One Viking Deserves the Benefit of the Doubt

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The Minnesota Vikings used the last four months to effectuate significant change, adding a new starting quarterback, running back, linebacker, and three EDGE rushers.

One Viking Deserves the Benefit of the Doubt

The club enters a new era, especially after Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter departed for new teams, and is expected to win between six and eight games in 2024. And while roster construction is mostly complete, with the regular season about three months away, some have a couple of grievances with the depth chart. One spot is left guard. Minnesota has not re-signed Dalton Risner, leaving Blake Brandel as his replacement, almost by default.

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For a healthy portion of Vikings fans, Brandel at left guard is an underwhelming solution, but the man deserves the benefit of the doubt. Why? Put plainly, Kevin O’Connell’s coaching staff has improved the offensive trenches every step of the way since taking over 28 months ago.

Until recently, most fans considered Brandel a reservist commodity, but after signing a three-year, $9.5 million contract, he could be on deck as Risner’s replacement and on his way to a starter’s job. Brandel produced a 55.3 Pro Football Focus grade last year on 163 offensive snaps after the Vikings coaching staff moved him from tackle to guard. Truth be told, that score isn’t very promising, so fans will hope for improvement if Brandel is indeed tapped for a starter’s assignment. Just when the club had the guard spot fixed — it was a problem for years — some are paranoid that Minnesota could slide back to half-measured solutions.

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But under O’Connell, this is Minnesota’s offensive line progression per leaguewide PFF ranking since 2020:

  • 2020: 26th
  • 2021: 23rd
  • 2022: 13th
  • 2023: 12th

The group climbs the leaderboard annually and could perhaps turn the corner in 2024, O’Connell’s third season, into a Top 10 unit. Some fail to realize on Brandel that this is how it works — unsung offensive linemen take the leap. They need not be household names, particularly at guard.

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In March, Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling told KFAN about Brandel, “The money they gave Brandel, specifically the years, did make me wonder if he’s going to get that chance to start … the fact they gave him a three-year deal, that’s not something you just do because you have too. I don’t think his market would have been that hot … I do think there’s a chance that he will get an opportunity to compete for that spot.”

So, Brandel as “the guy” at LG is around the bend. The franchise could also re-sign Risner, who remains a free agent, if the Brandel experiment flops at training camp this summer. The Vikings notably did not spend much capital on guards in the draft nor sign keynote free agents at the spot.

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Minnesota’s front office and coaching staff aren’t interested in self-sabotage. The team has a rookie quarterback in J.J. McCarthy on deck to take over before too long. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the young Wolverine to remain upright and sling the rock.

Often, reservist linemen earn promotions as designated by coaches. This is an example.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by