Saturday, February 14, 2015

Grading the Roster: Offensive Line

Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports
The Vikings offensive line didn't perform to high standards in 2014 and Daniel House tells you why they need to add depth at this position in the draft or free agency. 

Updated: February 14th, 2015 12:21pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings were hoping that continuity among their offensive line would help continue the consistency they had witnessed at this position in the past. That wasn't the case and injuries, combined with poor depth and inexperience, left the coaches with a predicament up front. The Vikings offensive line allowed the third-most sacks in the league and they continually struggled to keep the pocket clean for Teddy Bridgewater. This offseason, it is almost certain the organization will be adding depth and capable starters to fill some holes among the offensive line.

Note: In order to receive, a grade, the player must have been active for a least six games during the 
2014 season.*

Offensive Lineman:

John Sullivan

Grade: B-

Analysis: John Sullivan is the one player who remained the anchor throughout a plethora of injuries on the offensive line. He missed just part of the Buffalo game with a concussion, but was cleared to return in time for the next week of play. Sullivan was very successful at getting to the second level in run blocking and his game against the Atlanta Falcons in the early portion of the season was his best performance of the year. In that game, he helped pave the way for 241 total rushing yards and was mauling linebackers in the second level of the defense. Sullivan is most liable in the passing game and has the tendency to get beat when bull rushed. However, he was more consistent in this avenue during the 2014 season and allowed just 12 quarterback hurries, which was the lowest total on the team.

Projected 2015 Status: Starting center

Matt Kalil

Grade: D+

Analysis: Matt Kalil is the elephant in the room and everyone was criticizing his performance this season. He missed most of OTA's with a knee injury, but was ready to practice when training camp rolled around. Many believed his early struggles were related to injury issues, but this was never mentioned at any point of the season. Kalil allowed 36 quarterback hurries, including 10 sacks over the first nine games of the season. Only Ja'Wuan James allowed more pressures (58), than Matt Kalil this season (55). He did improve slightly as the season came to a close and allowed just two sacks over the final seven contests. However, he still gave up 21 total pressures over that span. Kalil's technique was shaky at times and according to Kalil, much of these issues were mental. He needs to improve his hand placement and balance coming out of the stance. Defensive ends were beating him off the snap and he was unable to engage with them at the line of scrimmage. Many people are calling for the Vikings to release Kalil, but it doesn't make sense at this point. He will need to respond this offseason and fix the issues he was plagued with in order to once again solidify his future with the organization.

Projected 2015 Status: Starting left tackle

Charlie Johnson

Grade: C-

Analysis: Charlie Johnson signed a 2-year contract to remain with the Vikings last offseason. Many believed he was a mere insurance policy and David Yankey would compete with him for the starting job. In reality, this wasn't the case and Johnson started 13 games in 2014. Johnson has been known for his poor pass protection in the past and this year provided much of the same. He accumulated statistics that were worse than 2013 and with 27 quarterback hurries and five total sacks allowed, he certainly didn't pair nicely with Matt Kalil on the left side. The Vikings might look to upgrade this position in the draft or free agency and if that's the case, Johnson (31) will be released to improve the offensive line.

Projected 2015 Status: Released

Joe Berger

Grade: B

Analysis: When injuries strike, you can always count on Joe Berger to fill a hole to the best of his ability. That was the case this season and Berger didn't disappoint. He locked down Ndamukong Suh in Week 15, holding him to one tackle and no sacks. He joined the fold as the starter at right guard in week eight, after the coaches decided the Vlad Ducasse experiment was over. Berger showed that he is still productive and versatile at age 32 and the Vikings will need to decide whether they would like to re-sign him this offseason.

Projected 2015 Status: Re-signed in free agency

Phil Loadholt

Grade: B-

Analysis: Torn pectoral muscles were the universal injury among Vikings offensive lineman this season. Brandon Fusco suffered one early in the season and just 11 games into the 2014 campaign, Phil Loadholt added another. During his time on the field, Loadholt continued to show his ability to be solid in run blocking, but pass protection was a different story. He was inconsistent in this avenue and had three games where he struggled to handle a bull rush. Loadholt won't be ready to start conditioning in the weight room until February and you have to be concerned how the injury will effect his performance next season. He needs to prove his worth the contract he is paid and that will come by being more consistent in every aspect of his game.

