Vikings

Upgrading the Vikings' Offensive Line Through the Draft: Day 3 Options

Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world — okay, in my perfect world — the Vikings would have Josh Jones and Cesar Ruiz fall into their laps in the first round, follow that up with Ben Bartch on Day 2, and solidify their offensive line for the next decade.

But I’m a realist, and I know offensive linemen don’t put fannies in seats.

Moreover, Minnesota’s offseason to this point has the Vikings roster screaming for help at other key positions — most notably cornerback and wide receiver.

So after breaking down potential offensive line upgrades to be found on Day 1 and Day 2 of the upcoming NFL Draft, it was time to do the same for the latter rounds. And that meant entering what for me was entirely uncharted territory: multiple simulated mock drafts completely ignoring the offensive line until Day 3.

It’s a risky strategy, to be sure.

The jury is still out on last season’s Day 3 double-dip into the offensive line, but Dru Samia should battle for a starting guard spot and the Vikings hope to continue developing Oli Udoh as well. Prior to that, the list of Day 3 picks Minnesota spent on offensive linemen is… well, it’s just not pretty. Of the Vikings’ last dozen Day 3 offensive linemen — dating back to the 2011 NFL Draft — Danny Isidora is the only one who saw NFL game action last season (three games with Miami). This ignominious group includes Colby Gossett, Isidora, Willie Beavers, T.J. Clemmings, Tyrus Thompson, Austin Shepherd, David Yankey, Jeff Baca, Travis Bond and DeMarcus Love.

Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings (68) against the Houston Texans at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Texans 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry if you threw up in your mouth just a little.

We’re a decade removed from the last time the Vikings hit on a Day 3 offensive lineman, but given the success Rick Spielman found with Brandon Fusco (2011 Round 6) and John Sullivan (2008 Round 6) you can understand his hubris. Add in the Vikings’ only other Day 3 offensive lineman of the Spielman era — 2010 fifth-rounder Chris DeGeare — and Minnesota found 162 offensive line starts, most of them high quality, on Day 3 of the draft from 2008-11.

More recently the Vikings have opted for quantity over quality when it comes to offensive linemen on Day 3. Minnesota has selected at least one offensive lineman in Rounds 4-7 in each of the last seven drafts, grabbing multiple big fellas three times (2013, 2015, 2019).

So it’s not unrealistic to think the Vikings brain trust goes down that road again. For the purposes of this scenario, I envisioned Mike Zimmer locking down the Vikings’ virtual draft room so he could pad the roster with defensive backs and edge rushers — and maybe a wide receiver, if the opportunity presented itself.

This led to some interesting two-day takeaways in my various mocks: Denzel Mims, A.J. Terrell and Terrell Burgess; Kristian Fulton, Yetur Gross-Matos and Brandon Aiyuk; CeeDee Lamb, Jaylon Johnson and Jalen Reagor; and an especially intriguing five-deep of Terrell, Reagor, Tee Higgins, Johnson and Bradlee Anae.

And then, finally, on Day 3 the Vikings opened up the draft room to Rick Dennison and let him run amok. Should the actual 2020 NFL Draft play out in a similar fashion, here’s a rundown of what might still be on the shelves in the O-line clearance bin.

Offensive Tackles

First, let’s set realistic expectations.

Three offensive tackles have earned All-Pro honors in a Vikings uniform, and two of them were drafted by other teams: Grady Alderman (Detroit, 1960 Round 10) and Gary Zimmerman (New York Giants, 1984 Supplemental Round 1). That leaves Ron Yary, the first overall selection in the 1968 draft. Four more Vikings tackles have been named to the Pro Bowl, and all four (Todd Steussie, 1994; Korey Stringer, 1995; Bryant McKinnie, 2002; Matt Kalil, 2012) were first-round picks.

So the Vikings shouldn’t be banking on immediate contributions from Day 3 tackles.

Need a visual?

Consider the aforementioned Clemmings Exhibit A. The plan was to develop the athletic Clemmings; instead he was thrust into the lineup for 31 starts over his first two seasons… and there’s little sense revisiting the disaster that turned out to be. What Minnesota should be looking for here is players who possess traits that can’t be coached — for example, size and athleticism — and hope between the weight room and the coaching staff that NFL-level strength and technique can be added.

Alex Taylor

You can’t coach 6-foot-8, and you can’t coach 36-inch arms. That’s what Taylor brings to the table; add in the athleticism he demonstrated at the NFL Scouting Combine and Dennison has to be salivating at what he can mold the former basketball player into as an NFL tackle.

Playing on the right side after forsaking the hardwood for the gridiron, Taylor displayed a proficiency for pass protection and earned third-team All-American honors in his final season at South Carolina State. He’ll need lots of reps, both on the practice field and in the weight room, but with so much raw material to work with expect offensive line coaches league-wide to be begging for dibs on their respective team’s first pick on Day 3.

Hakeem Adeniji

In what will become a familiar refrain here, Adeniji has NFL size (6-foot-4, 302 pounds) and all the athleticism you could want. In particular, his jumps at the NFL Scouting Combine — a 34-inch vertical and a 9-foot-7 broad jump, both ranking third among all offensive linemen — indicate his explosiveness.

He started at tackle for Kansas as a true freshman, first on the right side before flipping to the left mid-season and staying there — with the exception of one more start on the right side — for the remainder of his Jayhawks career. The primary knock on Adeniji in most scouting reports is his sloppy technique — not that it isn’t present, but that it’s inconsistently applied. That’s a siren song to O-line coaches: the opportunity to coach up an obvious talent.

