The Vikings will open training camp Wednesday at TCO Performance Center. For the next five days, SKOR North’s Judd Zulgad will exam a topic that figures to impact Mike Zimmer’s team. The third installment involves center Garrett Bradbury.
The Vikings were looking to upgrade at the center position after the 2018 season when general manager Rick Spielman decided to use the 18th pick in the first round on North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury. The move has not been the home run that Spielman had hoped.
Bradbury, listed at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, has been durable in starting all 32 regular-season games in two seasons but he has been awful when it comes to protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins. As a rookie, he was dead last in Pro Football Focus’ rankings of 36 eligible NFL centers in pass protection and last season he was 39th out of 39 in the same category.
Not everything is negative when it comes to Bradbury — he was 17th out of 39 centers in run blocking last season and 21st out of 36 in 2019 — but considering the number of defensive tackles who can provide interior pressure on quarterbacks accepting that your center can’t pass protect isn’t an option. Especially when that pressure is almost immediate because of the direct route an interior lineman has to the quarterback.
The Vikings have to be hoping that Bradbury will benefit from the changes they are likely to make at the guard position. Ezra Cleveland, a second-round pick in 2020, will move from right to left guard and Wyatt Davis, a third-round selection in this year’s draft, should get a chance to start at right guard.
This would take Dakota Dozier out of the mix after he ranked 87th out of 92 guards last season in PFF’s overall grade. Dozier also was responsible for giving up the most pressures of all guard with 46 while starting all 16 games for the first time in six NFL seasons.
Improved guard play should help Bradbury but his awful PFF pass protection grades can’t all be blamed on who is playing beside him. In 2019, Josh Kline started at right guard and Pat Elflein, whom Bradbury had replaced at center, started at left guard. Overall, Bradbury was 29th out of 39 qualified centers in the overall PFF grades last season; he was 29th out of 36 centers in 2019.
Bradbury, who turned 26 in June, will make $1.7 million in base salary this season and is set to make $2.3 million in 2022. The Vikings also will have to make a decision at some point about the 2023 fifth-year option on Bradbury’s contract. Or will they?
The Vikings have had several standout centers — Mick Tingelhoff, Matt Birk, Kirk Lowdermilk and Jeff Christy among them — and Bradbury was expected to join that group. His failure to come close to doing so means the clock is ticking.
If Bradbury doesn’t show substantial improvement in pass protection this season, Spielman could begin looking for a replacement and acknowledging Bradbury was a first-round bust.