The Vikings are in an enviable position where they do not have a lot of glaring holes personnel-wise. With the 30th pick in the draft, they can take the best player available, regardless of position. But as they move deeper into the second, third, fourth rounds, there are positions whose depth needs addressing. Specifically, they exit 2017 a touch thin in the interior line department. Today, we will take a look at someone who could help fill that hole: Skyler Phillips, a guard from Idaho State.
Phillips’ projection is hard to gauge; mock drafts have him anywhere from a second round pick to a sixth round pick. His FCS background could see him slip a little further than deserved, but Phillips has the size, agility and strength to be a starting NFL guard.
There are some question marks with Phillips immediately. For one, he has a slight injury history, missing most of 2016. However, he was a four-year starter at Idaho State and started four more during his medical red shirt season. The one year of injury is the only blip on his resume in that regard.
The other big question is the same for any player coming from an FCS school: Competition. Phillips anchored a prolific offensive attack for Idaho State but their highest profile opponent in 2017 was Nevada. While Phillips dominated more often than not, earning Third Team All-American along the way, he lacks the pedigree of other NFL-ready guards. Because of this, his Senior Bowl appearance will carry more weight on his draft stock than, say, Dan Feeney of Indiana.
That being said, fact is that Phillips could only play the opponents on his schedule. And when he did, he wreaked havoc, like a pro prospect should. So let’s examine his game and how it will translate.
First and foremost, Phillips is a specimen. He has NFL guard size at six-foot-two to six-foot-three, depending on who you ask and anywhere from 315 to 340 pounds. But he has more than just the size; he is exceptionally mobile, as well. Phillips possesses lateral quickness of an NFL left tackle with surprising vertical speed.
This is the most important thing to look at when gauging a guard prospect’s potential and Phillips has many of the features that go into a successful pro run-blocker. First and foremost, he almost always gets a strong first push. He flies off the ball, knocking the defender a yard back before he has time to react. Even on plays where he does not sustain a block, it works out because of the strong initial push.
Secondly, his pulling is exceptional. Phillips is a bit more methodical on his pulls, reading the defense before kicking into another gear and exploding at the defender on the edge. He pulls with a purpose, but does so constructively, not just at 100 miles per hour.
In FCS action, Phillips did not see a ton of top-notch pass-rushers. So to really judge his pass-blocking ability, it is more about examining technique. Phillips played left tackle for multiple seasons before bumping inside and his time there clearly helps in his pass set. He never lunges, receiving his opponent but also using his hands to keep them at bay. He has the leg strength to stop bull rushes and the lateral quickness to handle moves. But his success in pass pro all starts with the initial set.
Simply put, he makes a lot of correct decisions. He knows when to leave a man on the line and move to the second level, who to pick up on stunts and blitzes and how to set up outside runs and screens. Idaho State uses a lot of spread and therefore, there is not much “second level” for Phillips to reach. But when he needs to, he can get to linebackers and safeties without issue.
This is the most glaring and most worrisome of Phillips’ weaknesses. After a strong initial push, there are a significant number of plays where he loses the block a hair too soon. In a league of zone blocking and patient runners, sustaining blocks can be more important than even the initial push. There is some comfort in the fact that, generally speaking, he loses blocks generally because he fails to stay on his feet. It is not so much that he is beaten after a couple seconds, more so that he has bouts with clumsiness.
Losing Across His Face
This was not a common occurrence. But from time-to-time, smaller, quicker defensive tackles were able to beat Phillips inside across his face. It was always on pass plays and typically on dropbacks of three steps or fewer where the line engages rather than drops into a pass set. As stated earlier, Phillips is quick enough most of the time and NFL tackles will not be 240 pounds and fast. But a lot are 300 pounds and fast.
His Place in Minnesota
The Vikings could use a “bubble butt” guard next to Pat Elflein (yes, that is a real scientific term). Imagine the athleticism of Elflein and Phillips out on the edge, clearing the way on a halfback screen. Minnesota is not particularly deep at guard; with Joe Berger retiring, it may be down to Nick Easton and Danny Isidora. With those two, the Vikings have athletic, but relatively small guards as both are around 300 pounds. And Isidora has almost no in-game experience.
Phillips brand of hard-nosed run-blocking and ability to get on the edge would work well with the Vikings personnel. They have running backs who get out on the edge, both in the run and pass game. They use a lot of play action and roll-outs. All of these require strong, but mobile linemen to create space. Phillips appears to have the necessary qualities to fit in.
You can check out Phillips’ game against Utah State on Sept. 7, 2017 here:
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