Why Can't the Vikings Find Guards?

Photo credit: Troy Taormina (USA TODAY Sports)

As we inch closer to Halloween, the Minnesota Vikings continue to be the NFL’s closest thing to a slasher flick. While I sat down for a bowl of popcorn with the lights off, the Vikings headed out to Seattle to put an immediate 13-0 lead on the Seahawks. Much like a group of kids heading to Camp Crystal Lake, things were good in the first half.

But after halftime Mike Zimmer and Co. executed what could be dubbed “Sunday the 11th” where they held their own against Russell Wilson only to find their demise in the form of a chainsaw-wielding D.K. Metcalf.

All metaphors aside, Sunday’s game had the feeling where you knew something bad was going to happen, you just didn’t know how it was going to happen. This game has been played continuously since the 2018 season and in that “definition-of-insanity” type moment, it’s clear that something needs to change moving forward. It starts with the offensive line.

There were many reasons why the Vikings lost the game in Seattle, but the offensive line continues to be a glaring weakness. The weakest link appears to be at right guard, where Dru Samia replaced Pat Elflein.

Entering Sunday night’s game, Samia ranked last among offensive lineman in Pro Football Focus’ overall grading system and was ninth in pressures allowed despite not playing in Week 1. On Sunday, Samia continued the trend with four penalties (one was declined) and the eighth-worst overall grade among qualifying linemen in Week 5. There’s a case to trash Samia for being worse than Elflein, but his performance reflects an issue in how the Vikings find their offensive linemen.

Discovering an adequate guard in the NFL is a difficult process. While tackles and even the center position are deemed to be more important, most guards are found in the later rounds of the draft. To the Vikings credit, they’ve been doing this by drafting seven interior offensive linemen in the third round or later.

But out of that group, only Elflein and Brandon Fusco have been able to crack the lineup on a regular basis. While Elflein has been sub-par, he was at least serviceable. That’s more than we can say for Samia or previous selections such as Colby Gossett, David Yankey and Danny Isidora.

The question is not why the Vikings aren’t investing in the position but how they are scouting. With the change in offensive philosophies, the Vikings have looked for athletic but smaller linemen. This helps them get out into space in Gary Kubiak‘s zone scheme, but it puts them at a disadvantage when facing stronger defensive linemen.

Minnesota plays in a division with Kenny Clark, Akiem Hicks and Za’Darius Smith, so we know where the problem lies. While Samia was agile on an Oklahoma offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award during his senior season, he never faced big maulers up front, which has required a learning period at the next level.

The bigger question could be why the Vikings haven’t gotten aggressive at the position in free agency. Part of this is Minnesota’s salary cap crunch, but it is also the fear they could be getting damaged goods. With interior linemen being hard to find, a guard being on the market without a franchise or traditional tag seems like a red flag.

Even when the Vikings signed Steve Hutchinson prior to the 2006 season, they had to do so with a “poison pill” incentive that Seattle couldn’t match. Hutchinson wound up working out for the Vikings, but they’re just as likely to sign the next Alex Boone.

The Vikings are now in a tricky situation as they try to dig themselves out of a 1-4 hole. Samia needs to be replaced, but the Vikings don’t have anyone ready to step up. The obvious candidate would be Ezra Cleveland, but he was last seen pounding Quesaritos trying to make weight. Aviante Collins and Oli Udoh also do not inspire confidence.

That might mean a change that would help the Vikings may not come this year. But even a tweak might help them avoid becoming the NFL’s version of Final Destination.

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