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What is the best case scenario for the Vikings’ offensive line this offseason?

The holiday season is in full swing but we're not to the point yet of games, seemingly, every other day which gave John Cosgrove and Stephen Quinn just enough time to sit down a talk about the last week of football, as well as share a pint or two. Not sure if you've heard but Jose Mourinho was sacked at Manchester United but we discuss that bit of news along with the recent rash of Carabao Cup matches, the big Everton/Man City match, and the even bigger Liverpool/Man United match at the weekend. The guys also answer your emails, John talks presents in his Just Be Cos, we debut Jonathan's new segment, and we wrap with a look at the top Christmas movies as well as a look at the Women's World Cup Draw. That and much more on this edition of The Crafty Rogues!

While the Minnesota Vikings have plenty of positions to address this offseason, the spotlight will be on the offensive line in both free agency and the NFL draft.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings’ offensive line 27th in pass blocking and 25th in run blocking. Without improvement in 2019, it would be difficult to see the Vikings gaining much traction offensively.

But how much better can they get with the options available? What is the best possible outcome for the Vikings’ O-line? Let’s have a look…

Tackle

What happened

The Vikings went into the season with veteran Riley Reiff and swing tackle Rashod Hill starting on the right side, which proved to be problematic. Hill gave up five sacks and 28 total QB pressures, per Pro Football Focus, in just 342 pass blocking snaps.

Rookie Brian O’Neill took over midway through the year and was a significant improvement, allowing 31 pressures in 531 pass snaps. Still there were struggles for the first-year player, who graded as PFF’s 47th of 62 qualifying tackles.

While Reiff notably struggled in a few games, especially against Buffalo while he was battling a foot injury and Chicago against Khalil Mack, he ultimately had a solid season, ranking 22nd by PFF.

Best case scenario for 2019

While Reiff isn’t going to put on a gold jacket someday, there isn’t anywhere close to a better option than him at left tackle for the Vikings next season. There isn’t an Andrew Whitworth-caliber free agent tackle on the market this offseason. If they wanted to move on, the Vikings could cut Reiff and save $8.8 million on the cap, but without an obvious upgrade, it’s hard to make a case for doing so.

The Vikings will simply have to bank on O’Neill advancing. He has terrific athleticism and showed an ability to recover that gives him a chance to become a very good player.

The best free agent options on the right side are Chicago veteran Bobby Massie (34th by PFF), Dolphins starter Ja’Wuan James (31st by PFF) and Washington swing tackle Ty Nsekhe. Neither would be an upgrade over O’Neill, assuming he takes another step forward.

The biggest question might be whether the Vikings want to keep Mike Remmers as a backup tackle. It is clear that Hill is an in-case-of-emergency type player. If either Reiff or O’Neill got hurt, the Vikings’ O-line could be right back where it started. While Remmers would be an expensive No. 3 at $6.7 million on the cap, he ranked 26th of 56 by PFF last season. He would make for a good insurance policy.

Guard

What happened

The retirement of Joe Berger punched a hole in a solid 2017 offensive line that they tried to fill by moving Mike Remmers to right guard rather than DeForest Buckner and Aaron Donald. It turned out Remmers was a much better tackle. He allowed the third most QB pressures of any guard in the NFL and graded 35th out of 54 guards with at least 550 snaps.

Tom Compton took over the starting left guard position following a season-ending injury to starter Nick Easton. Like Remmers, he was in a unique spot having never started a full season before in his career. Compton rated 33rd by PFF’s grading system and gave up 35 pressures.

Best case scenario for 2019

With Easton’s status unclear, it’s hard to say whether they can count on him coming back to full strength at the left guard spot next season. Cap space may be tight, but the Vikings should be in the running for starting Los Angeles Rams guard Roger Saffold, the eighth ranked guard by PFF. He and veteran Steelers guard Ramon Foster (14th) are the two unrestricted free agents who would be clear-cut upgrades.

If Easton is healthy, they should look to bring him back as well. His quickness gave the Vikings a weapon in the screen game last season that they lacked in 2018.

Even if the Vikings were able to return Easton and add either Saffold or Foster, they should still draft an offensive lineman with the 18th overall pick. Whichever rookie they selected could compete for a starting job or act as quality depth the way O’Neill did in Year 1.

Bringing back Compton as a free agent would make sense. As a backup, he has a solid history of filling in when called upon. The Vikings will need to stack up as much depth as possible.

Another option with Remmers could be trading him to a team that is desperate for a tackle.

Center

What happened

Pat Elflein’s sophomore season started out by missing all of training camp and the first three weeks of the season. When he returned, the former Ohio State start was forced to match up with Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox in consecutive weeks. He never appeared to get fully back to his 2017 form during the season and finished as the worst graded center by PFF in the NFL.

Best case scenario for 2019

Getting him a full offseason to get his strength back will be enormous for the talented young center. It was clear from his rookie year that Elflein has the talent to follow in the footsteps of the great Vikings centers of the past, but not when he started from so far behind.

Another aspect of Elflein’s struggles was the team’s schematic changes. Pat Shurmur used both Elflein and Easton’s athleticism to the Vikings’ advantage, but we rarely saw that in 2018. He wasn’t running out to the second level on screens or reach blocking on outside zone runs very often. Both of those things may have impacted his final grade.

The Vikings are unlikely to find themselves a better option than playing wait-and-see with Elflein. Odds are that he bounces back.





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