This week, we are taking a look at the makeup of each position group on the 2019 Vikings. That means who returned, who is new and who departed that needs replacing. Next up, the offensive line.
Returning Full-Time Starters: Pat Elflein, Brian O’Neill, Riley Reiff
Returning Significant Rotation Players: Rashod Hill, Brett Jones
Returning Depth: Aviante Collins, Cornelius Edison, Danny Isidora, Storm Norton
Veteran Additions: Dakota Dozier, Josh Kline
Rookies: Garrett Bradbury, John Keenoy, Dru Samia, Oli Udoh
This should be one of the most interesting camps in recent Vikings offensive line memory. Minnesota has largely neglected long-term fixes at the position, opting instead for patchwork signings and mid-round draft picks to fill major holes, with results that have been mixed at best. Last year, Rick Spielman inched closer to making top-of-the-line investments on draft day when he selected Brian O’Neill in the second. But one month ago, he shifted his course drastically and took Garrett Bradbury with the 18th pick.
Now, there is debate to be had about the value of a center in the first. But what is undeniable is that few college linemen played their position as well as Bradbury did the past few years. With that lone addition, the Vikings have potentially solved two major issues. For one, Bradbury is a versatile, athletic center who can anchor an outside zone running offense for years. At the same time, Pat Elflein can shift over to guard, where he may be more comfortable. The Vikings drafted Elflein to be their center of the future, but two uninspiring seasons made change imperative. Elflein excelled at guard at Ohio State, and the position on the surface seems better suited for his strengths.
As for the other starters, Riley Reiff and O’Neill are locks to start, assuming A) both remain healthy and B) Reiff does not become a surprise trade target/cut. The last two seasons in Minnesota can best describe Reiff as both the most reliable lineman on the team and yet frustratingly uneven. When on, Reiff is a franchise left tackle. He has proven himself capable of shutting down elite pass rushers on multiple occasions. But then there are performances such as Buffalo last season where he gets placed in the turnstile. The ratio of his sizable contract to his overall level of play could make Reiff a surprise cut. The Vikings would take a fairly small dead cap number should they choose to move on from Reiff ($2.2 million), so they would save quite a bit from his non-guaranteed 2019 salary.
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Much of that decision may ultimately come down to O’Neill. While not perfect in his 11 starts at right tackle, O’Neill showed considerable development and played well above expectations. He was largely seen as a project, yet he proved up the task rather quickly. The assumption is that eventually he could take on left tackle duties, given his tremendous size and athleticism. That change could come sooner rather than later if the Vikings see enough from him to shake things up.
That leaves one starting spot somewhat open for business. New addition Josh Kline is the favorite for the right guard spot, but his relative inexperience in and under-performance in a zone system could leave the door open a bit. Some of the other candidates for that spot include Brett Jones, Aviante Collins, Danny Isidora, Dakota Dozier and rookie Dru Samia.
Isidora and Collins have both worked with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski for several years now, and have made the roster out of camp the last two seasons. However, neither has been able to crack the starting lineup, save for as injury replacements. Jones has one year in Minnesota to build on and three starts last year to his name. Dozier is brand new, but versatile and started seven games with the Jets the last three years. Rashod Hill may also be an option for a starting spot, though he has exclusively played tackle as a Viking. Granted, of the players mentioned, only Kline and Jones have more starts in the NFL than does Hill.
Samia is the ultimate wild card. As a fourth-round pick, he will most likely make the roster out of camp, and with his play style and physical traits, he seems a perfect fit for the Vikings’ scheme. That said, he has been working with the third team in OTAs, so he may be a ways away from truly battling for a starting spot.
Another name to watch is Oli Udoh, the sixth-round pick out of Elon. Udoh is the ultimate development prospect with rare length and power for a late-round tackle. He has plenty of holes in his game, but with starter potential, he may have a leg up on the veterans as they battle for roster spots.
On the whole, the Vikings’ offensive line is still a question mark. But the mere fact that Spielman addressed the team’s greatest need this offseason, plus the excitement Bradbury could bring inside, shows that things are looking up. It does not guarantee a successful offensive season, nor does it lock in Kirk Cousins to Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacking. What it has done, however, is improve a back-breaking weakness on a playoff-hopeful team.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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