Vikings

The Vikings Are Having A Legitimate "Can He Play Guard?" Battle Royale

Photo credit: Jenna Watson-The Indianapolis Star via USA TODAY Sports

The scene was TCO Performance Center. The Minnesota Vikings were getting ready to practice. But instead of the usual setting, there was a wrestling ring set up at the 50-yard line.

Wyatt Davis stood in the middle of the ring and awaited his challenger. The annual “Can He Play Guard?” Battle Royale was about to commence, and Jesse Davis was the first to step up. This battle of Davises had major implications. The Vikings have been a black hole at right guard for an entire decade. There could only be one starter.

But then Adam Thielen appeared.

Dipping into his Minnesota State connections (did you know he went there?), he informed everyone that there would be a new challenger. With pyro and guitar rifts suited for a WrestleMania entrance, Chris Reed had returned home. Wyatt and Jesse Davis looked stunned as the crowd…got distracted and sought out Justin Jefferson‘s autograph.

Okay, so this isn’t exactly how the Vikings’ camp battle will turn out. But it’s exactly how the Vikings should fix their offensive line.

In a perfect world, the Vikings would have hit free agency to find a grown ass-man. With top guards available, this was the year to go overpay and fix their guard problems for good. But with little cap room and holes to fill elsewhere, that was never a realistic option.

So the Vikings turned their attention to the next best thing: competition. Minnesota is no stranger to competition at guard. But there was never NFL-caliber talent to make it a true competition.

The Vikings last had stability at the guard position in 2011. Both Steve Hutchinson and Joe Berger posted an overall Pro Football Focus grade above 80 that season. But Hutchinson left in free agency, and Berger went back to a backup role to make way for Charlie Johnson.

Since then, Brandon Fusco (2013) has been the Vikings’ only starting guard to register a PFF grade over 80 in a single season. The Vikings haven’t had a starting guard post a grade over 70 since Berger did it in 2017. The names behind them are a who’s who of Can he play guard? memes.

Jeff Baca challenged for the position in 2013. Vladimir Ducasse joined in 2014. Mike Harris was a serviceable option in 2015. Willie Beavers and Zac Kerin were non-factors in 2016. Aviante Collins, Nick Easton, and Danny Isidora tried in 2017.

It got so bad that the Vikings started converting tackles to guard in 2018. The failed experiments of Mike Remmers and Oli Udoh followed.

With the exception of Alex Boone, the Vikings filled these competitions with developmental prospects. Instead of finding a player with experience starting, the Vikings were content hoping that Dru Samia would finally get it. Or that Pat Elflein would get stronger.

That provided competition during camp, but it wasn’t the kind that provided a suitable solution. Instead, the Vikings would be wiser to cast a wider net and hope to hit on a position that has a ton of variance.

Among qualifying guards who had 20% of the league lead in snaps, 47 players have placed in the top 10 of PFF’s overall guard ratings since 2012. Of those players, only 19 have placed in the top 10 multiple times.

Guard is one of the most demanding positions in the NFL. With all the smashing in the trenches, making it a full decade is unlikely. But it also shows the opportunity the Vikings have if they find the right player.

The Vikings are wise to give Wyatt Davis another shot at the job. After being graded a first-round pick at one point in the pre-draft process, he fell to the third round due to injuries. Those injuries stunted his development. They also had a role in him showing up overweight to camp. But after working out with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather this offseason, there’s a scenario where he breaks out.

Dolphins fans applauded Jesse Davis’ departure, but there’s a chance he could be adequate in Minnesota. Davis was miscast as a tackle the past two years and had his best season as a guard in 2018.

Then there’s Reed, who showed enough filling in for Quenton Nelson that he could come away with the job.

If the Vikings were to rely on just one scenario, there’s a chance they could wind up in a long list of failures. Instead, the Vikings are throwing darts and hoping one sticks.

So while there may be three men standing in the ring, perhaps the Vikings shouldn’t stop here. Maybe another free-agent guard could run in. Perhaps someone else can step up. BAH GAWD, IS THAT RANDALL MCDANIEL‘S MUSIC? Maybe I’m going too far. But the Vikings are doing the right thing to solve their problem.

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Photo credit: Jenna Watson-The Indianapolis Star via USA TODAY Sports

Has it been pretty? Of course not. Have the Minnesota Vikings lived up to expectations? Certainly not, especially not the eye test. Is Minnesota a legitimate contender […]

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