Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How could the Vikings address the offensive line at pick 18?

Photo: NC State Athletics 
If the Vikings don't land three of the top offensive tackles at pick No. 18, which player should they target? If the team wants to select an offensive lineman, Daniel House has a potential plan. 

Most people believe the Vikings absolutely need to select an offensive lineman with their first round pick. Depending upon how the board falls, there are a few different approaches they could take to address the position. Many experts are starting to think there could be an early run of offensive linemen in the first round. If that’s the case, it could change the direction Minnesota heads with the No. 18 selection. If there is a run of defensive players, there is a realistic scenario where one of these three offensive linemen are on the board. With the addition of Josh Kline in free agency, the Vikings have one potentially serviceable option at right guard, so selecting a tackle may be intriguing. At the position, there are three options worth considering if they happen to slide down the board. Several of them also feature position versatility in the event Kline doesn't pan out. 

The first is Alabama tackle Jonah Williams, who is widely considered the top offensive tackle in this class. It feels like he will be someone who is selected in the top-12. However, if there is a run of quarterbacks and defensive players, there is a chance Williams may float down the board. He could play both tackle and guard at the next level and may actually be a better fit inside due to his body type. He is one of the most technically refined prospects in the class and former Browns tackle Joe Thomas has talked about him at length throughout the draft process. With his athleticism, feet and technique, Williams could immediately play left tackle or slide into guard until the Vikings eventually move on from Riley Reiff’s contract. With his versatility and skills, Minnesota would be very fortunate if he took a slide down the draft board.

After Williams, the second name that makes sense is Washington State tackle Andre Dillard. When you fire up his tape, athleticism jumps off the charts. He may have some of the best feet and pass protection skills in this draft class. Dillard arrived at Washington State weighing just 240 pounds and quickly gained mass to his frame. It helped him become a starting left tackle for the next three seasons at 315 pounds. After a strong pro day and a variety of private workouts, including with the Vikings, Dillard’s stock is gaining serious momentum. When tasked with picking up stunts and other blitz packages, Dillard had no issues. If you want to watch some of his best film, check out his tape against Oregon State and Iowa State (Alamo Bowl). With his testing at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, he is a name that could fly off the board earlier than many anticipate. Dillard's MockDraftable spider chart jumps off the page:

Photo: MockDraftable

In an Air Raid system, he wasn’t tested much with running game concepts, but he showed promising flashes at guard in the Senior Bowl. Not only that, but some of his pro day on-field workouts reflected the type of technique teams will be looking to develop. Dillard has an extremely unique athletic makeup and would immediately be an option for the Vikings at tackle. If they select him, the team could consider moving Riley Reiff inside to guard. This sounds less desirable, but it’s less likely Dillard could transition well playing inside at the next level. If he’s available, don’t be surprised if the Vikings pull the trigger.

Finally, Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford may be the next best option. The intriguing aspect of Ford’s game is how well he moves for a player with his size. At 6-foot-4, 329 pounds, Ford possesses incredible power and physicality in the running game. If you want to see all of this on display, I highly recommend watching this game against Texas. This is some of the best film of his college career. One of the main questions surrounding him is whether he has the movement skills to play in a zone blocking scheme. One thing to consider: he played within one of the top zone blocking schemes in college football at Oklahoma. In the right system and situation, Ford’s versatility and unique skill set put him in a favorable position to be rock solid at the next level. 

With all of the quickness and power he features, there is no reason he can’t eventually translate into a future starting tackle. For the time being, ideally, I would play him at guard immediately. Ford started his career at left guard, but moved to right tackle in 2018 after losing the necessary weight. If selected, he could help in the running game and bring physicality the Vikings have been yearning for within the interior.

