It seems that the offensive line has been a point of contention for the Minnesota Vikings for about a decade now. It seems that way because. . .well, it really has been. Even when the Vikings have had good seasons in recent years, the offensive line has had its struggles and has generally been a big part of the team coming undone in the postseason.
Despite a bit more attention being paid to the offensive line over the past few seasons, the Vikings’ offensive line is still a work in progress. The folks from Pro Football Focus have put out their ratings of all the NFL offensive lines going into the 2020 season, and the Vikings are way down at #23.
PFF’s commentary on the tackle spots for the Vikings pretty much reflects what you’d expect them to say.
Left tackle Riley Reiff has been a mid-tier option since coming over from the Detroit Lions; he’s had many solid games in his three years with the Vikings, but he has also had some duds, including a poor 31.6 pass-blocking grade against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round last year. On the plus side, Reiff is a solid zone blocker, and he had the 20th highest percentage of positively graded run blocks among 82 qualifying tackles last year.
Right tackle Brian O’Neill was right there behind Reiff and ranked 22nd in positively graded blocks — he’s another athletic zone blocker who fits well in Minnesota’s system. O’Neill has also been solid in pass protection in his two years in the league, with his 68.6 pass-blocking grade ranking in the top half of the league.
This offseason, the Vikings also used a second-round pick on tackle Ezra Cleveland out of Boise State. Cleveland profiles similarly to Reiff and O’Neill as a good zone blocker with mid-level expectations as a pass-blocker.
Reiff isn’t Ron Yary or anything, but he’s been decent enough since the Vikings brought him over from Detroit. He’s likely in a make-or-break year with Cleveland waiting in the wings and a big salary cap figure on the horizon for 2021. O’Neill has been a bright spot over his first few seasons and will likely be someone the Vikings can build around going forward. When it comes to the offensive line, the tackles aren’t the issue in Minnesota.
The interior, on the other hand. . .
On the interior, left guard Pat Elflein has struggled no matter where he’s played on the line, and his 57.4 overall grade ranks just 105th out of 130 qualifying interior offensive linemen over the last three years. At right guard, Dakota Dozier is slated for the first extended starting action after his career — he’s failed to play more than 361 snaps in any of his five seasons — and he graded at just 51.5 across both guard positions and a little bit of center last season for the Vikings. Center Garrett Bradbury has the perfect skill set for Minnesota’s outside zone scheme, and he flashed it last season, though he struggled mightily in pass protection on his way to a 38.7 pass-blocking grade that ranked last among centers.
I’m not sure if Dozier is guaranteed to start, and if he does, it might be in place of Elflein instead. I think the team is pretty high on Dru Samia after giving him a redshirt season in 2019, and whether or not he’s ready for prime time is going to be one of the big stories of Training Camp for the Vikings, I think.
The Vikings are definitely going to need Bradbury to take a step forward this year. When they drafted him in 2019 his lack of strength was something that was frequently brought up and it’s not a surprise that he struggled in that regard as a rookie. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement from him in that regard this season. He had some great moments as a run blocker last season, but definitely needs to get better in pass protection.
The Vikings definitely don’t have anything approaching an elite offensive line at this point, but I think the arrow is pointed upward. The team has concentrated on getting guys that fit into the type of scheme they want to run, and as a result have gotten very good production from the run game. If the pass protection can improve, this unit will continue moving up in the ranks.
Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but that’s how I see it.