Adeniji’s aggressive nature might lend itself better to a power-blocking scheme, but the Vikings could certainly find ways to use his athleticism in a zone scheme — be it at tackle or bumping him inside to guard.

Oct 20, 2018; Lubbock, TX, USA; Kansas Jayhawks offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji (78) blocks Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive end Nelson Mbanasor (91) at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jack Driscoll

Size, athleticism, technique… Driscoll checks all the boxes.

He’s also a four-year starter who graduated from Massachusetts in three years, then grad-transferred to Auburn for two seasons of SEC football. Scouting reports praise Driscoll’s hand usage, and Pro Football Focus labeled him as one of the best pass-blocking tackles in the 2020 draft class.

Driscoll has the mobility to play in a zone scheme, but he’ll need to add bulk and, more importantly, strength if he wants to play on Sundays. His 6-foot-5 frame has room for the former, and landing with a zone-heavy team like the Vikings helps alleviate some of the concerns about the latter.

Driscoll has experience at both guard and tackle and may be a better fit inside, but increased strength is a must at either position if he wants to push for playing time in Minnesota; Vikings fans don’t need another guard getting backed into Kirk Cousin’s lap on a regular basis.

Danny Pinter

Pinter spent two seasons at tight end (nine catches, one touchdown) for Ball State, then moved to tackle as a junior and started his final two seasons on the right side — playing well enough as a senior to be named first-team All-MAC and the team’s Most Outstanding Player.

While he’s added 70 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame over the past couple of years Pinter has maintained the athleticism of a former pass-catcher.

He’s a dream fit for the zone scheme, posting a 93.4 zone-blocking grade according to PFF. Pinter’s overall PFF grade of 91.2 ranked fourth among all tackles in this draft class, and his 90.9 run-blocking grade ranked third.

His pass protection is more of a work in progress; he needs to add strength, and he has just two years experience playing tackle, so technique is an issue as well. His short arms are a concern, something that even a move inside to guard might not alleviate.

But if Pinter didn’t have flaws, he wouldn’t be available on Day 3.

Interior Offensive Line

What limited success the Vikings have had finding O-line help in the fourth round or later has come on the interior — though you have to go back to the aforementioned Fusco and Sullivan to find it. League-wide there’s more luck finding quality interior offensive linemen on Day 3 as well; of the 19 offensive linemen named to various All-Pro teams over the past two seasons, only four were selected in the fourth round or later — and three of the four (guard Shaq Mason and centers Jason Kelce and Ryan Jensen) play on the interior.

The Vikings hope they struck similar gold with Samia last year; here are three names to consider if they go that route again.

Darryl Williams

If Williams is still on the board on Day 3 it’s because his game took a step backward when Mississippi State shifted him to center last season. His PFF pass-blocking grade of 82.9 as a guard in 2018 slipped to 45.1 as a center in 2019, so while the position flexibility is nice you would think he makes more sense at guard. Williams isn’t an athletic freak, but his Combine results check the boxes in what the Vikings look for inside.

What’s particularly appealing to the Vikings about Williams’ game is his strength; he doesn’t project to being bullied at the line of scrimmage, which was a concern for Minnesota guards last year. Three years of starting experience in the SEC and a tenacious demeanor, along with the ability to stalemate defensive tackles before they get into the backfield, could entice the Vikings to take a chance on Williams being athletic enough to hold up in their scheme.

Tremayne Anchrum

The starting right tackle for the 2018 national champions, Anchrum logged a total of 37 starts at the position for Clemson. However, at 6-foot-2 he’s a little short for an NFL tackle and virtually every scouting report lumps him in with the guards. Anchrum has enough athleticism to succeed in a zone scheme, and at 314 pounds he brings more bulk to the interior of the line than most “move” guards, which has to appeal to a team like the Vikings that had issues with allowing interior penetration.

Don’t underestimate Anchrum’s experience in a successful program, either; nothing wrong with an abundance of players with a winning mentality in the locker room.

Dec 28, 2019; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Clemson Tigers tackle Tremayne Anchrum (73) blocks against Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young (2) in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semifinal game. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Murphy

The versatile Murphy started 37 games at Rhode Island, playing four of the five spots across the offensive line during his collegiate career. He was an All-CAA performer at left tackle his last two seasons and a second-team All-American as a senior, though the expectation is that he’ll kick inside to guard in the NFL. He brings athleticism and a nasty demeanor to the party, with good enough footwork to have success at the second level — key in a zone-blocking scheme.

In addition to the obvious concerns about moving up from the Colonial Athletic Association to the National Football League, Murphy gets dinged on draft boards because of inconsistent technique, particularly with his hand usage and placement. The latter is why teams employ offensive line coaches; the former is something only time will reveal.

Bottom line, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to find immediate offensive line help on Day 3. With enough well-directed darts, however, they could uncover a project who can be developed into a starter — much like the team hopes to do with Samia this season.

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Vikings

Free Agency vs. the Draft: Assessing the Minnesota Vikings' Approach to Improving Their Offensive Line

Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings have tried throwing hefty contracts at free-agent offensive linemen. More recently, Minnesota adjusted its philosophy and devoted draft capital to building their offensive front. Which has worked better, and what’s the plan going forward?

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