So far this season, the Minnesota Vikings have gotten some pretty impressive performances from players that weren’t on the team in 2016. We all know about the contributions of running back Dalvin Cook, who was a strong Rookie of the Year candidate until last week, and quarterback Case Keenum has done some nice things in the place of Sam Bradford. However, there’s one player that, in my opinion, stands out more than the rest of the newcomers through the first quarter of this season, and it’s a guy that Rick Spielman and company took a bit of heat for signing.
When the Vikings signed offensive tackle Riley Reiff in the offseason, they gave him a whole lot of money to protect the blind side of whatever quarterback the Vikings were going to have out there in any given week. (Presumably Sam Bradford, of course, but we’ve seen how that’s gone thus far.) Reiff was regarded as an average to slightly above average player during his time with the Lions, playing left tackle for them until Taylor Decker pushed him over to the right tackle spot in his last year in the Motor City.
The terms of Reiff’s deal put a lot of people off. The Vikings, after already having “missed” (supposedly) on several other offensive tackles, wound up giving Reiff a five-year, $58.75 million deal with over $26 million in guarantees. That sounds like a whole lot of money. . .and it is. But the Vikings, who had suffered through a couple of seasons of horrible offensive line play, especially from the left tackle spot, thought that he was worth the price.
Thus far, that assessment has been accurate.
Pro Football Focus has put out their rankings of offensive line in terms of pass blocking efficiency through the first quarter of the season, and the Vikings. . .who were nothing short of a complete disaster last season. . .sit at #11 in the NFL. Reiff is a huge part of that.
The Vikings had one of the league’s worst offensive lines last season, and the additions they made through the draft and free agency have made an immediate and obvious difference. Nobody on the Vikings line has allowed more than one sack and as a unit they have surrendered 36 total pressures.
To contrast. . .let’s take a look at an offensive line headed up by one of our old friends, the Matt Kalil-led Carolina Panthers, who find themselves at #15 in the rankings.
Only Matt Kalil holds this back from being a much higher-ranked line. Kalil has surrendered four of the five sacks this line has surrendered and 13-of-38 total pressures across 136 snaps.
Yes, Kalil. . .who got basically the same contract as Reiff did this offseason despite not having had an even average year since his rookie season. . .is single-handedly dragging down the entire Carolina offensive line. Not a good look. I guess that “demanding excellence” isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.
So far, per PFF, Reiff’s grade for the year is currently at 75.4, which ranks him 21st among all NFL tackles (both left side and right side). The Vikings’ other bookend, Mike Remmers, is just ahead of him at 75.9, which is 19th in the NFL. Now, those grades might not sound incredibly high. . .but, if ye have a strong enough stomach, let’s compare them to what the Vikings put out at the left tackle spot last season.
- T.J. Clemmings - 31.0 (It’s okay. . .he can’t hurt us anymore)
- Matt Kalil - 37.2 (for the two games he actually participated in)
- Jake Long - 63.9 (though he was looking better until his leg gave out)
The Vikings were a disaster along the offensive line in 2016, and that showed in the limitations the offense had. Bradford had no time to really do anything longer than a checkdown, and the running game was among the most atrocious the Vikings have fielded since the advent of the 16-game schedule. I know that other new faces have contributed to that, such as Remmers at right tackle and rookie Pat Elflein at center. But I honestly feel that Reiff’s contributions at left tackle. . .not the least of which is giving the Vikings’ quarterbacks the confidence that they might not get their internal organs rearranged on every single snap. . .has been the biggest part of that.
Honestly, how many times have we said in this space that the Vikings’ didn’t need to have the best offensive line in the league. . .they just needed to not suck? Well, Reiff’s presence has taken this offensive line well beyond “not suck” status for the first quarter of this season, and hopefully that will continue going forward.
When you add it all up, that’s why I think Riley Reiff has been the Vikings’ most impressive newcomer through the first four games of this season. Yeah, you can make a case for Dalvin Cook, but then you have to bring up his injury, and that would just make everyone sad and angry. So, let’s focus on the positive.