Heading into draft week, the Minnesota Vikings offseason has not included fixing the offensive line. According to PFF, the o-line finished 26th in the league and an even-worse 28th at protecting the pass. PFF puts most of the blame on the interior of Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and Dakota Dozier, and the offensive line as a whole suffered a massive loss this offseason when the Vikings cut starting left tackle Riley Reiff to create cap space.
While some think this move means the Vikings will push Cleveland out to left tackle, where he played at Boise State, I would argue otherwise. If the long-term plan was to move Cleveland to a tackle position, why didn’t they do it in Week 17 when Reiff was forced to miss the game due to COVID protocols?
Although the Vikings might be high on last year’s backup swing tackle, Rashod Hill, it is hard to envision him being a long-term solution at left tackle. Luckily, this year’s weird combination of opt-outs and the canceled combine makes players from this draft increasingly harder to assess. We could see players who can contribute right away slip to Day 2 or 3 simply because of a lack of tape.
One such player whose misfortunes might benefit the Vikings is Stanford left tackle Walker Little, a consensus first-round pick a year ago.
Standing at 6’7″, 309 lbs., Little’s surname is a bit of a misnomer. In college, he used his NFL size to dominate the PAC-12. While he probably will need to gain some strength at the next level, we have seen with right tackle Brian O’Neill that sometimes you don’t need to be as heavy as people think to make an impact.
Little is a solid pass protector and has showcased an ability to stop different pass rushes with ease. He uses a kick-slide move to get to the outside when facing speed rushers who take a wider angle to get to the quarterback. By doing this, he makes them either have to work back on the inside where he can use his strength to bully them, or he makes them take an even wider angle to get to the quarterback. He also has demonstrated the ability to stand up to a stronger defensive end by showcasing his anchor and fending off a bull rush.
There is some concern around his pass protection on delayed rushes. During his time at Stanford, he sometimes lost track of late pass rushers.
Though his 40-yard dash time of 5.28 might not show it, Little can get to the second level in the run game and finish off opposing linebackers and defensive backs. He also has a bit of a mean streak in him. He loves to push these opposing players to the ground, ensuring that they don’t get back up and join the play late.
While he is good in the passing game, he can be inconsistent on running plays. He has a frustrating tendency to lunge at opposing defenders, which often ends up with him on the ground rather than blocking the defensive player. Although he has struggled in this aspect of the game at Stanford, he has particularly flashed in a zone-blocking scheme, which the Vikings run.
So if Little checks all the boxes as a potential starting blindside protector, why is he projected to go on Day 2 or early Day 3?
During his freshman year, Little impressed, earning co-Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. He followed that with an even more impressive sophomore campaign in which he finished as a member of the First Team Pac-12. But he tore his ACL in the first game of his junior year and missed the rest of the season. He opted out last season, making him out of sight and out of mind for many scouts.
Given how long it’s been since he’s played, scouts may have become wary of recommending him. But I think that Little can reacclimate well enough to be ready for the start of the season and compete with Rashod Hill for the opening-day left tackle position.
You rarely get a chance to land a premier left tackle talent without using a high-end pick for it. If the Vikings want their bookend tackle alongside O’Neill for the future, they have to take a flyer on Little.