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The future of the Vikings, Part 5: The offensive line

Following their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, the Minnesota Vikings are now officially in offseason mode. Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending. For Part 1, we looked at the quarterbacks, for part 2, the running backs, the wide receivers for part 3, for part 4, the tight ends, for part 5, the offensive line… 

Last offseason, the Minnesota Vikings poured assets into rebuilding their offensive line. When they opened the 2017 season, the Vikings had new starters at every position. The difference was remarkable. The Vikings finished sixth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Percentage, seventh in rushing yards and 10th best on power runs. In the passing game, the Vikings had a great deal of success with screens and short throws that involved the line using their mobility. In the run, Minnesota adapted quickly to more power runs instead of outside zone schemes after Dalvin Cook went down with a season-ending injury. Overall, it was an impressive year for the Vikings’ offensive line, but there is still work to be done…

The results

Riley Reiff

Don’t overlook Riley Reiff’s role in Vikings’ offensive turnaround

The Vikings signed Reiff to a five-year deal worth nearly $60 million to take over as their left tackle and he performed up to expectations in Year 1. While Pro Football Focus ranked him as only the 61st best tackle in the NFL this year (out of 81), he brought stability, toughness and mobility to a position that had been very volatile in the past. Down the stretch, Reiff also battled injuries. At mid-season, he hadn’t allowed a sack and was arguably the MVP of the Vikings’ offense. Beyond the numbers, Reiff became the leader of the OL group. He was named a captain and became one of the most respected players on the roster.

Nick Easton

Film review: Vikings’ interior lineman created big plays vs. Lions

It wasn’t completely clear how important Easton was to the Vikings’ offense until he was placed on IR. His athleticism and quickness allowed the Vikings’ screen game to thrive. PFF ranked him 58th of 77, but he was 10th in pass blocking efficiency and his attributes outweighed his shortcomings. Another factor in his (and Pat Elflein’s) ranking: The Vikings faced 11 of the top 20 DTs by PFF metrics this year. That’s unusually high quality of competition, which included the defensive MVP Aaron Donald.

Pat Elflein

Film review: Vikings’ Elflein is a game changer

Elflein also didn’t score well by PFF metrics, ranking 31st of 35 centers. That certainly doesn’t match up with the team’s feeling about their young center. In Year 1, Elflein was a franchise-changing player. He was masterful at getting to the second level, tough in the run game, and made life difficult for opponents with his quickness. The former Ohio State center adapted to an exceptionally difficult position without many “rookie moments.”

Joe Berger

Berger may be closer to 40 than he is 30, but he still had a solid year. PFF ranked him 25th of 77 overall – impressive considering he moved from playing center last season to right guard this year. The Vikings had their most success running to the right side, ranking ninth best on runs to the right according to Football Outsiders.

Mike Remmers

The former Carolina Panther signed a five-year, $30 million contract in the offseason and Year 1 was exactly what the Vikings hoped for. PFF ranked Remmers 41st of 81 tackles. He battled injuries, but largely performed well in pass protection and offered a powerful presence in the run game. In the playoffs, the Vikings asked Remmers to play out of position at left guard. He performed better at right guard in Week 17 than on the left side.

Rashod Hill

Rashod Hill reflects on journey from Jags’ practice squad to starting in the playoffs

The Vikings probably didn’t expect they would play Hill more than 700 snaps this season, but the former Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad player largely gave the team more than expected from a backup tackle. He was especially good in pass protection, using his long arms and patience to keep pass rushers at bay. Hill still needs to improve his run blocking, but he even showed progress in that area. In the playoffs, Hill had a tough time against several elite pass rushers. He ranked 64th of 81 by PFF rankings.

Jeremiah Sirles

In 2016, Sirles was forced to start 10 games at right tackle, which turned out to be a tough task for the 6-foot-6 lineman. He proved to be a better fit as a backup guard. The Vikings’ decision to put Remmers at left guard instead of Sirles in the postseason was telling, but solid, versatile backups are hard to find.

Aviante Collins

The Vikings mixed in Collins toward the end of the year for 28 snaps as an extra blocker after No. 3 tight end Blake Bell got hurt. Collins was signed last year as an undrafted free agent and made the team out of camp.

Danny Isidora 

After both Nick Easton and Jeremiah Sirles got hurt, Isidora was forced to fill in when the Vikings played in London against the Cleveland Browns. The fifth-round pick from Miami didn’t set the world on fire, but he showed some flashes of potential. Mike Zimmer praised him multiple times throughout offseason workouts and training camp.

The options

— The tackle position will be intriguing to watch this offseason. While Reiff and Remmers are locked into contracts for at least the next few years, it’s possible the Vikings could be looking at tackles in the first round of the draft. Remmers performed exceptionally well at right guard in Week 17, opening up the possibility of sliding him to guard and plugging in a rookie right tackle, with hopes that player may eventually be a franchise tackle.

— The two tackles to watch for in the draft will be Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown and UCLA’s Kolton Miller. Both are massive, have right tackle experience and project to be late-first or second-round linemen.

— Assuming Joe Berger retires, the Vikings could draft a starting guard at No. 30. There appears to be a high number of solid players at the guard position in the draft, including UTEP’s Will Hernandez, Auburn’s Braden Smith, Ohio State’s Billy Price and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn.

— The free agent market is unimpressive. Carolina’s Andrew Norwell will likely demand too high of a price for the Vikings to afford. Otherwise Tampa Bay veteran Evan Smith, New York’s Justin Pugh, Tennesse’s Josh Kline, San Diego’s Matt Slauson and Seattle Luke Joeckel are options the Vikings may consider.

The bottom line

The Vikings are in very good shape on the offensive line with four solid players. However, the Philadelphia Eagles showed in the playoffs the difference a dominant offensive line can make. That may push the Vikings to go to greater lengths to continue building the O-line through the draft rather than patching things together up front.





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