The Vikings Have their Dalton Risner Replacement

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Since the end of the season, Vikings fans have wondered about the fate of Dalton Risner. The starting left guard in 2023 remains unsigned and Minnesota hasn’t done too much to remedy that reality. The recent word suggests that the Vikings won’t be bringing him back.

The first clue comes courtesy of The Star Tribune‘s Andrew Krammer: “Fifth-year Viking Blake Brandel is the starting left guard. To my understanding, he’s taken every first-team rep through two OTAs so far.”

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More important than the observation from Krammer, though, is the thought that gets expressed by Wes Phillips.

Consider what the offensive coordinator had to say about Mr. Brandel. After stating that he’s “really excited about Blake” before describing him as “a massive man on the inside,” Phillips foreshadows what’s to come: “It’s been very encouraging so far with him stepping into that starting spot on the left there. And I think it’ll only grow from there. The more experience, the more reps he gets. He’s been a guy that anytime he’s been put in a game, at several positions, has come through for us. And we haven’t forgotten that, and I think he’s earned this opportunity.”

The Vikings and Blake Brandel at Left Guard

The word from Phillips seems pretty decisive, at least when it comes to the plan.

Brandel has “earned” the chance to jump into a starting spot “on the left.” Or, put differently, the vacated left guard spot. Minnesota thinks that their hitherto-depth lineman deserves the chance to show he can become a starter.

blake brandel
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Vikings fans and writers have been speculating about Brandel for a while. It’s been fairly easy to foresee that he’s the favorite for the role, but the news hits a bit different when a reporter sees the player getting starter reps and then the OC confirms that the plan is to hand things over the Brandel.

When thinking about Brandel’s potential, consider the scouting insight from the NFL website before the 2020 NFL Draft.

Lance Zierlein’s thought: “Likely tackle-to-guard position switch due to his lack of length and consistency in pass protection. Brandel is a durable blocker who lacks guard mass, but he works on the nuances of his position, which helps his cause. He understands angles and techniques but is an average athlete with below-average core power and play strength. He gives too much ground to bull-rushers, which is a concern no matter which position he plays up front. He doesn’t figure to be a plus run blocker in any scheme. A spot on a practice squad should be his goal for 2020.”

Vikings Offensive Lineman Absolutely Thrived in September
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Instead of being snagged as a UDFA, as Zierlein predicted, Brandel got added at 203rd overall (the same draft slot used more recently on Will Reichard). Since then, Brandel has been an excellent depth player in Minnesota, jumping into 39 games while snagging 5 starts.

Notably, every start of his career has occurred during the Kevin O’Connell era. If things continue on their current trajectory, the start total is going to skyrocket in 2024.

Most recently, Brandel has been a right guard, filling in for the injured Ed Ingram in 2023. Brandel was on the field for 163 plays and got dinged with allowing a sack, 2 hits, and 8 pressures. He’ll look to improve as a pass protector while functioning as the full-time left guard.

Longshot to Start
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The 27-year-old lineman is carrying a small cap charge into 2024, coming in a touch under $2 million. He’ll be playing on the first season of the three-year, $9.5 million deal he agreed to during the offseason. For a backup, that’s a pretty good payday, but it’s modest compensation for a starter.

Blake Brandel is listed at 6’7″ and 315 pounds. So, he looks like an offensive tackle. Phillips’ words make it sound like Brandel keeps getting larger, which should help when it comes to corralling the NFL’s huge defensive tackles.

As the offseason keeps progressing, keep an eye on how Brandel does at left guard. Minnesota will also need to fill his previous role by finding a lineman who can pinch hit across the offensive line, so that’ll be something to monitor, as well.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.