2 contest. The fan base wants him to take over for Ed Ingram. O’Connell has repeatedly stated that nobody has a guaranteed spot in the starting lineup, and the coaches want to determine the five best players.

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