It is no secret that the Minnesota Vikings need to improve their offensive line, particularly their guard spots.
This season the o-line’s flaws exposed themselves: Kirk Cousins often found himself with close to no time to throw the ball, particularly during the second half of the season. The Vikings would be justified in taking a wideout or a defensive lineman in the first round. But after rewatching the offensive line last season, it is clear that it is by far the area that needs the most significant upgrade.
But while most fans have been clamoring for a guard, I believe offensive tackle is the position the Vikings should look to address in the first round.
Yes, I understand that the pressure from the offensive line primarily came from the interior, with Dakota Dozier as the primary culprit. He posted a horrendous 44.6 PFF grade, which included a 36.7 pass-blocking grade.
But the tackle position is just as uncertain.
Brian O’Neill and Riley Reiff played well last season, but the salary cap may pose a problem. The Vikings are $12 million over the cap next year, and cutting Reiff saves just over $11 million. The Vikings could renegotiate the deal lowering his cap hit. But he probably won’t take less money after taking a pay cut to allow Minnesota to trade for Yannick Ngakoue and the season he had last year.
The easy solution at left tackle is to move Ezra Cleveland there full time. But even though he played left tackle well enough at Boise State to warrant a second-round selection, it seems like the Vikings coaching staff has little faith in Cleveland’s abilities there. Even when Reiff missed the meaningless Week 17 game in Detroit, the Vikings opted to put Rashod Hill at left tackle and keep Cleveland at right guard.
Consider that the best offensive line prospects in this class are all tackles. And while Vikings are likely out of range for the No. 1 tackle Penei Sewell, prospects like Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw, and Samuel Cosmi all primarily played tackle in college. Slater probably could be kicked out to guard, but he opted out last season, so shifting him to a new position might be a big ask.
I like all three of these prospects over the best interior line prospect, Alijah Vera-Tucker, who projects as a guard in the NFL despite playing at left tackle for the entirety of the season.
By drafting one of these players, you would potentially have your bookend tackle for the next decade to pair with O’Neill. With Cleveland at right guard and Garett Bradberry at center for the foreseeable future, the Vikings are just a left guard away from having a reliable offensive line.
You might find yourself wondering what the Vikings can do at the vacant left guard spot that has been so bothersome in recent history. Dru Samia was awful, and Kyle Hinton is an unknown.
Minnesota can learn a lot from old friend Kevin Stefanski and what he has done with the Cleveland Browns. The Vikings former offensive coordinator made multiple moves to get players who were overlooked by other teams and acquired a wealth of depth with these moves for players like Wyatt Teller. The Browns only gave up picks 155 and 188 to get the second-team all-pro.
Making these types of moves will be easier than ever this season. The salary cap decrease will force teams to cut players to create space. After the Vikings clean up their cap issues, they can make a move for two or three of these players by either picking them up in free agency or trading one of their many Day 2 or 3 selections for a player like Teller.
Kevin Zeitler is the type of player they should be targeting. The New York Giants will probably have to cut him, and his 68.7 pass protection grade would be a massive improvement over Dozier’s play last season.
Free agents like Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff are probably out of the Vikings’ price range, but Ethan Pocic of the Seattle Seahawks will become a free agent this year and is another option. Pocic has played primarily at center this season, but he could kick out to guard and be a do-it-all sixth offensive lineman.
With the Vikings’ uniquely athletic offensive line, Cleveland can move to fill that position if a tackle gets hurt, and Pocic would take over at his spot — similar to what the Packers did with Elgton Jenkins this year.
Because all the best offensive linemen in the class are tackles, and Cleveland has already established himself at guard, it would make sense for the Vikings to look for a tackle at pick 14.