Is the Vikings’ 1st-Round Lineman Still a Bust?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For a little while, the consensus was that center Garrett Bradbury was a bust.

The Vikings’ 1st-Round lineman hadn’t turned into the second coming of Jason Kelce, as many had foretold. Instead, he was someone who routinely struggled to anchor and who could be bullied by powerful defensive tackles. He got pushed around a decent bit.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) protects his quarterback during a play against the Detroit Lions defense at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

The arrival of head coach Kevin O’Connell and offensive line coach Chris Kuper has been a positive change, though.

In 2022, Bradbury saw his PFF score climb to hitherto unknown heights. The embattled center finished with a 67.5 grade, good for an 11th-place finish. He took a step back more recently, dropping down to a 60.9 grade and 23rd overall ranking. Where does that leave us with Mr. Bradbury?

Is Garrett Bradbury, The Vikings’ 1st-Round Lineman from 2019, a Bust?

In Garrett Bradbury, the Vikings were hoping for Frank Ragnow.

Detroit’s center regularly grades as one of, if not the, best centers. Ragnow got drafted a No. 20 in the 2018 Draft but he’s actually younger than Minnesota’s center. Bradbury is 29, Ragnow is 28. So, drafted a touch lower, a year earlier, and still a year younger. Detroit, in short, did well.

Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) and center Evan Brown (63) and center Frank Ragnow (77) in action during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Ragnow finished as PFF’s 1st place center in 2023 with an 88.8 score. The 91.3 run blocking grade is elite stuff, the kind of production Minnesota was hoping for with the smart and athletic Bradbury. Topping it all off is that Ragnow only allowed 1 sack, 5 hits, and 18 pressures.

Impressive stuff.

Meanwhile, Bradbury was responsible for allowing 3 sacks, 5 hits, and 22 pressures. Keep in mind, though, that Minnesota’s center was working with four different passers, a reality that legitimately does make his job a lot harder. Plus, no one could argue that the Vikings’ running talent was close to on par with Detroit’s.

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) and quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) hug after a victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The problem is that expectations are super high for a 1st-Round lineman, especially a center. Generally speaking, offensive tackle is looked at as the most important spot. Center may come in second, but the position still doesn’t get a ton of love in the 1st, at least not with as much regularity.

The thinking with drafting Garrett Bradbury is that Minnesota was getting a two-for-one deal. The center would take over as the C1, sliding Pat Elflein over to guard. In so doing, Minnesota would improve a pair of spots. The logic was sound, but Elflein didn’t play well and Bradbury struggled under Mike Zimmer.

In fact, Bradbury got put on the bench in 2021. There was an absence due to Covid and Mason Cole took over. Bradbury then had to watch as someone else took on the C1 duties. To his credit, Bradbury spoke to the media around that time and took responsibility for his underwhelming play, explaining that his time away allowed him to reflect and gave him renewed desire to be more aggressive.

Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) and center Mason Cole. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports.

Already, Bradbury is 29. At times, offensive linemen take time to develop and fully unlock their ceiling, but Garrett Bradbury has probably established who he is in the NFL: a starting-level player but not someone who is a game changer or someone who will get voted to the All Pro team.

In 2024, the best thing Bradbury could do is to use his brain and leadership to make life easier for whoever is under center. Be a menace when it comes to climbing to the second level and when getting out on screen passes. Ideally, doing those things will push him closer to that 11th overall ranking.

He is moving into Year 2 of the three-year, $15.75 million deal he signed with the Vikings in the 2022 offseason. His cap charge is sitting at $5,769,882, currently the 8th-largest hit for a Minnesota team intent on rebuilding the team’s middle class.

The lineman stands at 6’3″ and weighs 300 pounds.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.