Over the next couple weeks, Zone Coverage will break down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group.
Today’s Focus: Offensive line
With turnover at every other offensive position group, the Vikings retained Tony Sparano, who enters his second year as the team’s offensive line coach. The team committed to fixing one its decrepit O-line, which cracked under the duress of numerous injuries in 2016. They brought a pair of marquee free agents and mid-round drafts to help the cause, but there are still myriad questions about how this group will be constructed.
Departures: Matt Kalil (CAR), Andre Smith (CIN), Brandon Fusco (SF), Jake Long (retired)
Arrivals: Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, Pat Elflein, Danny Isidora, Reid Fragel, Aviante Collins, Nick Fett
Already rostered: Alex Boone, Joe Berger, T.J. Clemmings, Nick Easton, Rashod Hill, Jeremiah Sirles, Zac Kerin, Willie Beavers, Austin Shepherd, Marquis Lucas
THE LONG SHOTS: Reid Fragel, Marquis Lucas, Aviante Collins, Nick Fett
The position is extremely crowded but contains very few certainties, to the point where it’s hard to rule anybody out, even these four unlikely tackle prospects. The Vikings didn’t address offensive tackle in the draft and don’t appear to be firmly committed to anybody beyond free-agent signees Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. That being said, there is still a lot of traffic in this group’s way that separates them from a roster spot.
Fragel and Fett are huge tackles at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7, respectively. Lucas and Collins are lighter, faster prospects at 6-foot-4. Minnesota’s line hasn’t exactly been agile over the past few years, and their two draft picks on the line (Elflein at 6-foot-3 and Isidora at 6-foot-4) might indicate they are trying to improve their mobility at the position. I’d say Lucas or Collins have a small chance to stick around, and, of course, practice squad spots are always in play.
BATTLING: T.J. Clemmings, Danny Isidora, Nick Easton, Rashod Hill, Jeremiah Sirles, Zac Kerin, Willie Beavers, Austin Shepherd
There are some inevitable cuts coming from this group — some who may end up on someone’s 53-man roster during the claiming period.
First, there’s Isidora, the draft pick, who was taken in the fifth round. That would seem to buy him some leash, but the Vikings also cut David Yankey (fifth round) and Tyrus Thompson (sixth round) in 2015 and Beavers (fourth round) in 2016, so they aren’t afraid of putting rookies at risk.
Beavers stuck around on the practice squad last year, though, and remains a possibility. The Vikings worked him at guard and tackle, giving him additional flexibility. Hill is also in his second year with the club after being claimed from Jacksonville. He got fans excited with some nice blocks in the team’s Week 17 win over Chicago, but we’ll need to see more before we can give a truer evaluation.
The remainder of this group is in its third year in Minnesota, the majority having received a small taste of NFL action. Easton played some center last year, but his value may be marginalized with the acquisition of Pat Elflein. Sirles had a few bright spots last season as a backup tackle and guard but is still rough around the edges. Kerin played sparingly at guard. Shepherd hasn’t played since 2015, when he was the sixth man on unbalanced lines.
Then there’s Clemmings, who has been thrown in the fire since Week 1 of his rookie year. Without many signs of growth since then, it’s possible the Vikings may move on from the former fourth-round pick unless he learns not to lunge.
The Vikings ordinarily keep nine offensive linemen, likely meaning just four of the eight mentioned above will crack the 53-man roster.
THE LOCKS: Riley Reiff, Alex Boone, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, Mike Remmers
About the only spots that appear solidified are the presumed starting five. Reiff and Remmers were locked in on five-year deals. Boone is in the second year of his four-year agreement. Berger has arguably been the steadiest man on the line for the last two years. Elflein feels like a Week 1 starter at center, but he’ll make the team either way after the Vikings traded up in the third round to secure him.
The tough decisions will be made in that middle group, where it seems there are half a dozen candidates hopeful of a swing role.
Making the roster: Riley Reiff, Alex Boone, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, Mike Remmers, T.J. Clemmings, Danny Isidora, Rashod Hill, Jeremiah Sirles
Practice squad potential: Beavers, Collins