The NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, and speculation and thoughts abound about who the Vikings could or should draft with their first round pick. Of course there are always surprises as the draft unfolds, and so it’s hard to predict what players will be available at #18. But given the Vikings offensive line needs, and this year’s offensive line class, there are a few prospects that stand out as the best bets - and best fits - for the Vikings offensive line.
First Pick Should Be Offensive Line
The first thing that should be said is that an offensive lineman should be the first pick for the Vikings. There are some scenarios where maybe a defensive lineman or Iowa tight end falls to the Vikings at #18, but the marginal improvement at DL or TE is not nearly as great as the marginal improvement that can be had along the OL with a top draft pick.
Moreover, with many of the top defensive linemen ranked higher overall than the offensive linemen, teams picking ahead of the Vikings with needs for both may favor the defensive side - which would result in more top offensive linemen being available for the Vikings at #18.
Secondly, there is a need for more than one starting offensive linemen, and so waiting past the first round to pick one makes it less likely to draft two with immediate starting ability.
Links to profiles by clicking on names.
Best Bets For The Vikings In The First Two Rounds
There are a couple good prospects that top the list for the Vikings in terms of value and overall fit for the Vikings. It’s difficult to say which is the overall best choice, and I expect some musical chairs in training camp in terms of finding the best positions for starters, but here are the top prospects in terms of value and overall fit:
There is some divergence of opinion about Jonah Williams, who most recently played left tackle at Alabama, but has also played right tackle and could also play guard. Some scouts even think he could even be a good fit at center.
The divergence in opinion ranges from the best offensive linemen in the draft, to among the best offensive linemen in the draft. In terms of overall placement on big boards, he ranges from as high as #4 overall (PFF), to #20 (The Draft Network). But increasingly he is seen to be available in many mock drafts when the Vikings pick at #18.
Williams is both scheme and position versatile. He could play in zone or gap schemes, and at pretty much any position along the offensive line. For the Vikings, his best spot may be at either left or right tackle, or possibly left guard.
Most evaluations of Williams rave about his technical ability. Things like hand placement, footwork, recognition, body control, football IQ. These are apparent in his film at Alabama, where he excelled against top competition in pass protection. Other positives for Williams is that he’s only 21 years old and he has three years as a starter under his belt at Alabama.
His main detractions are generally his measureables. His 33 5/8” arms are a little short for a left tackle (Riley Reiff’s are 33 1/4”), and none of his Combine measures really stood out. There is also a general one for many Alabama prospects: they are generally very well coached, so there isn’t much coaching upside for them at the NFL level.
But at the end of the day, scouts say what matters most is the player’s film, and not the Combine or Pro Day measureables. I’m not sure how well 37-year old Andrew Whitworth, or 34 year-old Joe Staley would do in Combine events at this point, but they’re still among the very best left tackles in the league. And Williams’ measureables were very similar to David Bahktiari’s, who was the top ranked left tackle last season.
In terms of coaching, while no reflection of new offensive line coach Rick Dennison, the offensive line coaching hasn’t exactly been a strength in recent years for the Vikings, so having an offensive lineman already proficient technically is probably a good thing, and more of a question mark for those in need of good coaching to reach their potential.
Overall, Williams is the most NFL-ready of the offensive linemen, based on his performance against NFL-quality competition at Alabama, and the refinement of his technique. He would also be a good value for the Vikings at #18, as he has generally be ranked at least that high, and as high as #4 overall in some rankings.
Risner was a four year starter at Kansas State - first at center and then his final three years at right tackle, with some spot guard duty as well. And while the Big 12 doesn’t present the same level of competition as Williams faced in the SEC and championship games, Risner has been an extremely consistent top performer in both pass protection and run blocking throughout his entire four year career at Kansas State. So, while you can discount the level of competition to some degree, Risner has easily the best grades overall among offensive tackles over their college careers. I did a profile piece on him earlier this year.
Risner is also seen as scheme diverse, with the strength and size to move people in a gap scheme, and also the lateral agility for a zone scheme. Risner played in a combination of inside zone and power/gap schemes in college. He could play anywhere along the OL for the Vikings, but right tackle, left guard or center may be his best fits.
But beyond his performance on tape and scheme fit, Risner also brings some intangibles that could be helpful to the Vikings offensive line. First, he brings a mauler and finisher mentality in his style of play, with excellent competitive toughness in terms of physicality, playing through the whistle and playing through injuries. He’s been a 3-time team captain who likes to talk trash and communicate with his fellow linemen during and in-between plays to make adjustments as needed. These qualities have been missing on the Vikings offensive line, and a guy like Risner could really add to the overall play of the line with these qualities. This leadership, toughness and communications skills would also make him a good fit at center, where he played well as a freshman.
