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Future of the Vikings, Part 4: The offensive line

The Vikings had a good offensive line in 2023 but where do they go next?

Welcome to another edition of our Future of the Vikings series, this time looking at a much improved unit: The offensive line. What do the Vikings really have to work with in the future and where will they need to be better? Let’s dive in…

Christian Darrisaw

In 2022, Darrisaw put his name on the map as one of the best left tackles in the NFL and the question for 2023 was whether he would be able to follow up that act. He answered that with an unequivocal yes. Darrisaw finished with the fifth best overall PFF grade in the NFL, only behind Trent Williams, Penei Sewell, Jordan Mailata and Tyron Smith and just ahead of Tristan Wirfs. That doesn’t mean it was perfect. Darrisaw’s run blocking grade dipped a bit from last year and he allowed the second most QB hits in the league but there were only two games in which he allowed more than three QB pressures.

The crazy thing about Darrisaw’s back-to-back elite seasons is that he hasn’t yet turned 25. Most offensive linemen do not hit their peak until around 27 years old, which means there is still room to grow. He is clearly a foundational piece of the Vikings future but that will eventually come along with big cost. Darrisaw is eligible for an extension this offseason, which could pay him in the range of $25 million per year. However, the Vikings will exercise the fifth-year option for 2025 and could wait until the summer before ‘25 to work out a new deal similar to what they have done with Justin Jefferson.

Christian Darrisaw

Christian Darrisaw blocking against Bengals pass rusher Trey Hendrickson.

Ed Ingram

As a rookie Ingram had about as rough of a ride as you can have at the guard position but he showed some improvement in 2023. He reduced his sacks allowed by six and total pressures by 16 and saw his pass blocking grade go up from 44.4 (54th of 57) to 60.9 (34th). He was not a difference maker in the run game for the second straight season and saw his grade slip slightly. The particular trouble with the Vikings young right guard was inconsistency. For example, against Cincinnati he had the best pass blocking game of his career, only to score the second worst two weeks later versus Green Bay.

It would appear the Vikings will stick with Ingram going forward into 2024 and hope that he continues to develop and grow into a less volatile player but it will be a make or break year for him next season.

Brian O’Neill

The season couldn’t have started out much better for O’Neill coming off Achilles surgery. PFF graded him as the 10th best tackle in the NFL through the first eight weeks of the season and he only allowed one sack. The rest of the year was not up to O’Neill’s usual standard. He graded 39th of 59 tackles from Week 9-17 and allowed five sacks. It’s possible that the lack of a full training camp impacted him as the year wore on and in the locker room after the season ended O’Neill admitted to trying to play through a foot injury.

The Vikings will need the version of O’Neill from the first eight weeks for all of next season because he carries the largest non-QB cap hit on the team at $22.9 million. lists a potential restructure as lowering that number by about $9 million but he will still be expensive nonetheless.

Garrett Bradbury

Similar to O’Neill, the Vikings center was en route to having a solid season and things came apart at the end of the year. Through 12 weeks Bradbury was mid-pack ranking 16th of 32 starting centers and 12th in pass blocking. Considering all the shuffling at quarterback, it was an accomplishment to be sitting above average. But from Week 13-18 he sunk to 25th and allowed the second most QB pressures. Playing against Kenny Clark was the main culprit as the Packers registered seven pressures vs. Bradbury alone. When we look at the accumulation of Bradbury’s career, we have a pretty clear picture of where he stands. In the last four seasons he scored (out of 100) 61.4, 60.2, 67.5 and 60.9 overall grades by PFF. Around average each season, give or take.

Considering the leadership and experience aspect, the Vikings got more than what they paid for in re-signing Bradbury. He is the 14th highest paid center in average annual salary and is on the books next year at $5.8 million salary cap hit. The team should be comfortable with that.

