Christian Darrisaw’s Roller Coaster Rookie Season Ends with Promise
Back on April 29th. the Minnesota Vikings went into the 2021 NFL Draft needing to improve one position group more than any other: the offensive line. Sitting at the 14th overall pick, we all sat and watched quarterback after quarterback go off the board, and one of the top offensive tackle prospects, Rashawn Slater, slid closer and closer. Then, one pick before Minnesota, the Los Angeles Chargers snatched up the coveted prospect. Still, plenty more offensive line talent was on the board, including Christian Darrisaw.
Instead, Rick Spielman traded their 14th pick to the New York Jets in exchange for No. 23 and a couple third rounders. The hope of Darrisaw seemed gone, but again, pick after pick went by without a Darrisaw selection. Minnesota was once again on the clock with the 23rd pick, and once again, Darrisaw sat on the board. This time, there would be no trade. Minnesota seemed to secure its future at both tackle spots as Darrisaw joined the group opposite their star RT Brian O’Neill.
Minnesota rode off into the summer feeling great about their draft class, largely because of that first-round pick. But how did the class actually perform in 2021? In this offseason series, we will be evaluating just that. This first edition will be a deep dive on that same first-round pick who showed so much promise going into the draft.
After such a happy draft weekend, things crashed back down to Earth fairly quickly. Darrisaw went through most of the summer recovering from a groin injury that he suffered in January. Then. he had a setback and had to have another procedure on August 12th, right before the start of the preseason.
The Vikings would see none of their top pick during the preseason. Additionally, with no real timetable for a return, Minnesota was going into the season with Rashod Hill at the position, and he was less than impressive in preseason snaps. Once again, things looked bleak along to purple o-line going into the 2021 season.
While the Vikings released little news regarding their rookie left tackle, rumors began to emerge that he would be back sometime towards the middle portion of the season. The actual news turned out to be even better, but it was clear Mike Zimmer and the coaching staff were going to make Christian Darrisaw earn a spot in the lineup.
During their week 5 win over the Detroit Lions, the Vikings opted towards a very unique method of doing that. They played a rotation at left tackle with Darrisaw and Hill, and the rookie impressed. It seemed clear from the start as well as with another re-watch of that game that Darrisaw was a different tier of lineman from Hill; the numbers back it up as well. Per olinestats.com (a site that will be referenced frequently), in 28 snaps Darrisaw allowed zero pressures or tackles for loss. The only other player to do that for Minnesota was Ezra Cleveland.
The Plan Set in Motion
Following that impressive game against Detroit, the Vikings opted to start Christian Darrisaw in their Week 6 game versus the Carolina Panthers. Once again, Darrisaw was impressive. He showed impeccable technique in his blocking and allowed just one pressure in 89 snaps. The rookie was finally beginning to show why he was the Vikings first round draft pick.
This first start was impressive enough, but Darrisaw continued to pile superb games on top of each other. Week 6 kicked off a four-game stretch in which the new starting left tackle allowed just one sack. This was a welcome change after Rashod Hill gave up three sacks and a whopping 20 pressures over the first five games.
Every NFL rookie is bound to hit a bump in the road, and Christian Darrisaw’s came in Week 11 against the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings were able to pull off an impressive victory against the division champs, but that was more in spite of Darrisaw rather than because of him. He largely struggled in this game against a ferocious Green Bay defensive front, and it amounted in a sack and seven allowed pressures against the rookie.
The next game against San Francisco didn’t go much better when Darrisaw left early with an ankle injury. Once again, the Vikings top pick was off the field with a setback.
The Strong Finish
Sidelined because of the ankle injury, Darrisaw would miss the following two games. In his stead, the Vikings opted toward a very, well, creative offensive line. Oli Udoh, a standout preseason guard who earned the starting RG spot, would be playing left tackle. In those two games, Udoh gave up eight pressures against Detroit and Pittsburgh.
In Week 15 against the Bears, Darrisaw returned, and while he allowed a pair of sacks, it seemed that he was fully recovered from his injury. Then, in the final three games, Darrisaw really seemed back to his old self. In two of them, he had the lowest pressures allowed of all the Vikings o-line. There were some struggles in the rematch against Green Bay, but Sean Mannion did not find himself on his backside on account of the rookie.
Looking Ahead to 2022
Christian Darrisaw found himself in a difficult situation almost immediately into his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings. It would have been very easy for the rookie to be down in the dumps because of a frustrating injury and a coach that seemed intent on forcing him to go above and beyond to earn playing time.
Instead, Darrisaw passed nearly every test with flying colors. With a little improvement towards his hand technique, the Vikings left side of the o-line could be locked down between the combination of Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland. Minnesota is one step closer towards their pursuit of a great offensive line.