It’s the time of year where the good folks from Football Outsiders release their annual almanac, complete with projections for pretty much every NFL player as we head into a new season. As we’ve done in other years, we’ve gotten the opportunity to sit down with the folks from FO and ask them some questions about the Minnesota Vikings.
Rather than just bang out all five questions in one hit as we’ve done in past years, I’m going to spread them out a little bit and attempt to offer a bit more insight into each of the answers that are provided. In this year’s FOA, the chapter on the Vikings was written by Cian Fahey, but he has since moved on to join ESPN. So, in his stead, FO associate editor Vincent Verhei has graciously volunteered to answer my questions.
The first question in our series deals with that biggest bone of contention for Vikings’ fans this past offseason, the offensive line.
The Vikings’ entry in this year’s almanac details just how awful the Vikings’ offensive line was last season, particularly at the tackle spots. With the team’s two biggest free agent signings meant to shore those positions up, how much of an effect do you think that Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers will have on the Minnesota offense?
Minnesota can hardly help but be better here. Of the 69 offensive tackles with at least 400 snaps last season, T.J. Clemmings ranked 67th in rate of snaps per blown block, and Jeremiah Sirles was 50th. Reiff and Remmers should be an improvement, but maybe not a big one -- Remmers ranked 55th in the same category, while Reiff was 28th. It's telling that Remmers had been with the Panthers for three years, and Reiff with the Lions for five, but neither team thought those players were worth the money Minnesota was offering. So there should be improvement in 2017, but still room for further improvement down the line.
I think that it’s going to be interesting. . .yes, let’s go with “interesting”. . .to see what this team does on the offensive line. Last season, Reiff moved to right tackle for the Lions after playing at left tackle for four seasons, while Remmers was thrown into the left tackle position in Carolina after starting most of the previous two seasons at right tackle. This year, they’ll both be going back to their regular positions, with Reiff moving back to the left and Remmers going back to the right. Hopefully that will help them both out a bit, as I believe Reiff was a better left tackle in Detroit than he was on the right side.
There likely won’t be a lot of shuffling around the offensive line, or at least there shouldn’t be. Reiff and Remmers are locked into the tackle positions and Alex Boone is set at left guard. Joe Berger appears to have the inside track on the right guard position, but if the talk coming out of camp about fifth-round pick Danny Isidora is to be believed, his grip on that job might not be as strong as we all assumed. There’s also a battle going on at center between Nick Easton and rookie Pat Elflein, both of whom have taken snaps at other positions along the line. Heck, apparently even Willie Beavers is showing some signs of life so far this preseason.
I can’t remember where I read or heard it earlier to be able to cite it, but someone said that the biggest thing that the Vikings can do right now is to decide who their top five guys are. I’m completely in agreement with that. If Elflein is your starter at center, tell him. If Easton’s your starter, tell him. The preseason is the time for your starters to build chemistry and to get used to communicating with each other, and the more live fire situations they have to do that, the better.
If nothing else, the Vikings’ depth along the offensive line. . .which, as we learned last year, is every bit as important as who’s starting. . .should be much better than it was last year. Guys like Sirles and Elflein and Easton will provide versatility and flexibility if they’re not starting, and should keep things from going completely over the cliff like we saw last season. As we’ve said on numerous occasions before, this offensive line doesn’t have to be the NFL’s best in order for the Vikings to be a solid contender. They just have to not be the tire fire inside of a dumpster that’s also on fire that they were last season.
We’ll have more questions and answers with Vincent Verhei throughout the week, folks.