This is my final pre draft analysis of position groups, and I’ve saved the one that's been driving most of us nuts for last: Interior O Line. We all know that it’s an absolute must to draft AT LEAST one Guard. We also do not have a strong recent history of solving this problem and I can think of a few reasons for that: 1. A lot of times a college Tackle will be a theoretical good fit as an NFL guard. Same thing with a college Center. But these guys usually have limited reps at the position, and that means a lot of conjecture comes into play. Also, teams often do not draft that must have guard in round 1 because the position doesn't get paid as well as some others. It is what it is, but it is high time the Vikings improve this position group. We really need it!!! I will not beg though
Dear god, let's fix this problem!
The best GUARD of the 2021 NFL draft class is:
Tier 1: Top 10-15 starters
1. Alijah Vera Tucker
Perfect example of a guy who played a lot of Tackle that we are projecting to Guard. But at least he played the position and played it well. He isn't a giant man but he is an excellent blocker and I saw no real flags. AVT has good feet, an excellent kick back, solid but not great hands, and is really good when he moves to the second level. He has a solid anchor, although I wouldn't call that his best attribute. I was impressed with his balance, which he does a very good job of maintaining throughout plays. I do believe he could fill in at Tackle if needed, which adds some flexibility value, but like others, I really see him as a Guard at the next level, and he should be very good at it. Sure fire first round pick, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he drops in the draft to the late teens/early twenties as teams look to fill Tackle as a priority.
Tier 2: Capable starter
2. Creed Humphrey
I think Humphrey is a true center. He's a great fighter in the phone booth type of guy, not afraid to mix it up and get a bit nasty too. He's strong, if a bit less athletic than a truly elite prospect. He also has a great proven track record. I saw his pass block blown rate last year was under 1% and his run blown rate was under 2%. So great production. 2020 was no different really. He seems to get pushed around a little, but he fights and doesn't give up. I believe he will remain at center in the pros. Best attribute is his base, which allows him to recover when he leans too much or gets push pull ripped. I do not think he's a perfect fit for our scheme though.
3. Landon Dickerson
This is one beefy dude. He doesn't have the longest wingspan, but he is thick throughout both his lower and upper body. Another Center who could play guard. He also displays feet that he uses well, with short choppy strides. And he brings a lot of strength. Of course having 4 of his 5 seasons in college end in injury is a major flag. I also believe that he has average overall athleticism. He maximizes what he has though, and one way he does that is through excellent vision and decision making. He’s a smart lineman, always looking around for someone to hit and is difficult to fool with stunts. When push comes to shove though, I do drop Dickerson a bit in my rankings because he lacks great athleticism and has a troubling injury history. I also think he's a better fit for a power scheme than our zone blocking line. Probably not our guy.
4. Kendrick Green
Sleeper alert! Look, I went through the top 10 guys in my list and wasn't happy, so i just kept going. Very hard to find a guy who fit our scheme whom I also thought was good and would be available beyond round 1. This draft does NOT have a lot of good outside zone guards in it, and that's a real problem for us!!! Fortunately, when I looked at guy number 14 I finally found somebody not expected to go too high whom I could get on board for. Kendrick Green is my man! He’s slated as a 3rd day guy, but he is not going to make it there, of that I am sure. Lets get his biggest flag out of the way, the guy is short by Guard standards. He comes in at only 6’ 2". That’s short enough to be in the bottom 1% of guards, yoiks! In the end though, I don’t care if he's short if he can flat out play, and Green can. He is 305 lbs, so not too beefy, but not skinny either, and he has a stout shape about him. On top of that, he can really move. He's a fluid and terrific athlete for his size, like elite level in my view. After watching his tape, I had to go get his measurables: Turns out he's in the top 98-99% for vertical and broad jump as well as 40 yard dash. His 10 yard and 20 yard shuttle were also excellent (top 95%). His 3 cone, 20 yard shuttle and bench press were about average, but as I said, he moves very well in the games I watched. He even held his own on bull rushes, which was something I was particularly interested in seeing because that's a well identified problem with our current guards. He plays tough, moves well, and I think he's a strong fit for us. Underwear champions will worry about his size, but he didn't play small, he plays aggressive, strong and fast. I know some of you will worry that giant DTs will push him back, but I could not find a huge guy who moved really well enough for our scheme in this draft outside of round 1. So unless you want to go guard there, you work with what you can get. Of what's going to be available, Green was the guy I would take and I think he will be a capable NFL starter. I think, like most rookies, he will need to get stronger, but he does drop his anchor well and because he's shorter but thick in his lower body mass, he wins leverage with lower pad level. Is he a first round talent? No, but he is a second round guy in my view, and I think he can help our team. He will not whiff blocks, his feet are very good, gets to the second level very well and he also has experience playing center, so of course that provides flexibility. He is also a converted Defensive guy, so really he's only been on the offensive side of the ball for a few years, meaning he might just be scratching the surface of his talent!
Tier 3: Starter potential
5. Quinn Meinerz
Everybody’s favorite darling. Put a fat guy in a crop shirt and have him parade around and he becomes a star. I wasn't impressed with that, if I want to see a gut, I only need to look down or watch the Cowboys play. I also wasn't impressed that I couldn't find legit footage of this guy beyond highlight tape. Everybody looks great in those, especially when they are throwing around undersized D3 linebackers and safeties. I watched all his tape at the senior bowl, which I also discount a bit. First I do not think the best players were there, second he didn't play in the game so the tape of that is guys in shorts going up against one guy where nobody is trying to get hurt and there's like two minutes of action per guy lol. Speaking of the senior bowl practices, he broke his hand during it so he couldn't really play in the game. Sounds like a good 6th or 7th round flyer right? Well, Meinerz had himself quite a pro day, coming in at 320 lbs and yet scoring incredibly well (over 90 percentile in everything, including 99th in the 40 and 97% in the 3 cone drill. I couldn’t ignore that and was impressed by it. Because of all the hype, the senior bowl practice, and the awesome measurables, now Meinerz is being talked about in round 2. I was against Meinerz until I watched all these other guys, and I have to say, I've moved from a no to an I’m intrigued in round 3. Forget round 2, if somebody wants to do that, let them, but that’s too rich for my blood.
