The Critical Unit for Vikings’ Success in 2024

2 Vikings Reach PFF's Top 50 of 2022
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Expectations for the Minnesota Vikings this season are lukewarm. The optimistic fan might be hopeful, but outside of those with a purple persuasion, most appear to see the Vikings propping everyone else up at the foot of the NFC North. Can Minnesota make some noise as the underdogs this year? I certainly think so, but one unit needs to be great for the Vikings’ success in 2024.

The Critical Unit for Vikings’ Success in 2024

The unit in question is the offensive line. Minnesota has all the playmakers a team could wish for but now has questions to be answered at quarterback. The expectation is for Sam Darnold to start the season, with the possibility of rookie J.J. McCarthy taking over at some point. Whether it’s Darnold or McCarthy, they will need protection from the OL. 

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Minnesota has a tackle duo as good as anyone in the league in Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill who excel in pass protection. For a long time, the Achilles heel of Minnesota’s offense has been the interior offensive line. There are no significant changes to the personnel of the Vikings iOL, with Dalton Risner and Blake Brandel both re-signing and expected to fight for the final position on the OL alongside Garrett Bradbury and Ed Ingram. The Vikings also added Walter Rouse and Michael Jurgens to the mix through the draft and Dan Feeney in free agency while bringing back veteran tackle David Quessenberry for depth.

Moving from Above Average To Great

Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings OL as the 13th best in the league going into the 2024 season, calling the unit above average.

Although left tackle Christian Darrisaw was not able to replicate his breakout 2022 campaign, he still finished 2023 as the third-highest-graded offensive tackle in pass protection despite battling injuries.

While the interior trio of Dalton Risner, Garrett Bradbury, and Ed Ingram is average at best, the offensive tackle duo of Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill makes the Vikings’ line an above-average unit.

— Zoltan Buday, Pro Football Focus

Darrisaw should soon get a big contract extension that sees him set on stone as the Vikings left tackle for a long time. At 28, Brian O’Neill should still have a lot left to give on the right side. That leaves the Vikings trying to solve the iOL to move the unit up from above-average to the great category in which the tackle duo lives. How does that happen in 2024?

Christian Darrisaw
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No major additions will be made at this point, so the main hope for improvement comes from the progression of Ingram in Year 3  and Brandel’s move from guard to tackle. Ingram significantly improved his pass blocking in Year 2, with his PFF grade jumping from a very poor 44.4 to a respectable 60.9. If he can make another jump, he could suddenly be the Vikings’ long-term answer at the position — if he doesn’t, then Minnesota should be looking for a replacement next off-season.

Risner came in and was the best pass-blocking guard the Vikings have had for a while, which is why I think he should keep his place at left guard. Brandel will have to show me something I haven’t seen before during the preseason for that opinion to change. Risner’s weakness is also a big problem for the Vikings last season: run blocking.

Vikings Must Find Their Run Game

Kevin O’Connell orchestrates a pass-first offense. However, there was a lot of talk about finding more balance going into his second season as the Vikings head coach. That balance never materialized as Minnesota struggled to get their run game off the ground. Alexander Mattison got his chance to finally be the Vikings’ RB1 and failed miserably. The failure wasn’t all down to him, though. Although the Vikings signed Aaron Jones to lead their rushing attack, they can’t expect him to solve the run game on his own.

Aaron Jones, Jonathan Greenard, Jordan Addison and Cam Bynum spoke with reporters after mandatory minicamp on Wednesday, June 5th, 2024, at TCO Performance Center. Minnesota signed Jones during the 2024 free agency period, a replacement for Alexander Mattison, who joined the Las Vegas Raiders roster.

The run blocking, which had been a strength in recent times, wasn’t good enough last season. Jones has more ability than Mattison to beat tackles and make something out of nothing, but the Vikings OL needs to make more running lanes for Jones and Ty Chandler to work from. In addition to protection, Darnold and/or McCarthy will need a strong run game to help them this season.

Justin Jefferson and Co.’s miracles can only take this team so far. The OL needs to get better for real success on offense.