|Photo: NC State|
The Vikings found the best fit for their zone-blocking scheme with NC State center Garrett Bradbury. GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer were sweating as the board fell into place. Find out why!
When NC State center Garrett Bradbury continued to slide down the draft board, everyone in the Minnesota Vikings’ war room kept sweating. Entering Thursday’s NFL Draft, the entire staff had a list of several players they coveted, but it was now time to land their top target. With a run of quarterbacks and defensive players in the top-ten, the team’s draft vision started to take shape. Everyone in the room had reached a consensus that Bradbury was the best fit.
“There were a couple guys that we looked at, but Bradbury was by far our target tonight when we got into the draft,” General Manager Rick Spielman said.
Just a few hours later, he was wearing purple. The team selected him with the 18th pick in the first-round. Minnesota had Bradbury on its radar for quite some time and visited with him at both the NFL Scouting Combine and Senior Bowl. General Manager Rick Spielman even traveled to North Carolina to watch him play against Wake Forest. When the Vikings’ boss saw Bradbury live, he came away impressed.
“He really stood out on the field when I went down there and watched him play,” Spielman said following the selection. “He had a great Senior Bowl, a great Combine, fits everything from the criteria standpoint not only positionally and schematically, but also the character, the passion for the game, the smarts, everything that we look for as we build this offensive line.”
With the recent addition of Gary Kubiak to the coaching staff and a new offensive system set to be installed, Minnesota was searching for offensive prospects that fit in zone-blocking schemes. It was clear Bradbury checked all of those boxes because of his unique athletic traits.
“We’ve been monitoring him since last year. I know once we found out what type of offensive scheme we’re going to run, a lot of this outside zone and zone scheme, Garrett was the perfect fit for what we were looking for,” Spielman said.
Kubiak, the Vikings’ assistant head coach and offensive adviser, has spent extensive time evaluating the prospects in this draft class. Last fall, during his personnel role with the Denver Broncos, he was watching players from his home. Now, he has brought all of his insight to the Vikings’ war room. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Kubiak liked what he saw from Bradbury.
"This is a guy that’s been on our radar for quite awhile,” Zimmer said. “Gary Kubiak had the opportunity to all fall basically evaluate a lot of college football players and this was one of his favorite guys in the offensive group.”
Not only is the addition of Kubiak beneficial, but the long-time coach’s past relationships with offensive line coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani have been key. It’s helped them understand the type of players that will fit in the offensive system.
“The one thing about these guys being together, they know the exact type of guy that they're looking for, along with Kevin [Stefanski],” Zimmer said. “I think that this guy will be a really good fit and the scouts obviously, everybody loved this kid in the draft.”
Bradbury caught the eye of Minnesota’s offensive staff, but drew attention from the defensive staff, too. Defensive line coach Andre Patterson was drawn to Bradbury when watching other prospects. After evaluating some of the top defensive linemen in the ACC, Patterson stopped by Zimmer’s office.
“[Patterson] came in and he said, ‘who is the center from NC State? This guy is a really good football player.' That even intrigued me more because of the way he was playing against these top-level linemen in the ACC,” Zimmer said.
Bradbury was one of the top-ranked prospects in terms of athletic testing, which lined up well with the Vikings’ scheme. Zimmer noted how rare it is to find a player with these type of movement skills. Bradbury ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash at 4.92 seconds, put up 34 bench press reps (second-best) and had the top three-cone (7.41) at his position.
“I think [the running game] will be a big strength of his. The big thing is with these athletic guys, if you can get them moving sideways and you can get one guy cut out of the gap, then this one-cut downhill run game should be really good for Dalvin,” Zimmer said. “[Bradbury’s] athletic traits and the 40-yard dash, the short shuttle, all of the things that show the quickness and speed and the athletic ability, I mean, it is pretty rare.”
Now, the attention will shift to Minnesota’s starting offensive line combination. At NC State, Bradbury started his final 26 games at center, but played the entire 2016 season at left guard. With him joining the Vikings, Minnesota may consider moving Pat Elflein to guard, a position he played for 28 games at Ohio State. Spielman and Zimmer weren’t worried about the combinations – it was all about position flexibility.
“One of the point of emphasis that we put on was guys that can play multiple positions, especially up front on the offensive line because if you do have a guy that does get hurt, you can move guys around and still be very good football players,” Spielman said. “I know he can play center and guard, I know can play center or guard, I know Josh Kline can play guard and can also play some center, so position flexibility is definitely a key trait that we’re looking for.”
Whether it’s guard or center, Bradbury is ready to play wherever he can. A converted tight end, Bradbury switched to the offensive line because he’d didn’t want to stand on the sidelines. No matter where it is, the young center just wants to be on the field with his teammates.
“I’m ready to help this team win, I’m ready to help protect the quarterback and run the football,” Bradbury said during his conference call. “If they want me to play any of those positions, I’m happy to play.”
Once he gets on the field, Bradbury never wants to come off. He didn’t miss a single start for the Wolfpack because being in battle with his teammates was so important to him.
"Every offensive lineman, I think it’s the best trait you can have is durability, being there for your team,” Bradbury said.