Projected 2015 Status: Starting right tackle

Mike Harris

Grade: C-

Analysis: The Vikings signed Mike Harris after the final cuts in August and he provided depth among the offensive line for most of the season. In a short amount of playing time, he allowed five sacks and wasn't a stable force as a swing tackle. He started five games and lacked physicality at times, but his versatility compensated for some of this. However, the Vikings really need to upgrade their backup tackle position and will do so through the draft or free agency.

Projected 2015 Status: Hitting free agency

Vlad Ducasse

Grade: C-

Analysis: Many people (including myself), were very skeptical when the Vikings decided to sign Vlad Ducasse in free agency. He proved to bring all of this to fruition and performed underwhelming as both a run and pass blocker. Ducasse's forte was supposed to be in the running game, but he was very slow hitting the second level and lacked major physicality. He was a revolving door in the pass protection aspect of the game in New York and continued the trend here. Ducasse was the king of holding penalties and accumulated a team-high (4). He had an ample chance to prove himself and the Vikings will let him walk in free agency.

Projected 2015 Status: Gone in free agency

Brandon Fusco

Grade: N/A

Analysis: Fusco signed a 5-year extension before the season began and many were expecting a solid season from the right guard. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle just three games into the season and missed the remainder of the season. This injury really hurt the Vikings offensive line and proved the value of a player like Fusco among an offensive line. He was solid early in the season in both run and pass blocking and was arguably the Vikings best lineman before he suffered the injury. Fusco is back in the weight room and his expected to be in natural form by the time OTA's roll around.

Projected 2015 Status:

Austin Wentworth

Analysis: The coaches like what they seen out of Austin Wentworth in training camp and he managed to make the final 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent. However, this was short-lived and the team released him just days later after claiming Mike Harris off of waivers. He could potentially win the swing tackle job and the coaches expressed their happiness with his versatility. Wentworth has had a year in the system and needs to execute in the weight room this offseason to land another stint on the roster.

Projected 2015 Status:

David Yankey

Analysis: David Yankey was one of the most puzzling players on the Vikings roster this season and after being selected in the fifth round of the draft, he was activated for just one game. It was believed he would have a chance to compete for the starting left guard spot this season. However, the reason he fell in the draft was due to concerns about his strength and how he would translate to the physicality of the NFL. He missed offseason activities to finish his degree at Stanford and he should benefit from a full offseason of work. If he can put it together, he could have a chance to slide into the starting left guard position.

Projected 2015 Status: Depth at guard

Carter Bykowski

Analysis: The Vikings claimed Carter Bykowski off of the 49ers practice squad in December and he was on the 53-man roster for the final three games of the season. He wasn't active, but the Eden Prairie, MN native could be candidate to provide depth on the offensive line if he can build upon his frame this offseason.

Projected 2015 Status: Training camp competition

Zac Kerin

Analysis: Zac Kerin is a name to keep an eye on this offseason as a potential backup that could slide into the picture. He has the ability to play center and guard and could provide some flexibility in the event the team decides to let Joe Berger walk in free agency. He is a very physical player and he showed flashes of good technique during training camp. The coaches like him and after spending the entire season on the practice squad, he may have groomed some more talent.

Projected 2015 Status: Training camp competition

Antonio Richardson

Analysis: The Vikings had hopes that they were landing a steal when they signed Antonio Richardson to an undrafted rookie contract following the draft. However, there were concerns about how his past knee issues would withstand the beating of football at this level. It's didn't take long until he had problems, and by the time the preseason concluded, Richardson had a knee injury. It landed him on injured reserve and he had two knee surgeries in September. He has the frame and skill-set to be a perfect swing tackle for this team, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Projected 2015 Status: Training camp competition

Jordan McCray

Analysis: The Vikings signed Jordan McCray to the practice squad in December, after he spent time with the Green Bay Packers. He re-signed to a futures contract and will be awarded the opportunity to compete this offseason.

Projected 2015 Status: Competition

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