Between the draft and free agency, the Vikings’ front office has invested a fair amount of resources in the Vikings offensive line. A mix of proven veterans and promising young blockers will spur competition throughout training camp and the preseason.Vikings fans have been pining for offensive linemen – guards, in particular – for the last several seasons and now, finally, it is one of their deepest position groups.
Vikings Offensive Line
Since Alex Boone and Joe Berger flanked the center, the guard spots have been a recurring nightmare for Vikings fans. That nightmare took on many forms; Dru Samia, Josh Kline, Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier – to name a harrowing few. This year, however, it doesn’t look like the O-line will have a glaring, obvious weakness like in years past.
One of the more enviable luxuries in the NFL is long-term starters at the offensive tackle spots, and the Vikings are living luxuriously. Brian O’Neill was a second-round draft pick by the Vikings in 2018 and, starting at Right Tackle, only missed two games over his first four seasons.
The former Pittsburgh Panther made his first Pro Bowl last season after signing a massive 5yr/$92.5 million extension in September and if he continues to play the way he has, he’ll earn every penny. He’s one of the most athletic offensive tackles in the entire league but being a quick, lean edge protector, he will sometimes get overpowered by stronger edge rushers. Fortunately, his skillset really lends itself to the style of offense that Kevin O’Connell plans to implement.
The second half of the tackle-tandem is second-year man, Christian Darrisaw. Last year’s first-round pick didn’t start immediately last season due to a nagging groin injury but made an immediate difference once he took the field. After being activated in Week 4, he appeared in 12 games, playing 100% of offensive snaps in 10 of them. Juxtaposed to the play of Rashod Hill in the first few games of the season, Darrisaw’s was stellar. Progression is rarely linear in the NFL but Christian Darrisaw is on a good trajectory and looks poised to build on a strong rookie campaign in his sophomore season.
Another second-round pick, Cleveland has been solid since converting to guard. He’s played both left and right guard but seems to have found a home at left guard. A good run blocker and competent pass blocker, if he loses his starting spot this season it likely means the coaches were impressed with multiple newcomers to the offensive line.
Bradbury is that guy who is simultaneously a little better (probably) overall than the Minnesota zeitgeist would dictate and much worse than the expectation of a center drafted in the first round. It’s for this reason that the Vikings declined the fifth-year option that would have paid him $13.2 million. I still like his chances to start this year.
He does well assessing defensive fronts and you won’t find a more athletic center. If he can just improve his anchor a little bit against strong interior rushers he may even still earn a second contract, but the hope has to be that someone on a rookie contract will simply beat him out for the position – we’ll take a look at some candidates below.
There will be at least one new starter this season with the right guard being seen as a vacancy. Oli Udoh is technically returning but does not project to retain the starting job. I think there is also a slight chance that one of these guys really pushes Ezra Cleveland or Garrett Bradbury to start.
An early favorite to win the right guard job is second-round draft pick, Ed Ingram, out of LSU. We’ve covered him a lot around draft season but let’s revisit the cliff notes. He excels in areas that Minnesota’s current interior linemen struggle. A strong anchor in pass protection and a true bully in the run game. He doesn’t fit as well into a wide-zone scheme that calls for speed and agility overpower, but does a great job moving downhill when he is called on to pull on run plays. Whether or not he is the best starting candidate right now, he probably has the highest ceiling of any guard on the roster.
I love Chris Reed. Not blessed with great length, strength, or speed, the Minnesota State Mankato alum relies on technique, effort, and a few tricks he’s learned to overcome longer, stronger players. He started 14 games for the Carolina Panthers in 2020 and followed that up with a strong campaign in Indianapolis in 2021. He started a total of 6 games last season filling in for one of Mark Glowinski and Quenton Nelson at right or left guard, respectively.
He was more than competent in those starts as a backup to one of the best guard duos in the league last year. The Vikings may value him more as a backup for his positional versatility. He is a former teammate of Adam Thielen’s in college, of course, which would also be a great storyline to root for.
Jesse Davis is another lesser-known veteran with starting experience signed by the Vikings this offseason. By all accounts, Davis’ 2021 season where he started at the right tackle for the Miami Dolphins was abysmal. He has, however, performed better at guard than tackle since entering the league. Over his career, he’s started 72 of 80 games in which he appeared and has been mediocre at best. The draw to Jesse Davis is likely his ability to back-up multiple positions across the offensive line in a pinch, not to be a starter. If Davis competes for a starting job it is definitely going to be at right guard where he posted his highest career PFF grade.
In his rookie season last year, Wyatt Davis struggled with some injuries that sidelined him for much of the preseason and training camp. The third-round selection in 2021 should see himself right in the thick of the right guard competition as long as he has a clean bill of health.
He played right guard at Ohio State and it is the position for which his skillset is best-suited. He was also snapping the ball some in practice last season and could certainly be someone they are grooming to backup Bradbury at center this year and usurp him going forward. Mason Cole, last year’s backup center-left in free agency, and the Vikings have not drafted or signed a true center in free agency.
It’s been several seasons since the Vikings have been able to have such confidence in their offensive line depth. It’s my opinion that there are at least seven starting-caliber players on this unit and it is just a matter of how this coaching staff assembles the puzzle. I think that nine offensive linemen will make the 53-man roster. Here is my prediction for the Week One Offensive Line Depth Chart:
LT: Christian Darrisaw, Vederian Lowe, Jesse Davis
LG: Ezra Cleveland, Chris Reed,
C: Garrett Bradbury, Wyatt Davis
RG: Ed Ingram, Chris Reed
RT: Brian O’Neill, Jesse Davis