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Handicapping the Vikings Offensive Linemen

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It’s the unit that can make or break the Vikings’ season

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-OTA David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Another position group that will have a lot of competition, particularly at the backup spots, is the offensive line. This is another group, like the defensive line, with 16 players chasing about nine roster spots, and a few practice squad spots.

Let’s take a look is similar fashion to the defensive line handicapping I did earlier this week.

Sixteen Man Field

The Vikings will open training camp with sixteen offensive linemen on the roster, but only nine (likely) roster spots available.

Of course there are at least a handful of players that are virtual locks to make the roster, which include Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline, and Brian O’Neill. I’m less sure myself about Elflein belonging in that category, but taking the first team reps at left guard from the get-go this off-season, it would seem unlikely that he’d fall all the way off the roster during the course of training camp. Of course Alex Boone was in that position a couple years ago, so anything is possible.

Anyway, that leaves eleven guys chasing four roster spots, and perhaps another three practice squad spots as well. That means most likely four of the sixteen offensive linemen will be looking for work come September.

Explosion Factor

When it comes to desired traits in an offensive lineman, there are those particular to each position, and also those for run and pass blocking. For run blocking, the explosion factor (broad jump + vertical jump + bench press) applies for every position, as getting the jump on a defender and having the strength to maintain a block is essential to success.

Both the broad and vertical jump are a measure of lower body explosiveness, while bench press is a measure of upper body strength. Both are needed traits for a lineman to win his share of battles in the trenches. Here’s how the group stacks up:

Garrett Bradbury: 73.7 | Tiano Pupungatoa: 71.2 | Aviante Collins: 66.5 | Dru Samia: 63.9 | Oli Udoh: 63.25 | Danny Isidora: 62.8 | Josh Kline: 60.5 | Brian O’Neill: 60.42 Cornelius Edison: 57.5 | Riley Reiff: 57.2 | Rashod Hill: 55.75 | Dakota Dozier: 55.4 | Pat Elflein: 53.75 | Storm Norton: 52.25 | John Keenoy: 48 + BJ | Brett Jones: n/a | Storm Norton: n/a

While this factor is more of a partial factor for offensive linemen as defensive linemen, as it applies more to run blocking than pass blocking, it is rather interesting that 5 of the top 7 players in this measure were acquired under new offensive line coach Rick Dennison. It’s also nice to see top draft pick and starting center Garrett Bradbury top the list, particularly as run blocking is a center’s primary job after making the blocking calls. And with two of those guys starters, hopefully that translates into better run blocking.

Short Area Quickness

Another desired trait for offensive linemen, particularly interior linemen, is short area quickness and lateral agility. This is needed to get into position (particularly in zone blocking) and mirror the defensive lineman in pass protection. Good footwork is important for both interior linemen and tackles, and foot quickness is a key part of that. The best measure, in terms of Combine drills, for short area quickness is the 20 yard short shuttle. This drill also shows how well a player can keep a low center of gravity and sink their hips - also important for success as an offensive lineman. Here are the short shuttle results for the Vikings current OL roster:

Brian O’Neill: 4.50” | Garrett Bradbury: 4.53” | Josh Kline: 4.59” | Storm Norton: 4.64” | Dru Samia: 4.70” | Pat Elflein: 4.71” | Aviante Collins: 4.75” | Riley Reiff: 4.75” | Rashod Hill: 4.75” | Oli Udoh: 4.78” | Dakota Dozier: 4.89” | Danny Isidora: 4.90” | Cornelius Edison: 4.92” | John Keenoy: 5.00” | Tiano Pupungatoa: 5.12” | Brett Jones: n/a

Here you can see the short shuttle times and presumed first, second, or third string status appear to correlate fairly well, for the most part. Again, not an absolute determinant of success in and of itself, but an important factor in at least determining a player’s potential or ceiling.

Arm Length

While the short shuttle may be a bit more important in evaluating an interior lineman, arm length may be more important for tackles. Long arms are an advantage for a tackle in defeating edge rushers in a couple ways. First, it gives them an advantage in pushing them off track on an outside speed rush, and secondly makes it more difficult for an edge rusher to reach them and control their body, whether a bull rush, or push/pulling them in one direction or another, and can help stunt their momentum to the quarterback.

Not every great tackle has long arms - future first-ballot Hall of Famer Joe Thomas is an excellent example. But long arms remain a desired trait and can give a tackle with longer arms than his opponent a blocking advantage. 34” arms or longer are prototypical.

Arm length is still desired for interior lineman as well, for similar reasons and being able to sustain blocks, but not quite as important as tackles blocking out in space. Here is how the Vikings offensive linemen stack up in this measure:

Oli Udoh: 35.375” | Storm Norton: 35.25” | Brian O’Neill: 34.175” | Dakota Dozier: 33.875” | Cornelius Edison: 33.625” | Aviante Collins: 33.375” | Riley Reiff: 33.25” | Pat Elflein: 33.25” | Dru Samia: 33” | Danny Isidora: 33” | Tiano Pupungatoa: 32.175” | John Keenoy: 31.875” | Garrett Bradbury: 31.75” | Josh Kline: 31.375” | Rashod Hill: n/a

You can see that a couple of the interior starters have notably short arms- Bradbury and Kline - even for interior linemen. Hopefully that won’t be too much of a factor in their positions - typically it’s not as crucial. I suspect in most cases arm length wasn’t a priority for the Vikings coaches/scouts, rightly or wrongly.

Intelligence

Lastly, intelligence is an important factor for offensive linemen, particularly centers, as they need to be fluent in the playbook, read and recognize defensive schemes and adjust accordingly. If a wide receiver screws up their assignment, it may or may not be fatal for the play. If an offensive linemen misses his assignment, pretty good chance the play fails.