6. Ben Cleveland
My pre-tape analysis placed Cleveland as the 10th guy for me to look at. Yet I have placed him as my sixth best prospect, so he might be available as a value pick end of round 3 or top of round 4. Why do I like Ben? Well to start with he is a very big dude and nobody is going to bull rush this guy. He is not amazing, he loses his balance and gets over his feet and he doesn't move great when pulling. But he wins most of his blocks, plays with great force, is a better athlete than advertised, and is strong in my opinion in both run and pass support. I give him a top of round 4 grade. I don't see him ever being all pro, but I do see him having starter potential. Have Ezra do the pulling when we need a guard to do that, and let Ben focus on opening holes, something he is really good at! The Cleveland Brothers can become the Vikings version of the Hanson brothers!
7. Wyatt Davis
Very interesting (and tough) evaluation. Davis seemed to look better to me in 2019 than 2020. He claims that the injury that knocked him out of the playoff was something that was bothering him the last 5 games, which I agree he played worse in that stretch than he was playing before those games. It's worth noting Davis didn't require surgery for that injury, which has to be viewed as a positive from a health perspective. Was the injury a convenient excuse, or was it really nagging him though? I suspect it was real because he left one contest early and of course was knocked out of the playoff game. One thing I noticed was how successful Ohio State was whenever they ran behind Davis. His run blocking impressed. In pass protection, he did pretty good, but I would not say that he excelled there. There were multiple times guys ran right by him. I am not sure what he was thinking on those plays because by all accounts he's an intelligent guy. In the end, I wanted to like him more than I did, he just didn't do enough in pass protection, where he was helped out by how mobile Justin Fields really is. Btw, have I told you all that Fields is better than advertised and has great mobility in the pocket? Anyway, back to Davis, I think he’s a potential starting caliber guard in the NFL, although I can’t say I think he has a great ceiling. I feel bad, because prior to my analysis, I have been advocating him as a solution for us. Now I suspect he goes above the top of the 4th round grade I am giving him.
Tier 4: Poor fit for the Vikings
8. Trey Smith
Dang it! Another guy I’ve heard a lot of positives on that I came away unimpressed. Smith is a strong guy who came back from a career threatening blood clot issue. Assuming his medicals check out, he is going to be an NFL player, but I do not see him as a great scheme fit and thats why I dont rate him highly, even though he will be fine for some other schemes. He isn't nimble or quick and lacks athleticism. He relies on power and his hands. In fact he is very handsy, and while it helped him push guys around, I saw a number of holds he got away with. I will say one thing I really liked about him is that he is always looking for a guy to hit and isn't shy about it, he brings an attitude to his play and is always alert. Not gonna spend too much more time on him though, as I just don't think the Vikings will even seriously consider him given his strengths and weaknesses not being a good mesh for us.
9. Aaron Banks
Dang it again! OK, first, I actually liked Banks tape. I would rank him higher than several guys on this list actually, if I weren't looking for more mobile guards who can slide the line or pull. When not being asked to move too much, this cat is tough. I was impressed with him against top competition, he more than held his own against both Clemson and Alabama. He is strong and stout. He is active. But he just is not enough of a dancing bear and when asked to get into space he is lost and loses his balance easily. That's not something that can fit with how our O Line works and I think he would be a disastrous pick for us.
10. Deonte Brown
Yep, another guy who is a big ugly and good in a very confined space, but don’t ask him to slide or pull from his position because it's just not in his toolbox. This is the trend of Guards in this draft: Quite a few big fat maulers who do not move well. I cannot see us drafting Smith Banks r Brown. Anyway, even though he's less heralded than Dickerson or Leatherwood, Brown is a big strong dude who does well in confined space. Guess that's no surprise as a starter at Alabama. We all know if we can find a guy with heft who can at least move a bit, we might entertain that. Browns not that guy. Ask him to move and his lack of mobility and balance become a major vulnerability. Not recommending we draft this guy either.
As things stand friends, I find this guard class lacking. The first three guys in my ranking are expected to go before we make our second pick. Meinerz and Davis are as well. Mosl of these guys are power scheme guys. So as I see it, we have only a few options:
- AVT. I really do think he is quite good, but I hate using pick #14 on a guard when we need a LT and a DE in my opinion, so not my personal preference.
- Kendrick Green. Little short, but strong tape, strong measurables, and likely available near the top of round 3. I expect him to go earlier than round 4, some are saying the Jets at the top of round 3 now that they are going with the 49ers scheme and the Niners daft linemen. We better be prepared to move up for him if we really want a good guard and have not drafted anyone yet, because the pickings get slim quick. I’d be happy to get Green!
- Draft Ben Cleveland. Fallback option if we do not get Green, but the truth is, he isn't a perfect fit for us. Still, he brings size, toughness and at least some level of mobility.
- Draft a Tackle to play guard. I think this is a very real possibility, given the lack of quality mobile guards in this draft. I could see Leatherwood, Jackson Carman, or I am sure there are more guys who could make the transition well, but I didnt have time to analyze.
OK, boys and girls, that's a wrap for my pre-draft prep. Hope you enjoyed these and I cannot wait to see what our Purple People eaters do later this week!