Don't Underestimate Oli Udoh's Value

Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings currently possess one of the best offensive tackle duos in the NFL in Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill. However, in the past two years, both players have missed games, and Oli Udoh has replaced them in their absence. When one of the team stalwarts goes down, the panicky feeling that strikes the fanbase may well be justified. But in a player who once seemed like one of Rick Spielman’s draft-day whiffs, Minnesota has found someone who can keep the ship steady.

A sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Udoh spent his first two seasons primarily on the bench, playing only 34 snaps. That all changed in 2021 when the Vikings awarded Udoh the starting right guard job. He played 14 games there and two more at left tackle.

Udoh was an offensive tackle prospect coming out of college. He played right tackle exclusively at Elon, and played that position exclusively throughout his four-year college career in the Colonial Athletic Association. So when the Vikings had him play away from his natural position in 2021, it would be safe to say that he struggled.

In 2021, Udoh allowed 37 total pressures and was flagged 16 times, earning himself a woeful 39.0 pass-blocking grade on PFF. In the Week 4 game against the Cleveland Browns, Udoh allowed eight pressures in a single game. And against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12, Udoh earned a 10.5 pass-blocking grade on the day. It was evident that Udoh could not pass-protect at right guard. He struggled weekly. Sometimes he showed flashes of potential, but he never had a good stretch of games.

Udoh’s run-blocking was substantially better, grading out at 62.3 for the season. He could use his powerful 6’6”, 320 lb. frame to move bodies. But, all things considered, Udoh graded out as an overall 54.4 on PFF, and it was clear the Vikings needed a new right guard.

They drafted Ed Ingram in the second round, who won the job over Udoh in training camp, relegating Udoh to a backup role. Udoh only played 16 offensive snaps over the first 16 weeks. Fortunately, this may have been the moment that saved Udoh’s NFL career.

In Week 17 against the Packers, Udoh was on the bench again. But O’Neill suffered a partially torn meniscus on an interception return. His injury thrust Udoh into the starting right tackle role, his natural position.

Throughout the next three games, the Vikings gave Udoh a chance to show why he is a valuable depth piece. And, in a contract year, he made the most of it. According to PFF, Udoh allowed no sacks on three total pressures and earned pass-blocking grades of 74.0, 79.8, and 79.2. He was making it clear that he was a rock-solid depth piece when played in his natural position.

Udoh also maintained his average run-blocking ability, grading out as a 69.1 run blocker for the 2022 season.

That three-game stretch was enough incentive for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to re-sign a player drafted by the previous regime.  Udoh put ink to paper, keeping him in Minnesota for the 2023 season. However, the team still needs to release the terms of the contract.

Looking back at Udoh’s 40-plus game career, it’s weird to think that he has only been allowed to play in his natural position four times and earned pass-blocking grades higher than 74.0 in each. However, due to O’Neill’s talent and consistency, Udoh has been forced into uncomfortable positions or to the sideline.

If O’Neill goes down to injury again, Vikings fans can take comfort knowing that Udoh is at the helm and has begun to show the traits of a starting-caliber NFL right tackle. In a league where depth is essential and the lineup can change on a split-second play, that’s an asset not to be underrated.

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