What Would Dru Samia Bring as the Vikings' Starting Right Guard?

Aug 29, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back De'Angelo Henderson (32) reacts to his touchdown run with teammate offensive guard Dru Samia (73) against the Buffalo Bills during the fourth quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Every move the Vikings have made this offseason — from releasing Josh Kline to ignoring the free-agent guard market to waiting until Day 3 of the NFL Draft to address the interior of their offensive line — points to Dru Samia starting at right guard when the 2020 season kicks off.

The Vikings traded up in the fourth round of last year’s draft to select Samia, the 2018 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and a second-team All-American at Oklahoma. Last season was essentially a redshirt year for Samia, as he played just three special-teams snaps prior to Week 17, when he was unleashed for 36 snaps of action — 31 on offense, five on special teams — in Minnesota’s meaningless home tilt against the Bears.

And yet, all signs are that Samia is Minnesota’s right guard of the immediate future. Let’s take a look at what led the Vikings to this conclusion, and what fans should expect from Samia when the NFL returns to action this fall.

College Scouting Reports

Digging through Samia’s pre-draft scouting reports reveal many of the same traits that applied to the Vikings’ 2020 draft class. Experience? Samia started 48 games over four seasons at Oklahoma, including nine as a freshman. Position versatility? His first 10 starts came at right tackle, after which he slid inside to start 38 games at right guard.

At 305 pounds coming out of college Samia was considered a bit on the smallish size, but he made up for lack of bulk with footwork, mobility and athleticism that allowed him to succeed in space and at the second level. In other words, Samia is a prototypical Rick Spielman offensive line selection.

Scouts commented that Samia stood out, even amongst a unit that won the 2018 Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line in college football. According to Pro Football Focus he didn’t allow a sack on 410 pass-blocking snaps his senior season, and during his sophomore campaign protecting Baker Mayfield he didn’t allow a sack on 391 pass-blocking snaps.

Samia’s scouting reports boast additional attributes that should serve him well in the NFL. His ability to quickly process stunts, twists and blitzes and adjust his blocking accordingly will be wholeheartedly welcomed by the interior of the Minnesota line — and the quarterback they strive to protect. Scouts also noted that despite being undersized Samia was rarely overpowered, playing with leverage and an anchor that all too frequently was absent in the middle of the Vikings’ offensive front last season.

Scouts also loved his ability to take proper angles when blocking, as well as his ability to torque a defender out of the desired hole. Samia was also credited with “looking for work,” finding someone to block when he was uncovered.

And every report on Samia included some version of the word “nasty” to describe his playing demeanor.

Samia was Dane Brugler’s third-ranked guard in the 2019 draft class, and Pro Football Focus labeled him the 12th-best interior lineman in the class — a list that included Garrett Bradbury at No. 2. The bulk of scouting reports considered him a solid upside pick with a third-round value or better. Spielman shipped the 120th (used on WR Gary Jennings) and 209th (used on DT Demarcus Christmas) picks to Seattle to move up six spots and select Samia with the 12th pick in the fourth round, the 114th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Athleticism & Scheme Fit

When it comes to athleticism among their offensive linemen, the Vikings very clearly have a type going forward — and Samia fits it. Using the Relative Athletic Scores (RAS) developed by Kent Lee Platte (follow him on Twitter @mathbomb), coming out of Oklahoma Samia registered an RAS of 7.66. That score ranked fourth among Minnesota’s incumbent offensive linemen (behind Bradbury, Brian O’Neill and Odi Udoh) prior to adding the 2020 draft class.

By comparison, Pat Elflein’s RAS coming out of Ohio State was 2.21, and Dakota Dozier’s RAS as a fourth-round pick of the Jets in 2014 was 1.52.

Samia’s score is almost identical to the 7.75 registered by Josh Kline as an undrafted free agent from Kent State prior to the 2013 NFL Draft. Which begs the question, “Why was he released?”

It also plants a seed of hope that maybe the Vikings bring Kline back and field a starting offensive line with an average RAS across the board of 8.98.

Regardless of whether or not Kline returns, the point is that Samia has all the requisite athleticism the Vikings desire from their offensive linemen. He also has plenty of experience in a zone system from his time with the Sooners. In other words, Samia checks all the boxes.