Unfortunately the best measure for intelligence, outside of GPA perhaps - which isn’t generally available, are Wonderlic scores. They’re admittedly not the best measure, and also not available unless leaked, but they are a measure where scoring particularly low or high is notable.

It’s interesting in this context because here is a list of the top draft-eligible offensive lineman scores on the Wonderlic this year:

42 Nick Allegretti | 39 Jonah Williams | 38 Dru Samia | 35 Garrett Bradbury | 34 Chuma Edoga | 31 Max Scharping | 29 Chris Lindstrom | 28 Beau Benzschawel | 28 Nate Trewyn | 27 Oli Udoh | 26 Erik McCoy | 26 Ross Pierschbacher | 26 Sepesitiano (Tiano) Pupungatoa​​​​​​

Four of the top 13 offensive linemen in this test are now Vikings, including two of the top four. I could only find two other Wonderlic scores for Vikings offensive linemen: Brian O’Neill: 29 | Pat Elflein: 21

Overall Preliminaries

It perhaps isn’t a surprise to see Garrett Bradbury score very high on pretty much everything but arm length, so that’s an auspicious beginning for him. What may come as more of a surprise is to see how well guys like Dru Samia, Oli Udoh, and Tiano Pupungatoa did on these metrics.

On the other hand, it may not be a surprise, based on his performance to date, to see how Pat Elflein did on these measures.

NFL Grades

Among the non-starters, let’s add in PFF grades during the pre-season last year to get an idea of where they’re at coming into training camp this year. The numbers are their overall grade followed by their pass blocking and then run blocking grades.

Brett Jones: 76.8 | 68.9 | 83.7

Dakota Dozier: 73.1 | 65.7 | 72.1

Storm Norton: 64.7 | 78.6 | 49.9

Rashod Hill: 59.2 | 59.5 | 56.9

Aviante Collins: 56.0 | 45.5 | 58.9

Cornelius Edison: 51.1 | 84.0 | 39.2

Danny Isidora: 46.9 | 70.8 | 47.7

And for those that saw regular season action:

Riley Reiff: 73.6 | 71.3 | 68.3

Brian O’Neill: 63.0 | 65.5 | 58.3

Josh Kline: 58.0 | 67.5 | 53.1

Rashod Hill: 57.8 | 55.1 | 55.1

Dakota Dozier: 54.5 | 69.2 | 50.0

Danny Isidora: 53.5 | 36.0 | 60.6

Brett Jones: 53.1 | 70.3 | 46.5

Pat Elflein: 41.9 | 44.3 | 44.3

It should also be noted that Brett Jones also had a 68.6 overall grade with a 82.1 pass blocking and 60.0 run blocking grade as the starting center for the Giants in 2017, while Pat Elflein had grades of 66.1, 65.4, and 64.6 respectively in 2017. Meanwhile Josh Kline had grades of 67.7, 81.0, and 58.2 that year.

Overall

Adding up both the key measurable scores along with recent on-field performance grades, along with position(s) played, and you can see where there could be some tight competition at the guard spots and for swing tackle.

The only starting spot that could change is left guard if Elflein doesn’t do better this pre-season and in training camp. Both Collins and Samia - and possibly even Dozier or Jones - could eclipse Elflein at left guard. It’s been assumed that Elflein will be better at left guard than he was at center, in part because he was better at guard at OSU, but that remains to be seen. He’s healthier than he was last year, but also playing a new position. His athletic metrics are not as good as some of his competitors, so we’ll see how that plays out.

At present, Collins has been working at 2nd string left tackle, while Samia is at third string right guard. Jones is second string center and Dozier is second string left guard.

Collins, however, is also a candidate in the competition for swing tackle. Rashod Hill has been swing tackle most of the last couple years, but at this point looks to have plateaued at a level that leaves him vulnerable to being overtaken by Collins or possibly even Storm Norton, if he’s able to breakout over the next six weeks. Hill’s $2 million salary cap hit (and no dead cap) increases the pressure for him to deliver on a salary cap crunched team.

Beyond that, the additions of Dru Samia, Dakota Dozier, and even Tiano Pupungatoa puts pressure on third year man Danny Isidora to produce. He’s been a disappointment so far, and without real progress over the next six weeks, his tenure with the Vikings could be over.

Given all of the above, roster spots could play out this way:

LT: Riley Reiff, Aviante Collins

LG: Pat Elflein, Dru Samia, Dakota Dozier

C: Garrett Bradbury, Brett Jones

RG: Josh Kline, Dru Samia

RT: Brian O’Neill, Aviante Collins

I suspect Oli Udoh, Storm Norton, and Tiano Pupungatoa could land practice squad spots.

I suspect those who don’t make either the roster or practice squad will include Cornelius Edison, John Keenoy, Danny Isidora, and Rashod Hill.

Edison and Keenoy being cut wouldn’t be much of a surprise in this group, which would still have three guys that can play center on the roster. Isidora wouldn’t be much of a surprise either, particularly if he doesn’t show improvement. Hill getting cut would be a sign of improvement for tackle depth, and could also be at least partly a salary cap issue too.

There is also a chance Storm Norton makes the roster this year. Norton’s issue has mainly been a lack of strength and anchor (he’s 6’8”, 310 lbs.). He managed only 15 bench press reps at his pro day a couple years ago and doesn’t have a very low center of gravity with his frame. But hopefully after a couple years now in the Vikings strength program, he should be improved. He showed some improvement last year in pre-season, but still had a ways to go. This year he may be in position to make another step forward. We’ll see.

Lastly, Dakota Dozier is certainly no lock to make the roster. If he doesn’t keep the primary backup guard spot - and I could see many scenarios where he doesn’t - he could be jettisoned in favor of another player with more upside.