Introducing the Vikings Strongest Position Group
When looking at which position on the Vikings roster has the greatest strength and depth, one group jumps off the page above all others.
Other strong positions have taken a knock with losing players, running back (Dalvin Cook) and EDGE (Za’Darius Smith). If rookie Jordan Addison lives up to his first-round billing, wide receiver will come into the conversation, but for now, we have a clear winner. Introducing the Vikings strongest position group — offensive tackle.
Introducing the Vikings Strongest Position Group
Dating back to the Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer regime, the Vikings used the draft for offensive linemen. Results on the interior have been mixed; some would say disastrous. The Vikings were much more successful at tackle, and the current Vikings regime inherited two of the best bookends in the league.
Brian O’Neill enters his sixth season as a well-respected and well-paid Pro Bowl right tackle. He turns 28 in September and should have plenty of tread left on the tires, leaving no reason not to expect him to continue playing at a high level for the next four seasons, which will see him to the end of his current contract.
The future looks even brighter for Christian Darrisaw, who heads into his third season. Despite injury and concussion issues reducing the number of games he has played over his first two seasons, Darrisaw has impressed enough for there to be an expectation to see an All-Pro-caliber season in 2023. He has the talent. Staying healthy has been the biggest obstacle so far.
Two of the Best
It’s the time of year when people want to rank everyone and everything. ESPN surveyed league executives, coaches, scouts, and players to rank the top 10 players at each position. At tackle, Darrisaw came in at number nine, with the highest individual ranking he receiver being third. This is what they had to say over at ESPN:
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.”– Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
O’Neill didn’t make the top 10, but he did garner an honorable mention;
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.”– Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
The Philadelphia Eagles were the only team to have both tackles in the top 10, with the Vikings the only other team to have two on the list, including honorable mentions. Having two such highly-rated tackles isn’t the norm. Pro Football Focus has also been praising the Vikings duo recently, claiming Darrisaw and O’Neill can become the best in the league.
Despite being in a “competitive rebuild” state of flux across the roster at large, Minnesota should be excited about its young franchise cornerstones at premium positions on offense. Justin Jefferson has the most receiving yards through a player’s first three seasons in NFL history by nearly 700 yards; we don’t need to add much more than that.– Pro Football Focus
At tackle, the Vikings were one of just three teams to rank in the top 10 in pass-block grade and run-block grade at the position, and the duo could continue to develop and grow over time into, perhaps, the best bookends in the NFL.
Expectations for 2023
For the first time in his career, O’Neill missed time due to a significant injury and, for the first time, has undergone a lengthy rehabilitation process. O’Neill has stated that the recovery progress from the Achilles injury has been smooth, with no unexpected setbacks. As of yet, a date hasn’t been set for his return to action, and it’s unclear if he will be ready for Week 1. When he does come back, Vikings fans will hope he hasn’t lost a step and continues to be one of the most reliable right tackles in the league.
A lot of expectation surrounds Darrisaw going into this season. The expectation is not just to be good but to take that extra step to become elite. He has the potential and has already shown himself to be one of the best tackles in the league, but a man of such talent should be aspiring to topple Trent Williams from his almost unanimous spot as the best tackle in the league.
Expecting Darrisaw to do that this season might be a bit optimistic, but he should be taking steps toward it. His performances in 2023 need to leave everybody in no doubt that he is an elite tackle.