On Thursday night, the Minnesota Vikings traded down to pick 23 and selected an offensive lineman. This was somewhat expected, although the Vikings have had some bad habits in the past. Their highly drafted offensive linemen (Pat Elflein, Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland) have been undersized and particularly quick. They’ve all been very good athletic testers but came with anchoring and technique issues.
The Vikings would then take those raw, athletic players, try to bulk them up, and plop them on the line — often out of position — where their technique flaws would be difficult to develop. Bad habits would be formed, and players flame out. T.J. Clemmings headlines this tendency, but Elflein, Bradbury, Cleveland, and even O’Neill have experienced some struggle thanks to this dynamic.
This year, the Vikings rebuked those tendencies. At 23, the pick was Christian Darrisaw, the left tackle out of Virginia Tech. Darrisaw is a powerful lineman with less agility than Minnesota’s past picks. His athletic testing is also null, as he was rehabbing an injury at the time and couldn’t properly train for the tests. Darrisaw also comes with more polish than the raw, project-style linemen of past Vikings’ drafts.
Darrisaw is 6’5″ and 313 lbs. For comparison, right tackle Brian O’Neill weighed in at 297 at his combine and is 6’6″. Darrisaw has good bulk, and that shows up on his tape. He often uses it to recover from bad positions against speedier edge rushers. That, combined with his length, is probably what drew the Vikings to him in the first place.
That power can come in handy when you use the “hug” technique, a favorite of Darrisaw’s. The hug technique was popularized fairly recently by the Packers and James Campen. If you have enough sand in your pants, you can focus on neutralizing speed and agility by entirely sacrificing the inside of your chest. The advantage is that you can get your hands on your man’s shoulder pads, and there’s not much spinning or swimming out of that. The disadvantage is that they can bull rush right into you. For Darrisaw, he’s more than willing to take that trade.
He likes to quick set too, which makes him the perfect lineman to thwart a bull rush. It makes him a nice foil to Brian O’Neill, whose style is on the opposite end of the spectrum. But there is a lingering question with all that power: Can he be a scheme fit? You may have heard of Darrisaw as a power-only lineman. After all, the classic Kubiak/Shanahan wide zone scheme typically prefers quicker, faster linemen. That’s not Darrisaw.
Athleticism can be a useful shorthand for scheme fit. While Darrisaw didn’t test at his pro day, we can surmise that he would likely have not tested as the most agile or speedy lineman. That would have implied that he is a scheme-dependent lineman — man schemes only. But athleticism is a shortcut, not the full answer. If a lineman is 350 lbs. and slow as all hell but finds a way to get to his landmark on time, does it matter how fast he is? If a defensive tackle is scooped in the forest, and nobody’s around to time his 10-yard split, does he still concede the gap?
Virginia Tech gave us some tape to see if he could pull off those techniques anyways. Darrisaw is more functionally athletic than his tested ability would have likely been.
But the Vikings’ love affair with Darrisaw likely had a lot to do with reach blocking. Reach blocks are blocks that ask a lineman to get all the way to the other side of their assigned man, then flip their hips and seal them off. It allows you to gain a numbers advantage on the play side, but that lineman needs to pull off a very difficult block.
Darrisaw also showed some mobility when Virginia Tech asked. He doesn’t look fast, but he gets to where he’s supposed to go very well. That’s thanks to technique and some good coaching. If you want to block in a zone scheme, you have to get into the second level. The Vikings can’t buy into the same problems that kept Brett Jones off the field for so many years despite all their issues at guard.
Darrisaw takes efficient angles and finds his way to his man. It’s ugly at times, and he may struggle early until he can loosen up around the waist. But he finds his man often enough to imply that he’ll be able to pull off zone scheme staples.
Concerns with Darrisaw should discard his scheme fit. He’s better at agility-focused blocks than he looks, and in pass protection, he can anchor despite having every leverage disadvantage in the world. Darrisaw’s concerns are much more focused on his polish and his finish. Let’s start with the former.
In pass protection, offensive tackles need to get a lot of depth to keep up with their speedy edge-rushing opponents. I mentioned Darrisaw earlier this week when discussing Alijah Vera-Tucker’s technique, and a deeper dive into his tape reveals this issue consistently. If Darrisaw can’t tighten up his pass sets, he may be susceptible to speed rushes to the outside. Bendy, speedy edge rushers could have field days against the rookie.
Then there’s Darrisaw’s finish. This may not lead to as much production as his pass protection footwork, but it’s much more frustrating. Darrisaw lets his defender back into the play with complacency far too often — multiple times per game. He’ll get destroyed in Monday morning film rooms if he lets that happen in purple.
These concerns only dropped Darrisaw to the bottom of the first round. He’s still a stout tackle with good anchoring ability, and that’s a breath of fresh air for the Vikings’ offensive line. He fits the scheme better than he looks and can execute the assignments the Vikings will want to give him. But make no mistake — there is work for Minnesota’s coaches to do.