The Minnesota Vikings have had a lot of offensive talent over the years, and as a result, they have one of the fastest rising units in the league even after the trade of Stefon Diggs. However, one aspect of the offense that has kept the team from reaching elite status has been the offensive line.
Last year was a prime example of the Vikings’ struggle in the trenches as they had enough talent to make big plays, but the line failed when they needed them the most. As Vikings fans are still having visions of seeing Pat Elflein get beat by DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa and Za’Darius Smith getting through the line with little resistance, the need to upgrade heading into the offseason was substantial.
As the smoke from the offseason clears, the Vikings’ offensive line is still in flux, but so are several other teams in the NFC North. Here, we’ll break down each team’s situation and see who boasts the best offensive line in the division by looking at their stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus and what could change during the course of the offseason.
4. Chicago Bears
At first glance, the Bears offensive line looks pretty dreadful. Several of the Bears’ linemen rank in toward the bottom of their respective positions, but gets even worse when you consider that many of those players will be playing in different positions come 2020.
James Daniels was a terrific second-round pick out of Iowa, but will be asked to slide to left guard while Cody Whitehair remains at center. The Bears were caught off-guard by the sudden retirement of Kyle Long and brought on Germain Ifedi as a panic signing hoping his traits could project better as an interior lineman as opposed to the tackle position he played in Seattle.
Then there are the tackle positions, which basically should open the door for any opposing pass rush. While Charles Leno Jr. and Bobbie Massey have been adequate, the questions on the interior could make life more difficult, making this unit a complete disaster.
With the Bears hoping to win games by a score of 9-7, the offensive line isn’t going to do any favors when it comes to protecting Mitchell Trubisky‘s grip on the starting quarterback position or Matt Nagy’s job.
3. Minnesota Vikings
We don’t waste much time getting to the Vikings offensive line and that’s because there’s still plenty of questions as to what it will look like in 2020. After Gary Kubiak said the five best offensive linemen will claim the spots in the starting lineup, it’s unsure where anyone will lineup and in the case of Riley Reiff, he might not even make the team if the Vikings feel Ezra Cleveland is ready to go.
The biggest mystery when it comes to this group is where they’ll play Cleveland. As a second-round pick, he’s not guaranteed to play out of the gate, but it would make sense considering the struggles that Pat Elflein had last season. While he did an adequate job in the running game, his pressures allowed were essentially a death sentence for Kirk Cousins at times and prompted a battle royal at both guard positions.
Dru Samia could also be a big surprise, but his Week 17 start against the Bears didn’t do anything to inspire confidence heading into this season. It will be interesting to see what the Vikings decide, but after the past decade, it wouldn’t be unfair to not give this group the benefit of the doubt.
2. Detroit Lions
Much like the Vikings, the Lions have plenty of unknowns across their offensive line, but there’s at least some reason to feel better about them.
The key cogs of the Lions offensive line are in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, who project as quality starting linemen. In the case of Ragnow, you could already consider him to be one of the top centers in the NFL, and it makes it even more disappointing considering the Vikings couldn’t land him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
But the sure things stop there after the departure of two starting linemen. Rick Wagner bolted for Green Bay this offseason and Graham Glasgow bolted for Denver, but the Lions might be OK with the moves they made.
Jonah Jackson was considered one of the top interior offensive linemen in the draft and although Halapoulivaati Vaitai was given a massive five-year, $45 million contract in free agency, it’s unsure how his numbers would look given a larger sample size. (The 2017 season suggests that might not be the case.)
1. Green Bay Packers
Many were confused with what the Packers did in the NFL Draft, but a look at their offensive line sheds some light on why Matt LaFleur wants to shift to a ground-and-pound type of style.
The Packers have several players that can hold their own as pass-blockers. Elgton Jenkins was one of the steals of the draft last season and figures to get better going into year two. Corey Linsley was adequate in the middle and David Bakhtiari crushes opposing pass rushers like he does $10 beers at a Milwaukee Bucks game.
While having a guy that can slam a Miller Lite in a single gulp is a great one to have to protect your blind side, the Packers also know that chucking it all over the yard might not be their strength…at least in the trenches.
But the Packers thrived as a run-blocking team with four of the five offensive linemen ranking in the top 25 at their position in run blocking. That should mean good things for Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, or whoever is in the backfield and might make up for the complete disregard of adding weapons at receiver.