The Minnesota Vikings hold the 14th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and many mocks have them addressing their offensive line with that choice, but they should address other needs before the offensive line. The offense still played well without a good o-line last year, the defense needs to be revamped, and Minnesota can find serviceable starters later in the draft.
THE OFFENSE STILL HUMMED WITH A POOR OFFENSIVE LINE
The offensive line wasn’t good in 2020. The tackle play was actually fine as Riley Reiff had a shockingly solid year, and Brian O’Neill held his own on the right side, but the interior was a mess. The guard position was the major issue as players like Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier, and Dru Samia were flat-out horrible, struggling to maintain their blocks and draw many flags. Kirk Cousins was under constant duress every time he dropped back, and it was a miracle he wasn’t injured.
But despite the horrific protection, the Vikings’ offense was very good. The Purple averaged 393.3 yards per game, which was fourth in the NFL. They were helped by stars like Dalvin Cook, who could make positive yards out of plays that looked like they were going nowhere, and a receiving corps led by a resurgent Adam Thielen and rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. So while Cousins took plenty of hits, and the guards often set the offense back a few yards with holds and false starts, this unit wasn’t the reason why the team finished 7-9.
That being said, there’s no reason to think the Vikings’ offense can’t have another productive season with subpar interior line play. Things really can’t get much worse than what they were in 2020, and the offense didn’t have much of a problem moving the ball or putting points on the board. While taking an offensive tackle or guard at pick 14 fills a need, the impact it would have as far as improving the offense from where it was in 2020 would be minuscule.
DRAFTING AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN WON’T HELP THE DEFENSE
Sure, the o-line needs an upgrade, but taking one at pick 14 isn’t going to solve the Vikings’ biggest issue: their defense. It was atrocious in 2020, allowing 29.7 points per game and nearly 400 yards. They couldn’t generate any pressure up front, and the inexperienced secondary was picked apart by quarterbacks who had an embarrassingly long amount of time to sit in the pocket and find the open man. If the Vikings want to be competitive in 2021, this is the area that has to improve the most. They have to find a way to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and adding a guard or offensive tackle isn’t going to help in that regard.
The Vikings would be far better off using the 14th choice on a player who can rush the passer. This could come in the form of an edge rusher like Gregory Rousseau or Kwity Paye or with an interior disruptor like Christian Barmore. With Mike Zimmer potentially being in a make-or-break season, he’ll need to turn the Vikings’ record around quickly, and taking a player who won’t improve the team’s biggest issue with their first-round choice isn’t going to help him get there. Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw, and Alijah Vera-Tucker could all turn out to be fine football players down the road, but they need an impact player right off the bat, and that won’t come in the form of an offensive blocker.
CAN FIND CAPABLE STARTERS LATER IN THE DRAFT
There were quite a few offensive linemen who were taken early in the 2020 Draft. Players like Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills all helped their teams and played at a high level. That is what early picks are supposed to do, but there were plenty of later-round choices, especially at the guard position, that were equally as impressive.
Players like Damien Lewis of the Seattle Seahawks had a very good rookie season. He was a third-round draft choice who came in and started every single game. Lewis was a mauler in the run game, grading at an 81.5 according to PFF. He wasn’t as good in pass protection, but he outperformed plenty of offensive linemen who were taken ahead of him.
Michael Onwenu of the New England Patriots was another mid-round player who proved that a team doesn’t have to use an early pick to find a starter on the offensive line. He was taken in the sixth round and ended up starting 12 games at various positions across the Patriots offensive line. Solomon Kindley of the Miami Dolphins and Kevin Dotson of the Pittsburgh Steelers were a couple of more players who were taken later in the draft but made an impact and drew starts in Year 1.
The Vikings can follow a similar path and look to address their offensive line in the mid-rounds. They already have multiple third and fourth-round choices and should use those picks to find a diamond in the rough much like the Seahawks and Patriots did in 2020. This will allow them to use their first-round choice on a player who can improve the Vikings’ biggest sore spot, which is clearly their defense.