Dalton Risner

It was a strange journey for Risner in 2023. He visited the Vikings during training camp and it seemed inevitable that he would sign with the question marks about the interior line and then we waited and waited and waited until finally he was added on September 19th. He didn’t play until Week 6 but made an instant impact in pass blocking and ultimately the club sent guard Ezra Cleveland packing in favor of Risner. His performance was very similar to his days in Denver. The veteran guard was an above average pass blocker, ranking 19th by PFF (of 57) and giving up zero sacks but he struggled mightily in run blocking (49th of 57).

Risner is a free agent. The Vikings could offer him a contract to return because he appeared to be a fit with the O-line and helped the Vikings have their best overall year pass blocking in many years. However, they have to consider the recent struggles on the ground and whether they can maintain strong pass blocking and improve on the run blocking side.

David Quessenberry

The Vikings picked up the versatile veteran lineman right before the season and he was tossed into the mix against Philadelphia when Christian Darrisaw and Oli Udoh went out and played well enough to give the offense a chance. That was the story of his season. Quessenberry was called upon in six total games and provided average level play, which is a big bonus for a swing tackle, and only gave up one sack in 231 pass blocking reps.

Quessenberry is a free agent. It would not be a surprise if the Vikings tried to keep him around.

Austin Schlottmann

The 28-year-old center filled in while Garrett Bradbury was out for 279 snaps and played admirably, allowing only one sack and seven pressures and grading above average in pass protection.

Schlottmann is a free agent. It would make sense for the Vikings to bring him back.

Blake Brandel

In 2022 the 2020 sixth rounder saw some work as a swing tackle but this year he was moved to guard and provided depth there, seeing the field for 163 snaps and grading a little below average (55.1).

Brandel is a restricted free agent. If the team liked his process he could be tendered an offer.

Oli Udoh

After playing well in place of Brian O’Neill in the playoffs against the Giants in ‘22 the Vikings felt good about Udoh as a backup for their tackles but he suffered a season-ending injury against Philadelphia in Week 2.

Udoh is a free agent. It’s unclear whether they would be interested in keeping him.

Chris Reed

When Reed was in Carolina and Indianapolis in 2020 and 2021 he was fairly effective as a regular player, combining for more than 1,300 snaps between those two seasons. Yet with the Vikings he was nowhere to be found. He sat on the bench and watched Ed Ingram struggled through 2022 and then suffered an injury away from the field before 2023 camp and played two total snaps.

Reed is a free agent and will likely be happy to get a new start elsewhere.

Free agent options

If the Vikings do not bring back Risner at left guard then they will be in the market for a free agent guard with no other options presently on the roster. Here are the top available players and PFF grades…

Baltimore, Kevin Zeitler (21st run blocking / 2nd pass blocking)

Las Vegas, Greg Van Roten (12th run / 7th pass)

Los Angeles, Kevin Dotson (2nd run / 20th pass)

Seattle, Damien Lewis (38th run / 27th pass)

Green Bay, Jon Runyan (48th run / 28th pass)

Baltimore, John Simpson (40th pass / 32nd pass)

Detroit, Jonah Jackson (34th run / 36th pass)

Detroit, Graham Glasgow (4th run / 41st pass)

As far as depth options, the team may want players like Quessenberry and Schlottmann back in the mix but there is competition for depth linemen. Even Mason Cole got a contract equal to Garrett Bradbury in annual value last offseason because the Steelers desperately needed a center. If they lose the established quality backups that will mean even more shopping on the market.

Draft options

Considering the Vikings have put a lot of draft capital into the offensive line already and have deep needs on the defensive side, it would not make much sense to spend a first or second-round pick on a guard. The most likely approach would be using a late-round pick on a developmental interior lineman.

The bottom line

The Vikings offensive line is in better shape than it has been in a very long time but the boat still has some leaks. While their pass blocking was excellent overall it’s unclear whether the Vikings will be able to give Dalton Risner the highest bid in free agency or if they want him back considering his weakness in run blocking. There should be an aim to improve in that area. It also remains questionable whether next year will mark another jump at right guard or if Ingram’s performance will stagnate into a middling inconsistent player. At tackle they remain as sturdy as any team in the league, which is a good place to be.