Risner also has average athletic ability - similar to Williams - but a little longer, stronger, and bigger overall. He’s not quite as refined a technician, but what he lacks there he makes up for in his competitive toughness, which shows in his film and his consistently top grades his entire college career. Risner would be a 24 year-old rookie, which is a negative to some.
Risner may not be as good a value at #18 as Williams, but he may be just as good a fit for the Vikings - or better. Risner would most likely start at right tackle for the Vikings, with Brian O’Neill moving to left tackle and Riley Reiff inside to left guard. But there is also the possibility of Risner replacing Elflein at center, leaving Reiff and O’Neill to man the tackle spots - unless the Vikings draft another starting offensive lineman.
Lindstrom is a guard or center prospect for the Vikings. He played mostly right guard (some right tackle) during his three seasons at Boston College, but is seen as having the mental ability and skill set to play center as well.
Lindstrom would most likely fit at left guard for the Vikings, but possibly at center as well. He is a good fit for the Vikings outside zone scheme - athletic with a quick first step - and is generally seen as an NFL-ready guard that can start as a rookie.
Lindstrom generally graded well in both pass and run blocking throughout his career at BC, although he’s better in pass pro. Not many penalties, 34 1/8” arm length, and excellent athleticism as shown in his Combine performance round out a pretty solid guard prospect for the Vikings.
Both Risner and Lindstrom stand out for their run blocking ability, which is something the Vikings offensive line has lacked pretty much across the board.
McCoy is a strong, tough center who’s done well in a zone scheme at Texas A&M. His arms are a little on the short side even for an interior lineman (33”) which makes it more difficult to sustain blocks against longer defensive linemen, and he needs to develop his hand usage/placement to help mitigate that issue, but otherwise he’s a great fit both from a scheme and competitive toughness standpoint. He graded out better than Garrett Bradbury - another top center prospect- in both pass pro and run blocking, and against top competition.
As interior linemen, I don’t see either Lindstrom or McCoy being as good a value in the first round, but would be good picks in the second or later.
Some Other Decent Picks.... But Maybe Not As Good
Other first-round prospects worthy of consideration, but maybe not quite as good as Williams or Risner are Cody Ford and Andre Dillard.
I’ve been back and forth on Cody Ford. While still not a bad pick, he didn’t fare as well as Risner in the Big 12, particularly over his entire career, and doesn’t have as much experience as a starter. He may have a higher ceiling than Risner, but also a lower floor and isn’t a NFL-ready as either Risner or Williams. Ford also had more penalties - particularly last year at right tackle and didn’t grade as well when he played left guard.
Andre Dillard grades similar to Jonah Williams at left tackle, but not quite the level of competition as Williams faced. Dillard is more athletic, but not a developed in his technique, which requires some adjustments at the NFL level. Run blocking for Dillard has been more inconsistent over his college career, and his 33 1/2” arm length is not ideal for an NFL tackle either. I also tend to be a little more suspicious of Pac-12 offensive linemen (Kolton Miller, Josh Garnett, Jake Fisher, even Garrett Bolles and Andrus Peat) as they haven’t done as well as expected in the NFL.
On the interior line, Garrett Bradbury has a lot to like but I’m not a big fan of his 31 3/4” arms, which are very short even for an interior lineman and will make it very difficult for him to sustain blocks in the NFL. Not much not to like about him otherwise, or get really excited about either, but hard to get past the short arms.
Some Later Round Gems(?)
I’d be less inclined to take more of a center prospect like Eric McCoy earlier on because Lamont Gaillard could be around later and is pretty close in overall ability. I’ve done a piece on Gaillard earlier this year, and he’s been moving up draft boards from 7th round/UDFA territory to late 3rd/4th round territory now.
He’s doesn’t have McCoy’s arm strength (as measured by benchpress reps), but he’s got longer arms (33 1/2”) and is about the same size and also brings a lot of competitive toughness.
Greene is 6’5”, 335lbs., with 35 1/4” arm length and was a 3-year starter for the Gophers at left tackle. He had a meniscus issue in his knee that prevented him from doing Combine or Pro Day workouts, so those measures are up in the air.
But on tape he shows the functional strength and athletic ability to at least be an upgrade at swing tackle, and with some improved hand technique could be a good starter in the NFL according to scouting reports. He plays with a lot of competitive toughness as well.
There is some question of whether he’s best at tackle or guard, but Greene looks like a guy that is NFL ready in terms of functional strength and athletic ability, but could use some additional technique refinement. There’s a lot to like about Greene as a 3rd round or later pick that could be a starter sooner rather than later with some good coaching.
Offensive Line Draft Strategy
Ideally it would be nice if the Vikings drafted 2-3 of these guys. Looking at the depth here by round, I could see the Vikings using a first round pick on a guy like Risner or Williams, then coming back in the 3rd and 4th round to get Greene and Gaillard.
What do you think? What’s the best realistic combination of offensive linemen the Vikings could draft this weekend?