The Guard with Big Upside Minnesota Should Take a Draft Chance On

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA TODAY Sports)

Joe Thuney won’t be walking through that door, Vikings fans. Neither will Kevin Zeitler or Brandon Scherff. At this point, the best free-agent guard options are grabbing front-row tickets to the Kyle Long comeback tour or plucking Forrest Lamp off the scrap heap and hoping he plays more like the college version of himself and less how he fared with the Los Angeles Chargers the past three seasons.

In other words, Minnesota’s best hope for filling one or both of the two gaping holes on its offensive line will in all likelihood be kicked down the road to draft day.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve examined how Rashawn Slater falling to Minnesota at 14 or a slight reach for Alijah Vera-Tucker in that same spot could give the Vikings a level of guard play they haven’t seen for more than a decade. A guy can dream. But the reality is that between Rick Spielman’s insatiable need to trade down and stockpile Day 3 picks and Mike Zimmer’s burning desire to spend all his draft capital on the defensive side of the ball — well, it’s tough even for me to envision either Slater or AVT in purple.

So after embracing the disappointment, I bit the bullet and ran a few mock draft scenarios where the Vikings went a different direction with the 14th overall pick. The hope was to find ways Minnesota could upgrade the offensive line without the benefit of big free-agency dollars or first-round draft capital.

It’s worth noting that in the mocks I attempted, both Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater were off the board by the time the Vikings were on the clock at 14. That’s hardly a surprise. What was a bit surprising was that a third lineman was selected before 14 in each of the three simulations I ran: Christian Darrisaw in one, Jalen Mayfield in another, and Samuel Cosmi in the third.

Committed to the bit, that meant passing three times on draft crush AVT. Yeah, it hurt.

The Vikings don’t have a second-round pick, so all I could do was watch helplessly as OL after OL went off the hypothetical draft board. The remainder of the first round saw four, four, and five offensive linemen selected, while all three mocks had six OL selected in the second round. This means that this approach has the Vikings turning a starting spot over to the 14th-best offensive lineman in this class.

Not ideal, but if the Vikings are willing to change things up just a bit in what they’re looking for in a guard — and their track record of failure to identify what works at the position strongly suggests that would be a smart pivot — then Minnesota may very well be able to land a massive upgrade for at least one of their guard spots.

Draft Deonte Brown, Alabama

The linemen the Vikings have gravitated towards in recent drafts have been athletic and borderline skinny compared to the typical NFL lineman, primarily because Minnesota’s blocking system calls for lots of movement from the big fellas on screens, pulls, and reaching the second level in the outside zone scheme.

As we’ve learned, the tradeoff is those smaller, quicker linemen spend as much time going backward in pass protection as they do going forward in the ground game.

Deonte Brown is 6’3″ and a robust 364 lbs, as measured at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Most scouting reports lock him into a gap/power scheme, and there’s no question he would be a road grader in that format. But it was a quote from elite line analyst Brandon Thorn’s scouting report, one attributed to one of Brown’s former O-line teammates, that steered me past that myopic view.

“Favorite teammate I’ve ever played with,” the quote read. “He’s a pure athlete despite his size with the best feet I’ve seen.”

That’s followed up in Thorn’s scouting report with tape of Brown pulling and kicking out a defensive end, reaching and cutting off a linebacker at the second level, and finally — blissfully — anchoring in pass protection like a cement mixer blocking the only open lane through the road construction work zone.

After watching those nimble Vikings linemen consistently get downfield only to block air last season, I’m okay straying from the blueprint to nab a guy who might be a shade slower getting there but actually hits someone once he arrives. Hey, if you’re gonna make this dude run, he’s gonna be angry when he gets there.

Then, of course, there’s that anchor. That 360-plus frame isn’t easy to go over, around, or through. The theme of Brown’s scouting reports is that he’s more of a run-blocker than a pass protector, but in more than 900 pass-blocking snaps over three seasons at Alabama, he allowed a grand total of 27 pressures, seven quarterback hits, and zero sacks.

Different level of competition to be sure, but in 614 pass-blocking snaps last year, Dakota Dozier surrendered 31 pressures, nine hits, and six sacks. Just for, you know, comparison.

Selecting Brown would absolutely take the Vikings zagging where they have zigged in the past, but before writing him off as a scheme non-fit, consider the comparison used by Lindy’s Sports draft magazine when talking about Brown: Kevin Zeitler.

That’s right, the same former first-round pick Vikings fans were pining for just a few short days ago.

Maybe it’s telling that the Vikings couldn’t (or wouldn’t) compete with the Baltimore Ravens’ offer for Zeitler and that this type of guard is flat-out a non-fit in Minnesota. Or maybe the Vikings figure out that skinny pegs don’t fill round holes on their offensive line and try something slightly different.

It’s also possible the Vikings would be willing to take a shot at Brown, just not in the 78-to-90 range bracketed by their third-round picks. Brown checks in at 98 in the Mock Draft Database consensus, so it’s plausible he slips to the early part of Day 3 when the Vikings might be more inclined to think outside their usual undersized guard box.

Either way, a battle-tested SEC guard who’ll plow through defenders in the running game and won’t get overwhelmed in pass protection sounds like a great way to upgrade the offense for the low, low investment of a mid- to late-Day 2 draft pick. Given what projects to be left on the board when Rick Spielman turns in a draft card on Day 2, Brown is the Vikings’ best bet for that upgrade.

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