When Vikings draft offensive linemen in the first round, it usually works out
MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings don’t often draft offensive linemen in the first round, but when they do, good things usually happen.
In their previous 58 drafts, Minnesota has taken an offensive linemen eight times in the first round. Six went on to make at least one Pro Bowl, including two — tackle Ron Yary and guard Randall McDaniel — ending up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Of the six taken in the top 24 of the draft, all made at least one Pro Bowl. And of those six, three were taken with a pick later than No. 18.
All of this could be encouraging for the Vikings, who hold the No. 18 selection in the draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday, April 25-27, in Nashville, Tenn. Many observers believe they will take an offensive lineman at that spot.
“There are certainly those guys (at that point in the draft) that in five years from now, when you reseed the draft of 2019, there will be an offensive lineman that gets drafted in the last half of the first round where they’ll be one of the two or three best,’’ said former tackle Todd Steussie.
Steussie should know. He was taken with the No. 19 pick in the 1997 draft and ended up making two Pro Bowls in six Minnesota seasons and playing 13 overall seasons. He was the fourth offensive lineman selected in that draft, but none of the first three made a Pro Bowl.
The Vikings’ other offensive linemen to have gone in the first round and eventually make Pro Bowls were Yary (No. 1 pick in 1968) and McDaniel (No. 19 in 1988) and tackles Korey Stringer (No. 24 in 1995), Bryant McKinnie (No. 7 in 2002) and Matt Kalil (No. 4 in 2012).
The only two to have gone in the first round and not make a Pro Bowl were tackles John Ward (No. 25 in 1970) and Steve Riley (No. 25 in 1974). While Ward started just 16 games in a seven-year NFL career, Riley at least went on to be a regular starter at left tackle in 11 Minnesota seasons.
“I give the Vikings a ton of credit over the years (for drafting offensive linemen),’’ said Charles Davis, a draft analyst for NFL Network and a Fox game analyst. “If they indeed go offensive lineman, they’d sure like to hit that again. So whoever gets drafted, I’m going to immediately put them in the Pro Bowl.’’
The last part of what Davis said was in a lighthearted manner. Still, with all the success the Vikings have had taking offensive linemen in the first round, one wonders why it has happened so little in recent years.
Kalil is the only offensive lineman the Vikings have selected that high in the previous 16 drafts. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012, although he did slip after that and left as a free agent in 2017.
“It is surprising that number is so low, and it also speaks to why they need an offensive lineman right now,’’ said draft analyst Dane Brugler.
Minnesota took right tackle Brian O’Neill in the second round last year, and he became a starter as a rookie. But since the 2010 draft, the only offensive linemen the Vikings have selected in the first two rounds have been Kalil and O’Neill.
“They have a real strong need at offensive line now because they haven’t invested in it,’’ Steussie said. “It’s like in baseball with a farm team, if you don’t allocate toward developing pitchers, you’re going to need to go into free agency and maybe have to overspend. They’ve kind of reaped what they’ve sowed of late. … It’s been a hard offensive line to watch at times.’’
The Vikings have spent big bucks in free agency on offensive linemen without great success. Alex Boone and Andre Smith, signed in 2016, each lasted one season and Mike Remmers, signed in 2017, stuck around for two. At least Riley Reiff, signed to a five-year, $58.75 million contract in 2017, looks as if he’ll be around for a third season.
The Vikings last month signed free agent Josh Kline to a three-year, $15.75 million contract to likely take over for Remmers at right guard. They signed Dakota Dozier to a minimum contract, and he hopes to be in the mix for Tom Compton’s previous job at left guard. Compton wasn’t offered a deal to return, and signed with the New York Jets.
But more help is needed to protect Kirk Cousins. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings gave up the most quarterback pressures in the NFL in 2018.
The Vikings are set at center with Pat Elflein as the starter and Brett Jones as the backup, but they do have some flexibility on whether they might look to draft a guard or tackle. They could look for a hopeful long-term piece at left guard. Or Reiff could move from left tackle to left guard, opening up a tackle spot. That would be on the right side if O’Neill moves to the left, unless Minnesota secures a left tackle in the draft.
Fortunately for the Vikings, it’s a deep draft for offensive linemen. They could even draft one of the two Iowa tight ends (T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant) or a defensive lineman in the first round, and possibly land a quality blocker in the second round.
“This is a good offensive line group,’’ Brugler said. “In the first round, we’re going to see five or six possibly go in the top-20 range. If the Vikings went for a tight end (in the first round), it’s still a deep tackle group for Day 2.’’
If the Vikings stay at No. 18 and seek an offensive lineman, it’s possible one of the top four tackles could drop to them in Jonah Williams of Alabama, Andre Dillard of Washington State, Jawaan Taylor of Florida or Cody Ford of Oklahoma. All but Dillard are candidates to also play guard, but it doesn’t sound as if that would excite Williams.
“I talked to him at the combine and I said, ‘What would you say about moving inside and playing guard?’ which is where I project him,’’ Davis said. “He said, “Well, if you want to move the best left tackle in the draft inside, that’s up to you.’ And he didn’t say it with arrogance, he said it with conviction.’’
Williams is hampered by not having long arms, but he is very smart and rarely misses an assignment. Dillard is regarded as the best athlete among the tackles. Taylor is considered a better run blocker than pass blocker. Brugler said the aggressive Ford “looks like a grizzly bear in pads.’’
If the Vikings opt to take a player in the first round who exclusively is a guard, Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom could be available. He is considered a hard worker with good feet.
“He’s not going to really overwhelm guys, but he’s not going to get beat,’’ Brugler said. “If a team were to take him at 18, I think he would justify it because he’s an immediate starting guard in the NFL.’’
And that could continue the Vikings’ strong record of drafting offensive linemen in the first round. Yary, McDaniel, Steussie, Stringer, McKinnie and Kalil all moved into the starting lineup as rookies.