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Two Guards the Vikings Could Target with Day Two Picks

Currently, the Vikings roster is pretty light on interior offensive linemen, with just Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, Dru Samia, and Zach Bailey under contract. Presumably the Vikings will extend Kyle Hinton, who’s an ERFA, but the need for a quality starter and depth is, well, an on-going issue for the Vikings and remains so this off-season.

Most of the top guards in free agency have found new teams, and it’s not clear if the Vikings will have the cap space to sign a quality free agent guard in the coming days or weeks. We can all hope that Dakota Dozier isn’t a part of the Vikings future plans at guard, and while I like Brett Jones and thought he should’ve been a starter the last couple years, it’s not clear he will re-sign with the Vikings. He’s drawing interest from the Packers, Broncos, Seahawks and Texans, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs where he has a better starting opportunity. In any case, the Vikings should be looking for younger, higher ceiling players to fill their interior line spots, and that search will likely extend to the NFL Draft at the end of April.

Assessing the Vikings Current Offensive Line Roster

At the moment, the Vikings have the following offensive linemen under contract:

Brian O’Neill

O’Neill has held down the right tackle spot since he was drafted in 2018, and is the best performing OL on the roster. He’s more of a prototypical left tackle than right tackle, but that distinction has become a bit more blurred in recent years. Given the opening at left tackle, however, one option for the Vikings is to have O’Neill move over and fill it. He played left tackle in college. Otherwise he could stay put and the Vikings could look for another guy to take over the left tackle spot from the departed Riley Reiff.

Garrett Bradbury

Bradbury is pretty well fixed as the starting center, and while his performance has been middling, and poor last season in pass protection- perhaps due to an injury(ies) he had been battling last season according to Mike Zimmer - it doesn’t seem that there are any immediate plans for change.

Ezra Cleveland

Cleveland was installed mid-season last year at right guard, after being drafted in the 2nd round, taking over for the hapless Dru Samia and the hopeless Pat Elflein. Cleveland played left tackle at Boise State, and there has been talk that he may eventually move to left tackle for the Vikings. The last word on that came from Rick Spielman a couple weeks ago, and his answer was basically ‘we’ll see’ depending on what happens in free agency and the draft. Cleveland in many ways is a slightly shorter armed version of Brian O’Neill, but he’s also comparable to Joe Thuney, who’s been a top guard for many years. I suspect Cleveland is more of a plan B for the Vikings at tackle, but that’s not to say he couldn’t be moved there.

Rashod Hill

The Vikings just extended Hill for another year. And while he could be in competition for a tackle spot, most likely he’ll continue to serve as a capable swing tackle for the Vikings. Hill has been able to fill in well when called upon, so extending him as swing tackle for just over $1 million in cap space makes a lot of sense.

Oli Udoh

For the day or two that Riley Reiff’s status with the Vikings was in question during training camp last season, Udoh was in the mix at right tackle with Rashod Hill, while Brian O’Neill took reps at left tackle. He showed a lot of promise and progress in his half-game performance a couple years ago, but this has been the only glimpse we’ve had of Udoh on the field. The last word we’ve had on Udoh since then was that he’s been getting reps at both right guard and tackle, mostly right tackle, and that according to Vikings Offensive Line Coach Rick Dennison, he’s had a number of great reps, but that they were working mainly on his consistency to get him to have a great rep every time.

Udoh is a prototypical right tackle at 6’6”, 325 pounds, with 35 3/8” arms. He’s entering his third season as essentially a traits-based project drafted in the 6th round in 2019, and now should be ready to compete for a starting job. If Brian O’Neill was moved to left tackle, Udoh would be a prime candidate to compete at right tackle. On the other hand, if Ezra Cleveland was moved out to left tackle, Udoh could also compete at right guard. Or even left guard for that matter. But I suspect right tackle is where the Vikings see his best fit.

Dru Samia

Samia has had more regular season reps than Udoh, but those haven’t been good ones. Samia was called upon to replace Pat Elflein early last season, and it didn’t go well at all. So bad in fact that I think it was a bit of a race to see how soon Cleveland could take over. That fact that Samia couldn’t compete with the likes of Pat Elflein and Dakota Dozier for a starting guard spot after four years as a starter at Oklahoma - three at right guard - calls into question whether he’s got what it takes to be a quality player in the NFL. At this point he seems a backup caliber guard at best, but even then he’s failed to fill-in capably when called upon. It’s not usual for the Vikings to cut a 4th round pick on his rookie contract, but at this point if the Vikings are able to bring in some decent competition, Samia will need to earn his roster spot by showing significant progress.

Zach Bailey

How many knew Zach Bailey was on the Vikings roster? He went undrafted in 2019, joined the Bucs practice squad, and eventually was added to the Vikings practice squad and signed to a futures/reserve contract at the beginning of the year. Obviously more of a guy the Vikings are kicking the tires on than a legitimate contender for a starting job.

