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

As the Minnesota Vikings head into a vital offseason, we will look at each position under a microscope. What worked? What didn’t work? What might change in 2019? What are the best and worst case scenarios? What options do they have going forward? Our series will lead up to the opening of free agency on March 13. We move on to part 5, offensive line…

Quarterbacks

Running backs 

Wide receivers 

Tight ends

LT, Riley Reiff 

What worked:

The Vikings’ left tackle had a solid season by the numbers, ranking 22nd of 61 tackles by Pro Football Focus grades and 18th in the run game (with at least 500 snaps). Per Football Outsiders, the Vikings were ninth in yards per carry (4.4) behind the left tackle. Overall Reiff tied for 22nd in sacks allowed (3). He put together eight games with above average grades, including two matchups with Green Bay in which he allowed only a total of four pressures, zero QB hits and zero sacks.

What didn’t work:

Reiff’s two bad games were disastrous. He allowed 12 pressures in a nightmare matchup with Jerry Hughes and the Buffalo Bills and then gave up 11 pressures to Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears over the two matchups. He was dominated in the Vikings’ season-ending Week 17 loss. As a pass blocker, Reiff was graded below average at 37th and gave up the eighth most pressures. He missed three games with injury and played through other injuries throughout the year, playing the fewest snaps of his career since his rookie year.

Best case scenario in 2019:

There are a few scenarios that could work out well for the Vikings. One could be that he stays healthy for an entire season and gives them a similar performance to the past, only his play is helped by Gary Kubiak/Kevin Stefanski’s scheme.

Another potential option, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, is moving Reiff to left guard. As a strong run blocker, the best case would be Reiff becoming an impact player on the inside with the ability to use his size and strength against the NFC North’s beast interior defensive linemen Akiem Hicks, Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Snacks Harrison. In this scenario, the Vikings would be drafting their franchise left tackle.

Worst case scenario in 2019:

Reiff battles injuries again, struggles to protect Kirk Cousins’ blind side and has two or three games in which he gets dominated by superior players and ends up showing signs of age (Reiff is 30) throughout the year.

LG, Tom Compton

What worked:

Compton was signed to be a backup option behind Nick Easton. Instead he was thrust into the starting job when Easton suffered a season-ending injury in camp. He graded 33rd of 55 guards by PFF and 15th in the run game. Considering he only cost $800,000, that’s about the best bang-for-buck. He started a career-high 14 games.

What didn’t work:

The journeyman lineman was not up to the task of facing skilled interior pass rushers. He rated 45th in pass protected and gave up the fifth most sacks by a guard in the NFL and 12th most pressures.

Best case scenario in 2019:

Compton is a free agent. While he didn’t have a great year, he is a solid veteran backup option.

Worst case scenario in 2019:

If he was brought back as a versatile guard and ended up starting double-digit games again.

C, Pat Elflein 

What worked:

Almost nothing. After a solid rookie season, Elflein only had one season that was graded above average by PFF. That came against Arizona.

What didn’t work:

Elflein suffered a serious injury in the 2017 NFC Championship game that, combined with a shoulder injury, kept him out until Week 3. Missing the entire offseason and preseason put the former Ohio State center so far behind the ball that he never caught up. Without the required play strength from a full offseason, he routinely was overpowered by interior D-linemen. PFF ranked Elflein as the worst center in the NFL in 2018 and his six pressures allowed in Week 17 were a ill-timed career high. It didn’t appear he fully got on the same page with Cousins and wasn’t a great fit with John DeFilippo’s offense.

Best case scenario in 2019:

Elflein has a full offseason, puts on muscle and strength that will help him in situations where opponents can pin their ears back or in power run plays. With his ability in space being Elflein’s strongest asset, the Kubiak/Stefanski offense could be built to his strengths with zone runs and screen passes.

Worst case scenario in 2019: 

You couldn’t come up with much worse of a scenario than Elflein faced in 2018. As long as he’s healthy throughout the offseason, we should see improvement.

RG, Mike Remmers

What worked:

Remmers finished the year ranked 36th of 55 by PFF, but he did show some flashes of talent as an interior lineman. He did not allow a single pressure against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8 and in Week 15 against the Miami Dolphins and was an average or above average run blocker in seven games.

