After a disappointing 20-17 loss at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it didn’t take long for Vikings fans to find a familiar scapegoat. Minnesota’s interior offensive line struggled in pass protection against Vita Vea and the Buccaneers defensive line. Garrett Bradbury left the game early with a back injury, and Austin Schlottmann played like an unprepared backup, which he is.
However, it was Ed Ingram who really caught the ire of Vikings faithful. Ingram was absolutely atrocious in the Vikings’ season opener. I have never seen an offensive lineman generate turnovers against his team at such a high level like Ingram has. What’s worse, is the stunning lack of self-awareness he showed post-game. When he was asked to evaluate his performance post-game, Ingram said: “I feel like I played pretty well… I had some slight mistakes, but other than that I liked my performance.” To say Ingram had some slight mistakes would be an understatement. Ed had a 40.3 pass-blocking grade per PFF, allowing 4 pressures.
A lot of fans had zero faith in Ingram heading into the season, and the few who were holding out hope have likely given up on the former second-round pick. Especially when Dalton Risner — a capable free agent guard with connections to the coaching staff, wants the Vikings to sign him. This has sent a lot of fans into a state of hysteria, where they’re desperately begging the Vikings to sign Risner at all costs. Go on X (Twitter) right now, and I guarantee you that a solid 80% of the posts or replies have something to do with Dalton Risner, who is essentially the fanbase’s lord and savior at this point.
If you’re one of these people, allow me to piss on your parade. Dalton Risner won’t singlehandedly fix the Vikings' offensive line. Sure, his PFF grades have been pretty consistent over the past four seasons. Risner’s lowest annual pass-blocking grade is 69.6, and his highest is 73.6. However, all of this production came at left guard, and the Vikings are already committed to Ezra Cleveland starting there. So if the Vikings did sign Risner, he’d either have to play right guard or you’d go with the more popular fan suggestion by starting Risner at his natural position on the left side, moving Ezra Cleveland over to right guard.
Let’s say the Vikings go with the more popular approach, and move Ezra to right guard. That would be an absolute disaster for two reasons. Firstly, you’re re-shuffling the offensive line two weeks into the regular season and forcing guys to change their technique on the fly while causing even more communication and protection errors in the process. Additionally, Ezra Cleveland isn’t a natural right guard. He played left tackle in college, and then the Vikings moved him to right guard his rookie year where he struggled. He’s played on the left side ever since.
Ezra’s biggest strength is his agility, not his strength, and putting him at right guard where he’s expected to be the nastiest run blocker on the team would be setting him up for failure. The same can be said if the Vikings kept Ezra at left guard, and they moved Risner to right guard. You’d have guys playing out of position and it would hurt the offensive line more than it would help. Aside from that, I don’t think Risner provides enough short-term value in terms of wins and losses to justify giving him the kind of money he wants when you have to give Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw extensions in the near future.
The real issue with the offensive line is Garrett Bradbury. His durability has been a concern as of late, and he’s always struggled against bull rushes. An elite center like Jason Kelce — a guy he was compared to coming out of North Carolina State, is able to lead by example and acts as the anchor of the offensive line. The truth is, the Vikings have 2 to 3 good players on the offensive line, but there’s no one there who has been able to consistently lead the unit on a weekly basis. Until the Vikings can find a proper center, it’ll always be at best, a 4v4 on in the trenches.
The solution isn’t signing Risner, it’s drafting and developing interior offensive line talent. Unfortunately, Kwesi’s track record in that department leaves a lot to be desired. The Vikings could also sign a different free agent who is younger than Risner and presents more long-term value. Risner is 28 years old, which may be a bit too long in the tooth for a team that wants to get younger. Regardless, the Vikings need to fix the center position and establish some leadership there, otherwise nothing will really change.