The Dalton Risner Effect

Starting OG
Former Denver Broncos offensive guard Dalton Risner on Monday Night Football during his first start with the Minnesota Vikings. U.S. Bank Stadium, October 23rd, 2023. Risner started for an injured Ezra Cleveland.

The Minnesota Vikings have taken a 1-4 record and turned it into 5-4 after nine games. That doesn’t happen by accident or through sheer good luck. A team has to be made of the right stuff to make that happen, and this Vikings team certainly is. It shows many signs of moving in the right direction. One area this can be seen is with the Vikings new right guard in what I’m calling the Dalton Risner effect.

The Dalton Risner Effect

It surprised me that the Vikings didn’t make any significant moves to bolster their offensive line with a new face during the offseason. Garrett Bradbury re-signed to continue as the Vikings center, and veteran tackle David Quessenberry was signed on the eve of the season to add depth. It was also a surprise to see Risner remain a free agent when the season got underway. Risner first visited with the Vikings at the end of July/beginning of August, but the guard left Minnesota still a free agent, to the surprise of many.

the dalton risner
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The Vikings opted to stick with Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram, and Blake Brandel was converted from a tackle to a guard for depth after some online flirting between Risner and Vikings fans on social media, who mostly wanted Risner signed to replace second-year right guard, Ed Ingram. Minnesota finally made their move after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, signing Risner to a one-year contract that could be worth up to $4 million.

After signing with the Vikings, Risner spoke of the waiting game he had to play before landing in Minnesota. It was a surprise that a guard of Risner’s ability was left out in the cold as the season got underway. In the end, it has worked out beautifully for both the player and the club, with the Vikings signing a good veteran guard who is now a starter — and Risner landing in a spot that is showing the potential to be a playoff team this season, which is something Risner never experienced during his four seasons with the Denver Broncos.

The Waiting Game

Once he landed in Minnesota, Risner still had to play the waiting game. Kevin O’Connell stuck with the OL he had in place and spoke of reviewing what the best group would be on a game-by-game basis. Risner’s chance would eventually come in Week 6 when Cleveland limped out of the Chicago Bears game early. Risner finished the game and has started all three games since. The Vikings then traded Cleveland to the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaving the way clear for Risner to continue as the starting left guard for the rest of the season. 

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports.

Despite arriving late and with no preseason with a team behind him, Risner slotted into the Vikings OL nicely. He has played well, certainly better than what his overall grade of 57.6 from Pro Football Focus would suggest. However, struggles with run blocking — a familiar theme across the Vikings OL — brings that score down. His pass-blocking grade is perfectly adequate at 71.3. Also per PFF, he is responsible for 8 pressures, 2 hits, and 0 sacks from 143 pass block snaps. In coach O’Connell’s pass-heavy offense, Risner is a great fit.

Character and Culture

Last season, while playing for the Broncos, the television cameras caught Risner in an argument with backup QB Brett Rypien. The incident was quickly put down to a misunderstanding and high emotions in a game the Broncos embarrassingly lost 51-14 to the Los Angeles Rams. When the Broncos chose not to re-sign Risner at the end of his rookie contract, and then no one signed him as the season began, questions of whether that altercation and possible character issues were being held against him were voiced.

Since arriving in Minnesota, Risner has fit into the Vikings culture like a glove. Everything O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah are building starts with the culture. Every player has to buy in, which is easy to do when winning every week, like in 2022. It is much more difficult when things go wrong, and that culture has been tested this season. Starting with a 1-4 start, losing Justin Jefferson to injury, and then Kirk Cousins for the rest of the season. It was the biggest test of the Vikings culture, and they came through it with flying colors.

the Dalton Risner Era
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As for Risner, he was visibly delighted when he arrived in Minnesota and was happy to bide his time and wait for an opportunity. Once he got it, he showed he was exactly what the Vikings wanted in a player and a teammate. As well as playing well individually, you can see his presence on the field and the sideline. He can often be seen hurdling opponents to get upfield and help his teammates up or celebrate with them. He is already a vocal presence on the offense who can be seen encouraging his teammates. It’s the Dalton Risner effect.

After only three starts, I would suggest making sure a Risner contract extension is atop the offseason checklist.