Vikings

Is It Time To Take A Look At Wyatt Davis?

Photo Credit: Joe Maiorana (USA TODAY Sports)

During training camp and the preseason, one of the better storylines was the emergence of third-year tackle-turned-guard Oli Udoh. The product of Elon University brought size (6’5″, 325 lbs.) to a position that had been played by smaller guys in recent years. He was raw when coming out of college but appeared to have turned the corner this season, fighting off rookie third-round pick Wyatt Davis for the starting job.

The early returns were good for Udoh. After two solid performances to open the season, he received an 80.1 grade from Pro Football Focus following the Vikings’ Week 3 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. It appeared that the interior offensive line nightmares from years past were finally over.

However, things haven’t been the same since then. Udoh struggled mightily against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, allowing eight quarterback pressures. Last Sunday, he was flagged four times and posted a season-low 40.3 PFF grade against the Carolina Panthers. Fans are concerned, but because he hasn’t been the disaster that Dakota Dozier was last year, they feel that he is still worthy of a starting job. But being better than Dozier (so far) doesn’t justify a starting spot.

In Dozier’s first six games of the 2020 season, he allowed two sacks, 11 hurries, and 14 pressures while also being flagged twice. His PFF grade bottomed out at 41.7 in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6. Heading into the Week 7 bye last year, Dozier was the fourth-lowest-graded guard (50.7) among players taking at least 50% of possible snaps.

So how did Dozier perform following the bye week? He responded with his best three-game stretch of the season, receiving grades of 59.9, 62.4, and 68.8 while allowing only one pressure. Through Week 10, Dozier had a PFF grade of 55.6, ninth-worst among qualifying guards. Not good or even that average, but far from the disaster fans remember.

That 55.6 grade for Dozier is nearly identical to Udoh’s 55.9 grade through six games in 2021. In nine games, Dozier had surrendered 12 hurries and 15 pressures and taken four penalties. These numbers are actually better than what Udoh has put up through six games this year. Udoh hasn’t surrendered a sack yet, but he has given up 13 hurries (T-fifth-highest among all guards) and 15 pressures (T-ninth). His seven penalties are the second-most among his position group, and he is the 11th-lowest-graded qualifying guard in the league this year at 55.9.

What’s most troubling, and what most remember, about Dozier’s 2020 season is how he finished it. He allowed 31 pressures in the final seven games of the season, including four sacks given up. His 44.6 grade was the lowest among all qualifying guards by season’s end, and his 46 pressures given up were seven more than the next guy.

With 15 pressures allowed, Udoh would be on pace to allow 40 in a traditional 16-game season. Dozier was the only guard in football to allow at least 40 total pressures last year. Out of the 10 guards who gave up the most pressures in the league in 2020, only two played on teams that made the playoffs.

So what has Udoh done poorly this season? In the below clip, the Vikings are facing a third-and-13. Despite his length, Udoh doesn’t get his outside hand onto Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney until Clowney is almost perpendicular to him at the line of scrimmage. Udoh’s base is too wide, and by the time he makes contact with Clowney, he is off-balance, allowing Clowney to force Kirk Cousins into a checkdown to K.J. Osborn.

 

 

In this next play, Minnesota’s offense faces first-and-10 at the Lions’ 22-yard line. The Vikings have a great play call with their wide zone scheme to the right as the Detroit Lion’s defensive line slants to the offensive left side. Brian O’Neill even helps Udoh here by getting a piece of Lions’ linebacker Trey Flowers.

Despite an advantageous play call, Udoh steps upfield with his second step, allowing Flowers to get back into position to blow up the play. Compounding his mistake, Udoh tries blocking Flowers with his shoulder instead of his hands, once again failing to use his length to his advantage and giving up even more ground to Flowers in the process. The Vikings lose two yards and kick a field goal three plays later.

 

Failing to make a play is one thing if it exposes a player’s weakness, but Udoh’s inability to use his physical tools to his advantage is concerning. With Davis sitting behind him on the depth chart, Udoh may not have a long leash moving forward. He may have experience over Davis, but he is still only a sixth-round investment while Davis has the allure of being a rookie third-rounder.

The Vikings already replaced veteran left tackle Rashod Hill with rookie first-rounder Christian Darrisaw last week after Hill was continually hamstringing the offense. With no one else from the rookie draft class contributing much from scrimmage so far this year, the coaching staff could be itching to get Davis in there even without Udoh’s suspect play.

A year ago, the wheels began to fall off for Dozier in the second half of the season when Minnesota could no longer hide his weaknesses. With no viable option to replace him, the Vikings were forced to ride out the season with him in the starting lineup. With two weeks to prepare for the Dallas Cowboys on Halloween night, perhaps the Vikings can fix what is ailing Udoh. But if he puts together another poor performance, he may be getting replaced by Davis when the team travels to Baltimore in Week 9.

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