Kyle Hinton

Hinton isn’t officially on the Vikings roster, but he’s an ERFA, which means the Vikings can sign him for something less than the top 51 salaries. He was a 7th round pick for the Vikings last year, and placed on the practice squad. Later in the season he was the ‘protected’ man on the practice squad, and was placed on the active roster prior to the last game of the year. That suggests the Vikings were happy with his progress. Hinton is basically a traits-based D-II project Gary Kubiak said they were positioning as a backup center. Looking back, he was probably promoted because Bradbury was battling injury and so he might have been needed as a backup to Brett Jones. Hinton may progress to the point where he takes over the backup center job, and perhaps backup interior lineman, but for now he’s simply a contender for a backup job, most likely backup center.

Blake Brandel

Brandel was a 6th round pick at tackle last year out of Oregon State. The take on him is that he has excellent hand technique but otherwise lacks the physical/athletic skill set required for an NFL starter, notably not being able to anchor well enough against bull rushes and lacking in athleticism. Perhaps some of that is fixable in the weight room, but he looks more like a guy who’ll spend another year on the practice squad.

Filling In the Gaps

Overall, the Vikings appear to have more quality players and potential starters at the tackle spots than the interior line spots at the moment. Outside of Ezra Cleveland, the Vikings really don’t have any strong candidates to start at guard on the roster, particularly if Brian O’Neill is moved to left tackle and Oli Udoh (or Rashod Hill) starts on the right side.

It may very well be that the Vikings acquire a mid-tier OL or two in free agency, but there isn’t a lot of really compelling options left in the market for guards- most are post-30 and/or mediocre performers, and some of those with durability concerns as well.

And so the draft may be the best opportunity for the Vikings to bring in some quality competition among interior offensive linemen. The Vikings have the 14th pick in the first round, which they may or may not use to draft an offensive lineman. They may use it to draft a left tackle like Christian Darrisaw, or an edge rusher like Kwity Paye, which would still leave them a thin at guard. The Vikings don’t have a 2nd round pick, although they’ve got plenty of draft capital in later rounds to move up if need be.

But there are a couple of quality guard prospects that could be nice additions to the Vikings roster, and could compete for starting jobs, that might be available in the 3rd round or later, or at least gettable for the Vikings with a trade up into the 2nd round. Here they are.

Quinn Meinerz, IOL, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater

You probably haven’t seen Meinerz mocked on many TDN mock drafts - he’s not in their database. He’s also not in the PFF 2021 Draft Guide. And most likely many other draft publications and sites. That’s because he’s a D-III guy. He played guard his whole college career, but decided to learn center more recently (no D-III football last year) for versatility. He was invited to the Senior Bowl, and impressed there, clearly raising his draft stock from basically a Day 3 flyer to most likely a Day 2 pick with a legit chance to be an early starter.

Meinerz had never played center before the Senior Bowl, where he was asked to play a significant number of his reps. He’s 6’3”, 320 pounds.

In addition to his outstanding performance in the Senior Bowl, which many thought took him from a fringe-draftable guy to a top 100 pick, he also is off-the-charts on his RAS score after his pro-day:

Here he is in action:

He also has employed some creative, Covid lockdown in the woods workouts too:

The Steelers were successful in drafting a relatively small school guard last year (Kevin Dotson, Louisiana-Lafayette) who was the best pass-blocking guard in the 2020 draft class last season according to PFF, with a 87.2 grade. His overall grade was tied for 4th with Ezra Cleveland. Meinerz looks like he could be a better prospect, more in-line with Ali Marpet, another D-III guard Tampa drafted in the 2nd round in 2015 and has been one of the best guards in the league.

Ben Cleveland, G, Georgia

A potential line-mate for Ezra, Ben Cleveland is a monster guard 6’ 5.6”, 343 pounds:

Cleveland just had his pro day at Georgia, which Rick Spielman attended, and he also showed he could run, with a sub 5” 40 time. His bench press reps - 30 - while still really good, was a disappointment as he was expected to challenge the record of 49 (and had done as many before), but fell well short. He didn’t do the other drills that I’m aware of, and I wouldn’t expect those to be as good, but nevertheless he shows the size and enough athleticism that could be a good match for the Vikings.

Here is his PFF Draft Guide write-up:

Cleveland also participated in the Senior Bowl, but tweaked an ankle early-on so he didn’t get as much exposure. He had started off well, however:

Cleveland has plenty of tape against SEC competition too. Overall, he’s given up a total of 0 sacks, 1 QB hit, and 12 hurries over the past three seasons at Georgia. He’s a big, strong people mover, whether in pass pro or run blocking (Cleveland is #74):

And he can lay the wood too:

It should be noted that while the Vikings employ primarily a zone run scheme, they do mix in power runs too. Ben Cleveland can be effective in both.

Overall, if the Vikings were able to draft both Cleveland and Meinerz, they could shore up their interior OL issues in a hurry, and with using their first-round pick on a left tackle like Darrisaw, or moving Ezra Cleveland to left tackle, or promoting Udoh to right tackle and moving Brian O’Neill to left tackle, they could suddenly have a pretty solid offensive line this season.