We've got another look at the Minnesota Vikings from inside the great E$PN In$ider paywall, but this one comes courtesy of the folks from Football Outsiders (who do quite a bit of work with the four-letter). They've gone through all of the NFL rosters and identified the most glaring weak spot on each team.
Apparently the folks from Football Outsiders see the same thing as we do, as they've pinpointed the left guard position as the biggest weakness that the Minnesota Vikings presently have.
Here's what they have to say about the left guard situation.
Is Rick Spielman slowly building a powerhouse? The Vikings' past three drafts have received rave reviews from draftniks, and apart from Matt Kalil and Cordarrelle Patterson, the returns have largely been encouraging. Quarterback is the most important position, of course, and Teddy Bridgewater's rookie season suggested that he was clearly the top passer in an otherwise shaky 2014 class. With the Adrian Peterson saga looking like it will end with the 2012 MVP begrudgingly wearing purple, the Vikings have the core of a legitimately exciting contender in place.
However, protecting Bridgewater was an issue for Minnesota, which ranked 27th in adjusted sack rate. Much of that stemmed from Kalil's struggles and season-ending injuries to Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, but all three will be back and presumably starting in 2015.
Depending on how Kalil bounces back after offseason surgeries on both knees, the Vikings' biggest hole along the offensive line may actually be at left guard, as four-year starter Charlie Johnson was released in the offseason. Johnson had largely earned apathy for subpar play, and while he's someone you'd hope to upgrade from in the long run, the 31-year-old was one of the few Minnesota linemen who was both consistently available and passable. Last season, our game charters marked Johnson down for a blown block once every 62.4 snaps, fourth-best among Minnesota linemen and a general middle-of-the-pack rate among all offensive linemen. Veteran journeyman Joe Berger was slightly better at 72 snaps per blown block at right guard, and he could compete with 2014 fifth-rounder David Yankey for Johnson's old spot.
The left guard battle belies a general lack of interior line depth as a whole. Minnesota did extract nice value from a pair of tackles in the draft, nabbing T.J. Clemmings in the fourth round and Tyrus Thompson in the sixth. However, the loser of the Berger-Yankey battle is probably the top interior backup, along with rookie seventh-rounder Austin Shepherd. For a team that ended last season rolling out the likes of Vlad Ducasse and Mike Harris, it might have been a wiser idea to slightly overinvest in the offensive line to provide maximum insurance for Bridgewater's development.
I'm not entirely sure how the Vikings' depth chart at the left guard spot looks at the present time. We've already discussed the speculation of right guard Brandon Fusco moving over to left guard and Clemmings getting work at right guard (a move that Mike Zimmer has, apparently, said stems from a desire to keep Clemmings on the right side where he played in college). Right now, the remaining guard spot. . .whether it's left or right guard. . .appears to be a bit of a four-way dance between Yankey, Berger, Clemmings and (possibly) Shepard.
The team was pretty high on Yankey when they drafted him in 2014, but he wound up redshirting last year, with the coaches saying that he needed to get stronger. Has he done that this offseason? If he has, he could very well be considered the leader in the clubhouse for that spot. Clemmings could figure in as a backup at the tackle spots as well, and Berger has shown the versatility to back up all three interior line positions.
If my memory serves me correctly, the Vikings went most of last season with eight offensive linemen. Let's assume that they do so again in 2015. Four of the starting five are set (Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, Fusco, and Phil Loadholt), and Yankey, Berger, and Clemmings are going to be on the team in some capacity. That means that guys like Thompson, Shepherd, Mike Harris, and some of the undrafted free agents that were brought in are going to be fighting for one spot on the roster. Given the number of talented players they're going to have fighting for spots, and in light of some of the problems they had on the o-line last season, it wouldn't surprise me to see them bump that number up to nine.
Out of all of those players, you'd have to think that the Vikings can find one guy that can step into the left guard spot and provide an upgrade to what the Vikings have gotten from the position the past couple of years. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the dogfight for time along the offensive line is going to be the most intriguing battle of training camp for the Minnesota Vikings this season. With most of the other spots seeming to be relatively set, that's a pretty good problem to have.