Picking 53: Expect Minnesota to Keep A Lot of Linemen

About the Vikings "Achilles' Heel"
Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) leads his team to the field to play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota’s approach to OL might involve pursuing quantity and quality. Indeed, the Vikings will keep a lot of players as they hope for significant improvement along the offensive line.

There’s an argument to be made that perhaps the lone strong offensive lineman on the Vikings roster is Brian O’Neill. I’d hasten to add Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland, but you get the point. Talent isn’t abundant at one of the game’s most important positions.

HC Kevin O’Connell, OC Wes Phillips, and OL Coach Chris Kuper are the main men responsible for getting this group into a better spot in 2022. Of course, the players themselves need to take on a lot of the responsibility, though one wonders how much of the recent struggles have been due to coaching. I expect this new leadership to prioritize the position by keeping a lot of guys on the roster.

Vikings 53-Man Roster: Offensive Line

From my vantage point, there are 7 near locks for the Vikings offensive line. The current frontrunners for the starting five – Darrisaw, Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Chris Reed, O’Neill – alongside a couple notable depth players – Jesse Davis and Ed Ingram – look like they’re close to guaranteed a spot. Let’s start at the top.

O’Neill is a great player, one of the most impressive in a purple uniform. Last season, he even got a little bit of All Pro hype, snagging a few votes (but not making the team). Over the Cap suggests he’s coming in under $9.4 million on the 2022 cap. That number will jump to more than $19 million for the next four years, with the high point being in 2025. The cap is a malleable monster, so the Vikings may look to shuffle money around O’Neill’s deal during the offseason to create room in 2023.

After him, Cleveland and Darrisaw represent the next best. The soon-to-be sophomore tackle can hopefully build on what he accomplished as a rookie. He broke into the NFL during a pandemic while overcoming an injury that kept him out of the lineup for the first several weeks. After getting healthy, he won the LT1 job. Cleveland, meanwhile, served as the rookie’s partner in crime. Darrisaw and Cleveland are an athletic LT/LG duo. Cleveland was the team’s starting LG, finishing the year as the 27th-best guard on PFF. If he can improve on his 55.5 pass blocking score, Cleveland will be a solution at iOL for years to come.

Reed, Davis, Bradbury, and Ingram seem like near locks for a variety of reasons. The early sense is that Reed has the upper hand in the RG competition, so it’d be weird to see him cut. Davis is making the most money of the RG candidates, suggesting the team thinks he has a role. Ingram was a recent second-round selection; even if he’s awful, he won’t be cut.

Finally, there’s Bradbury, the former first-round center who has been overwhelmed most of his NFL career. The new leadership has been consistent in their insistence that he’s the starting center heading into 2022. Perhaps they’ll be able to turn his career around, especially since he’s spent the offseason adding on weight.

Other notable players looking for a spot on the Vikings offensive line are Vederian Lowe, Blake Brandel, Oli Udoh, Austin Schlottmann, Wyatt Davis, and Kyle Hinton. It’s impossible to keep everyone, so Minnesota will need to find some sort of combination that balances the need for depth with the desire to continue developing upside players. I like Brandel, and I think he can have a unique job in the Vikings offense.

The Send Off

At tackle, I expect the Vikings to keep Darrisaw, O’Neill, Brandel, Udoh (who can play guard), and Lowe. Along the interior, I’m looking at Cleveland, Reed, Davis (both Jesse and Wyatt), and Ingram. Doing so would mean 10 roster spots are devoted to the offensive line. It’s a fair bit, and yet it highlights how important the position is. The Vikings have quite a bit invested in at least seven of the players, so adding on three more isn’t that much of a stretch.

If my math is correct – never a sure thing – the Vikings offense has kept 24 players. That means the defense will have the luxury of keeping 26 players (3 are saved for special teams). The next piece takes on the defensive tackles.

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a larger roster prediction series. The previous pieces have covered QB, RB, WR, and TE.

Purple PTSD Also Read: An Opportunity for a Vikings Rookie