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Best Vikings draft fits, Part 2: Offensive line

During the lead up to the NFL draft, we will be looking at the players from each Minnesota Vikings position of need who would be the best fits in the first or second round plus one sleeper pick who might be available later in the draft. The fit is based on playing style, production, NFL Combine results and realistic possibility of being selected…for Part 2, we look at offensive linemen: 

Part 1: Cornerbacks can be read here

Best case scenario pick: Alabama, Jedrick Wills Jr. 

Assuming that Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs will be top 10-15 picks, the Vikings will be hoping that Wills slips through the cracks. His Combine was as impressive as anyone who attended with the Bama tackle running in the 90th percentile of 40-yard dash and 93rd percentile of broad jump, which is a good indicator of explosiveness. With the Vikings’ running scheme, they would no doubt appreciate someone with a similar athletic profile — but even more weight — to current right tackle Brian O’Neill. PFF graded him one of the highest zone run blockers.

Wills played on the right side at Bama, so they would likely push O’Neill back to the left side (where he played in college). On the production side, you can’t find much better competition than playing for the Crimson Tide and Wills only gave up one sack, four QB hits and nine pressures.

Utah, Josh Jones

Jones took a huge step forward in his final year, allowing just one sack, zero QB hits and three hurries on 325 pass blocking snaps, per PFF. During his entire career as a three-year starter he only gave up 18 pressures. He also registered one of PFF’s highest zone blocking grades, which the Vikings will be considering with their offensive scheme. At the NFL Combine he performed admirably at 6-foot-5, 319-pounds, putting him in the conversation for a first-round pick.

Considered a raw prospect, the Vikings might have to give Jones a year to develop behind Riley Reiff before plugging him in as their left tackle. NFL.com wrote:  “He needs plenty of work with his pass sets and footwork, but most of his issues appear to be coachable. He’s a good fit for a move-oriented rushing attack and has the traits and talent to become a future starter if he continues to develop with coaching.”

USC, Austin Jackson

Jackson helped his draft stock at the NFL Combine, where he posted a remarkable 5.07 40-yard dash at 322 pounds and benched 27 reps. Those impressive numbers went along with elite broad jump, vertical jump and 10-yard split. Add those numbers to his 34-inch arms and two years of starting experience before age 21 and Jackson looks like the player the Vikings would build in a lab to be their next left tackle.

The concern about Jackson is that his production doesn’t match some of the other top tackles in the class. He gave up four sacks, one QB hit and nine hurries last year and graded by PFF as closer to an above average player in college football rather than elite, ranking 31st among tackles.

NFL.com wrote:  “Jackson has loads of athletic ability and play talent that is waiting to be developed and harvested. Inconsistent hand placement and footwork could be exploited early on if teams try and rush him into the starting lineup, but issues are correctable.”

Boise State, Ezra Cleveland

While he have played lesser competition than some of the bigger school tackles, Cleveland dominated his opponents, giving up just 26 QB pressures (sacks, hits, hurries) over the last two seasons. In total, Cleveland has more experience than nearly all the other tackles in the class with more than 1,500 pass blocking snaps.

At the Combine, Cleveland made a name for himself by running a 4.93 40-yard dash, which ranks among the best ever for a tackle. He also impressively benched 30 reps, giving credence to the idea that he can handle the strength of NFL rushers. If the Vikings selected Cleveland, they would be essentially cloning right tackle Brian O’Neill, whose elite athleticism has helped him quickly develop into a rising star.

Cesar Ruiz

The Vikings may be set at center with Garrett Bradbury but they will be on the lookout for interior offensive linemen after cutting Josh Kline earlier this offseason. Ruiz has guard experience, which could put him on Minnesota’s radar, especially with his athleticism. At the Combine he ranked in the 85th percentile or above in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle and vertical jump. Not to mention that he has 11-inch hands — which has been found to correlate to success at the NFL level.

While the Vikings may focus on their run scheme when spotting offensive linemen, pass protection on the interior has been very poor over the past two seasons. That’s Ruiz’s strong point. He gave up zero sacks, two hits and seven hurries in 492 pass blocking snaps per PFF.

One bonus to drafting Ruiz: He can start right away. NFL.com wrote:  “Ruiz has early starting potential and should develop into a good pro with guard/center flexibility.”

Sleeper: Louisiana, Robert Hunt

A dominant tackle whose 2019 was partly lost to injury, Hunt gave up just 11 pressures in the last two seasons. Both PFF and ESPN’s Todd McShay both share the opinion that he can move inside to guard and have dominant potential. Because of the injury, he doesn’t have Combine numbers to confirm his athleticism but Hunt is considered to be a high quality athlete.


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