Week 17 vs. Bears

While some scouting reports suggested Samia might be NFL-ready as a rookie, the Vikings had other plans and he only saw a handful of special teams snaps through the first 15 games. But with Minnesota’s playoff seeding clinched heading into the Week 17 matchup with Chicago, Mike Zimmer opted to rest many of his regulars and give backups like Samia a taste of real NFL action.

Samia didn’t start the game, entering in the second quarter. Ignominiously, on Samia’s first snap the Vikings surrendered a safety — though it was far from his fault. With Samia playing right guard and the Vikings on their own 1-yard-line, Minnesota ran left and miscommunication between Aviante Collins and Rashod Hill opened a huge gap for Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to shoot through and stuff Mike Boone in his own end zone.

Fortunately, things got better, and while the Vikings wound up losing the game 21-19, Samia flashed plenty of promise. His 31 snaps weren’t perfect, and for the most part he was facing Bears backups, but the upside was obvious.

First, the lowlights:

  • In Minnesota’s first series after the safety, Samia stood up Nicholas Williams at the line of scrimmage but Williams disengaged and stopped Boone at the line of scrimmage.
  • Two plays later Samia got beat inside by Williams, blowing up the play. Boone managed to avoid Williams and bounce outside, but a holding penalty on Odi Udoh nullified the first down.
  • Samia didn’t live up to the hype on screen plays, twice getting tangled up at the line of scrimmage and arriving too late to make a block in front of the receiver.
  • On one play-action pass Samia strayed a bit too far downfield, then ended up chasing Bears end Abdullah Anderson towards the quarterback (though Sean Mannion was able to get the throw away).
  • On the Vikings’ final offensive play before their Hail Mary attempt, Samia was beaten on an inside swim move by linebacker Josh Woods, though it was a quick throw and Mannion released the ball well before Woods could impact the play.
  • Notable in its absence is any mention of Samia being pushed into the backfield or the pocket being collapsed in the middle. That in and of itself is a win for the Vikings.

Now, some highlights:

  • On his second snap of pass protection Samia hit Williams, then turned Williams over to Udoh and picked up blitzing linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, directing him past Mannion in the pocket
  • In between the plays noted above where Williams got the better of him, Samia bumped Williams at the line of scrimmage before moving to the second level and knocking Pierre-Louis to the ground on what turned out to be a nine-yard gain.
  • In pass protection Samia stoned linebacker Aaron Lynch at the line of scrimmage, then switched off and helped knock Khalil Mack to the ground.
  • In a sequence bridging the third and fourth quarters, Samia fired off the snap and spun end Bilal Nichols out of the hole for a 10-yard gain; pulled left on a trap and walled off tackle Brent Urban on a three-yard gain, then drove Williams out of the hole as Boone went off his right hip for a touchdown.

Throughout the game Samia lived up to his reputation of looking for work. If he was uncovered in pass protection he found someone to hit, yet was never caught off guard by a stunt or blitz.

Don’t expect Samia to deliver a Quenton Nelson-like stack of pancakes; that’s not what a zone scheme requires anyway. But as the earlier scouting reports suggest, Samia is adept at getting in front of the defender and turning him just enough so that his running back can get by.

Also, as noted earlier, Samia more than held his ground at the line of scrimmage in both running plays and pass protection.

Samia’s 31 snaps is hardly a large-enough sample size, but for the record his PFF grades were 47.8 overall, 57.6 in pass blocking and 46.8 in run blocking.

The pre-draft advertising claimed Samia had all the athleticism the Vikings’ scheme requires, and there was nothing in his limited game action to dispute those claims. He’s had a year of practice reps in Gary Kubiak’s system and an opportunity to shake off any first-game jitters with his Week 17 work. Nothing is standing between Samia and a starting gig along the Vikings’ offensive line, and he appears poised to take the opportunity and run with it — literally.

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Aug 29, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back De'Angelo Henderson (32) reacts to his touchdown run with teammate offensive guard Dru Samia (73) against the Buffalo Bills during the fourth quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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