With Za’Darius Smith off the books after a trade and Dalvin Cook’s release likely coming soon, the Minnesota Vikings should have a significant amount of cap space at their disposal for the remainder of the offseason. The question now becomes, what will they do with it?
The offensive line has been a problem in Minnesota for nearly a decade, but in 2022 we began to see some signs of progression. Christian Darrisaw blossomed into an elite tackle, Brian O’Neill continued to have solid production, and Garrett Bradbury played himself into a new contract after the Vikings declined his fifth-year option.
The Vikings have invested several top picks into the offensive line. However, it didn’t protect Kirk Cousins well last season. On 701 dropbacks, opponents pressured Cousins 252 times and sacked him 46 times, the eighth-most sacks allowed in the NFL, according to PFF. Furthermore, the Vikings had the 22nd-worst pass-block win rate at 57%.
Although the Vikings saw improvements last season, there is still a leak on the offensive line eminating from the guard positions. In 2022, Ed Ingram allowed 58 pressures, and Ezra Cleveland allowed 53. To put those numbers in perspective, Darrisaw, O’Neill, and Bradbury combined only allowed 68 pressures.
Additionally, those pressure numbers for Cleveland and Ingram have been turning into sacks, with 16 allowed between them and only 11 between the other three O-linemen. Keeping Cousins clean in the pocket is of the utmost importance, too. His PFF grade falls from 83.8 to 63.4 when he is under pressure.
This is where Dalton Risner comes into play for the Vikings. The Denver Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019, Risner has played every snap of his career at left guard and is currently a free agent. Throughout his four-year career, Risner has not allowed more than 29 pressures in a season. Furthermore, he has played 2,304 pass-blocking snaps and only allowed 10 sacks in his career.
Which begs the question: If Risner is so good at pass blocking, why has nobody signed him on the open market?
The answer is pretty straightforward: There are some concerns about his run blocking.
Behind new head coach Sean Payton, the Broncos are likely moving towards a more run-heavy offense after seeing Russell Wilson drop off last season. That philosophy would expose Risner, who started 62 games for the Broncos over the past four seasons, because he is mediocre as a run blocker.
Over the past four seasons, Risner has not had a run-blocking grade over 63.2. Last year PFF gave him his worst grade (53.4). Plenty of guards, including Cleveland and Ingram, hold an advantage over Risner in this area of run blocking.
Cleveland played tackle in college and is especially good in the run game, earning an 80.3 PFF grade last season, while Ingram tallied a 63.4.
As a team, the Vikings ranked towards the middle of the pack in run-block win rate last season at 18th. They had a 71% win rate, only 6% less than the league-leading Baltimore Ravens.
Furthermore, we have seen Kwesi Adofo-Mensah target former high draft picks in Jalen Reagor and Byron Murphy. Risner is no different. At age 27, he has offered consistency along Denver’s offensive line year after year, something the Vikings haven’t had in at least a decade. Do they want guards like Oli Udoh, Dru Samia, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers protecting our quarterback any longer?
Ultimately, if Adofo-Mensah signs Risner, we will know that he values the passing game more than the run game. Bringing in Risner would offer consistent pass blocking for Cousins to sit back and find players like Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and newly added Jordan Addison.
With the post-June 1 cuts coming soon, the Vikings likely won’t be the only team on the market for a new guard. However, they will have the money to make a run at him if they release Cook.
If the Vikings sign Risner this offseason, it will show they are fully committed to building the best possible offensive line and a belief in Cousins to make the most of the weapons around him.