Last week the Minnesota Vikings made a big move to upgrade add to their offensive line, trading a sixth-round pick to acquire Mason Cole from the Arizona Cardinals. In response, Skol Nation delivered a collective “meh.”
Personally, my initial response was:
And with the Vikings bringing back Dakota Dozier on the heels of one of the worst guard seasons in recorded history, maybe we should just be grateful Minnesota is adding any new and different and presumably warm bodies to the mix. While Cole as the o-line’s crown jewel of free agency isn’t exactly a warm fuzzy for the faction of Vikings Twitter that wanted an upgrade, there’s still three days of the draft Minnesota can disappoint us with further as they bypass the likes of Rashawn Slater, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Deonte Brown.
Since the Vikings have left us with so little to work with, it’s time to overanalyze the heck out of what should be a depth deal for the Vikings’ offensive line — in no small part because there’s a very real chance it’s a trade for a starting component of it.
The Case for Mason Cole
The trade for Cole hardly appeased the “bolster the o-line” segment of Vikings Nation, and rightfully so. Cole played just over 2,000 snaps for the Cardinals after Arizona selected him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. His selling points coming out of Michigan were versatility — he started out as a tackle for the Wolverines before moving inside to center — and durability.
A preseason injury to starting center A.Q. Shipley threw Cole directly into the starting lineup as a rookie, and he posted an overall grade of 53.6. By comparison, Garrett Bradbury recorded a 57.8 grade in his first pro season.
Cole’s subsequent seasons have graded roughly similarly overall, with pass-protection grades ranging from 41.9 as a rookie to a high of 63.3 (in 211 snaps) in 2019 to 46.1 last year and run-blocking marks of 59.5, 59.1 and 62.9 in his three NFL season. Cole was a backup in 2019, seeing most of his work at left guard but playing four positions along the line, and regained the starting center gig last year.
In the two seasons he saw 900-plus snaps, Cole’s grades place him 47th (2018) and 42nd (20200) overall among centers, 24th and 29th in run blocking and 50th and 43rd in pass protection.
In other words, he’s exactly the kind of interior lineman the Vikings currently have. And need to upgrade from.
One final note on Cole. Yeah, it might be different if he’s at guard, but check out this clip of Cole manning up against new teammate Dalvin Tomlinson.
Caution: if you developed some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder from watching Vikings o-linemen get driven back into the pocket last season, you will want to skip this clip and proceed directly to your nearest happy place.
What Could Have Been Done With the Pick?
You might be surprised how much line depth teams find in the sixth and seventh round. Last year, 34 different sixth- or seventh-rounders started at least one game on the offensive line and 19 started at least 10 games.
The only names most Vikings fans will recognize are Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, tackles Trent Brown, Charles Leno Jr., and Los Angeles Rams center Austin Blythe. Kelce is the only active offensive lineman drafted in the sixth round to have made a Pro Bowl, and Brown and Leno are the only active seventh-round o-lineman to make one. Blythe might be familiar because the Vikings are reportedly making a run at him in free agency, or at least they were until they re-signed — I can’t even say it. If I say it, that means it happened, and I prefer to live in denial a little while longer.
Add in the 63 undrafted college free agents who started at least one game last season, 18 of them with double-digit starts, and you’re talking about 97 players filling one of the NFL’s 160 starting offensive line spots at least once over the course of a season. That extended list includes Jason Peters and, um, Mike Remmers, Nick Easton, Storm Norton, Brett Jones and Rashod Hill.
So the sixth-round pick shipped to Arizona in the trade, No. 223 overall, is at best a lottery ticket. Per the Mock Draft Database consensus rankings, at that point, the highest-ranked offensive linemen on the board would be Pitt’s Jimmy Morrissey, Kentucky’s Landon Young, Marshall’s Josh Ball and Missouri’s Larry Borom.
Quick scouting reports:
- Morrissey, who won the Burlsworth Trophy as the most outstanding college football player who began his career as a walk-on, is an undersized center with excellent technique. So he’s a scheme fit, but more of the same ol’ same old.
- Young is a big (6’6″, 321 pounds) tackle who lacks quickness and foot speed, better suited for a power/gap scheme than Minnesota’s preferred outside zone.
- Ball is another big fella (6’8″, 309 pounds) who played left tackle at Marshall but projects to the right side in the NFL. He brings some off-the-field baggage (was dismissed from Florida State) and is largely categorized as a developmental tackle as opposed to the more immediate help the Vikings clearly need.
- Borom is also large (6’5″, 338) with experience at both tackle and guard. He’s also a better fit for a power/gap scheme with concerns about his athleticism and range as a blocker.
Sure, one of the Day 3 options discussed here last week could slide a little (the Mock Draft Database consensus rankings have Kendrick Green at 142, Royce Newman at 194 and David Moore at 219), but odds are this is an educated guess.
And with that in mind, maybe Cole over a sixth-round dart throw is a win for the immediate future of the Vikings offensive line. If he’s required to play immediately, at least the Vikings know what they’re getting. Plus, per PFF’s rankings, Cole graded out 50 spots higher among offensive linemen than Dozier. Sure, it was 256th vs. 306th, but an upgrade is an upgrade.
Then again, as upgrades go it doesn’t move the needle very far. Draft day can’t come soon enough for this offensive line.