It is quite possible all of these options could be off the board when the Vikings are on the clock in the first-round. If that’s the case, a talented defensive player may slide down the board. Depending upon who it is, Minnesota may be tempted to address the offensive line in later rounds with candidates such as Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom or Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard. However, if they wait, a run of offensive linemen could occur like last season. Sure, if he’s available, it could be tempting to add a mismatch threat like Iowa tight end Noah Fant. Not to mention, in a loaded defensive line class, a talented defensive tackle could be available. With that area being such a strength in the draft, making sure you land a solid offensive lineman may be most critical. Of course, the landscape of the board will play a role in the approach, but let’s assume they want to go with an offensive lineman and all three of the above players are off the board.

Well, it’s time to turn your attention to one of my favorite players in the entire draft class -- NC State center Garrett Bradbury. He has the chance to be an extremely solid player at the next level. He earned the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center and did not allow a quarterback pressure the entire season, according to NC State Athletics. Bradbury arrived to NC State as a 225-pound tight end and actually thought he may pursue a career in baseball. Instead, he chose to follow the football path and added weight to play guard and center at the college level. When you fire up Bradbury’s tape, you see a few things. First, he plays with incredible athleticism. He led combine prospects with the fastest three-cone and tallied the third-fastest 40-yard dash at the position. Bradbury is the perfect fit for a zone blocking scheme and thrived when tasked with blocking outside zone concepts. You notice how quickly and smoothly he can reach block three-techniques or power to the second level. He just gets out there so quickly. You’ll notice how swiftly he can turn his hips and get position to seal off an interior defensive lineman. He moves incredibly well for a player with his body type. There are so many examples littered throughout his film, but here’s a couple, including down and reach blocks:

In addition to that, you’ll notice his awareness when he picks up blitzes or leaves a double team and finds work. His film against Texas A&M and Virginia displayed some of his best work in those categories. I picked out numerous clips where Bradbury is tasked with doubling. He often showed the awareness to slide off his block and find linebackers flowing downhill.

He just sees the entire field and never quits finding work. There aren’t many moments where he was knocked off balance because he moves so well and wins the leverage battle. He played a big role in NC State’s success last year and worked under one of the most underrated offensive line coaches in the country, Dwayne Ledford. If you want to make a very solid pick and instantly improve the interior of your offensive line, Bradbury is a very safe pick. He could even play inside at the next level and actually started 13 games at left guard in 2016. It feels like he would be best as an immediate plug-and-play center because of his technique and skills. However, the Vikings would have some flexibility. As a sophomore and junior at Ohio State, current center Pat Elflein started 28 games at the guard spots, including 25 on the right side. Minnesota could move him to guard and start Bradbury at center. If they feel comfortable with Bradbury inside, they wouldn’t need to change anything. Honestly, within this system, he certainly has the tools to play inside if he can handle the next step of physicality in the NFL.

This may be a more desirable situation than drafting a tackle and potentially needing to moving Riley Reiff to guard. If they solidify the interior and add a rock solid scheme fit with above average athleticism, it would go a long way toward improving the physicality of the offensive line. This is one of the major boxes Minnesota must check this offseason. Later in the draft, they could add a tackle like Alabama State product Tytus Howard to develop under offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rick Dennison. I’m also a huge fan of USC tackle Chuma Edoga. He has the chance to develop into a very talented tackle at the next level. He stood out during the Senior Bowl and will be a future left tackle candidate after he develops all of his movement skills and adds additional weight. We saw how picking a player with upside worked well when Brian O'Neill played so much last year. Perhaps they could follow a similar strategy and land Edoga later in the draft.

Ultimately, Minnesota may be best suited to address the interior with a player like Bradbury. Depending upon how the board looks, they may be able to move back a few spots to land him, too.

Of course, the three tackle prospects I listed above, specifically Jonah Williams would be rather enticing. However, the chances of them being available seem low, especially considering how much teams value quality offensive tackles in the current landscape of the league.

If the Vikings decide to select Bradbury, it would help solidify the interior and give them flexibility to approach the offensive line in several different ways.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly what Paul Allen was voicing on KFan today. Does he have an insight into Viking thinking?