What didn’t work:

The puzzling move to bring Remmers inside to guard did not pay off in pass blocking. He gave up seven sacks and 42 pressures, which is seven more sacks and 15 more pressures than he allowed as a tackle in 2017. The sack total ranked fifth most allowed and his pressure total was third worst among guards.

Best case scenario in 2019:

Clearly the Vikings need improvement at guard, so he can’t continue starting without a massive leap forward, but if Remmers stayed on the team as a swing tackle who could step into either side in case of emergency, that would be the ideal situation for the Vikings. He would instantly be one of the best backup linemen in the NFL.

Worst case scenario in 2019: 

The Vikings are simply forced to cut Remmers because of his price tag ($6.4 million) and his signing goes down in the “L” column.

RT, Brian O’Neill

What worked:

As a converted tight end, the 2018 second-round pick wasn’t expected to start right away, but he was forced into action because of injuries and then took over the full-time job from Rashod Hill. While there were ups and downs, O’Neill did not seem overwhelmed by NFL edge rushers and appeared to gain confidence as the season went along. He was one of four tackles with more than 500 snaps to not allow a sack.

What didn’t work:

While he didn’t give up a sack, O’Neill was routinely overpowered due to his lack of size/strength and inexperience setting an anchor against NFL talents. Of 61 tackles with more than 500 snaps, O’Neill was graded by PFF as the 53rd rated tackle in pass blocking and 40th in run blocking.

Best case scenario in 2019:

O’Neill continues to put on weight and improve technique and then takes a significant step toward becoming a franchise tackle. His tremendous athleticism becomes an asset for the Vikings in the screen and run games and gives the impression O’Neill could reach his ceiling as an above average tackle.

Worst case scenario in 2019: 

He plateaus with his progress and continues to struggle with speed-to-power rushers, which would make the team question whether he can be a long-term option.

T, Rashod Hill

After performing admirably in 2017 as a fill-in, Hill proved that he isn’t ready for a full-time starting gig. He allowed five sacks and 28 pressures in just 342 pass blocking snaps before losing his job to O’Neill. It doesn’t appear the former Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad member will take another step, but he could continue to be a reliable reserve.

C, Brett Jones

Acquired just before the season to start in the place of the injured Elflein, Jones did his best to hold down the fort for a few weeks. He could not provide the type of quickness required in the run game to be a full-time starter.

G, Danny Isidora

In four games, Isidora got thoroughly dominated by opponents in the passing game, giving up 11 pressures in just 145 pass blocking snaps. It is yet to be seen whether the Vikings stick with him as a developmental player.

Options

Where to begin…

— If the Vikings move Riley Reiff to left guard, it becomes a foregone conclusion that they will draft a left tackle in the first round. This year isn’t a bad draft to be in the market for a tackle. Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Greg Little of Ole Miss, Cody Ford from Oklahoma and Jawaan Taylor of Florida are all listed by CBS Sports as first-round prospects at tackle while Kansas State’s Dalton Risner is a rising prospect who shined at the Senior Bowl. He might play tackle or guard.

— If Reiff remains at left tackle, the Vikings could still draft a future tackle in the first and look for guards later in the draft. Players like Chris Lindstrom from Boston College, Michael Jordan of Ohio State and Penn State’s Connor McGovern are examples of players receiving second-round grades who could step into a starting role. We will have a much clearer picture of the draft going forward. Considering the Colts took offensive linemen in the first and second round last year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Vikings considered doing the same.

— Free agency presents all types of options. The Vikings could think about Bucs tackle Donovan Smith if Reiff slides inside. New England’s starting left tackle Trent Brown is also a free agent. Washington’s Ty Nsekhe is an under-the-radar swing tackle who may have the capability to start full time.

— The guard market isn’t deep. Indy’s Mark Glowinski already signed a three-year deal to stay with the Colts and Los Angeles’s Roger Safford, the top free agent, has expressed interest in staying with the Rams. That leaves Pittsburgh’s 33-year-old Ramon Foster and Tennessee’s Quinton Spain as the top names on the market. Mike Pearson of San Francisco and Jacksonville’s AJ Cann could also get consideration.

— Another potential fix would be to move Elflein to guard, where he shined as a junior at Ohio State. Denver’s free agent center Matt Paradis is one of the top players at the position. It might be a more savvy play to sign a top center and slide Elflein over than going all-in on a veteran, less talented guard.





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