74 Days Until Vikings Football: Oli Udoh Could Be a Factor in 2020
As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is July 1st, and there are 74 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. That means we begin a new month by looking at an intriguing young offensive lineman.
Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 74 Days
Player Preview: Oli Udoh (No. 74, Offensive Tackle)
- College: Elon
- Drafted: 2019 sixth round (193rd overall)
- NFL experience: One year
- Age: 23 (Birthday was in February)
- Size: 6'6", 325
- 2019 PFF Grade: 53.4
The Vikings' competition at both guard spots this year might not be limited to players who are listed on the roster as guards. Interior linemen like Pat Elflein, Dru Samia, and Dakota Dozier might be the favorites, but that's not exactly an inspiring trio. Two other players who could potentially factor into the competition – and might have more upside – are currently listed as tackles. Aviante Collins, who I wrote about earlier this week, is one. The other is Oli Udoh.
A sixth-round pick in 2019 out of FCS Elon University, Udoh showed enough upside in training camp and the preseason to make the 53-man roster. He then spent most of the year on the practice squad, but got an opportunity to play extended snaps at right tackle in Week 17 with starters resting. Udoh looked noticeably better in that game than he did in the preseason, putting together an impressive performance against former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. Given his size, wingspan, and athleticism, Udoh's logical position is tackle. But with Brian O'Neill, Riley Reiff, Ezra Cleveland, and Rashod Hill ahead of him on the depth chart, his best shot at significant playing time in 2020 and beyond might be moving to guard.
Udoh took an unconventional route to the NFL. He began his high school career in Fayetteville, NC, as a defensive lineman. Weighing north of 370 pounds, he'll be the first to admit he wasn't particularly effective at that position. “I wasn’t very good,” he told The Athletic's Chad Graff. “Back then, I was pretty fat.” Udoh had no plans of playing college football until a position switch changed everything; he moved to the offensive line prior to his senior year and started to attract some scouts.
Still, one season on the O-line wasn't enough for Udoh to garner any FBS offers. He chose to attend Elon because he liked the football program and the academic options. After redshirting in 2014, Udoh started 45 straight games for the Phoenix over the next four years, developing into an FCS All-American by his senior season. Over his five years at Elon, Udoh went from 380 pounds to roughly 330, increasing his quickness and explosiveness in the process.
Standing out at every stop in the pre-draft process is what led to Udoh's name getting called in the sixth round last year. He impressed at the East-West Shrine Bowl while being coached by Vikings assistant Andrew Janocko. He then earned an invite to the Senior Bowl and looked good there too, holding his own against big-name edge rushers from Power 5 schools. Lastly, Udoh shined at the combine. Weighing in at 323 pounds, he ran a 5.05 40 (89th percentile for offensive tackles), did 26 bench press reps (65th percentile), and showed off his massive 7'1" wingspan.
Udoh's performance against Mack and the Bears in Week 17 created plenty of optimism about his upside. He's a massive, sturdy lineman with long arms and a powerful frame. Udoh has the body to anchor against pass-rushers and the quickness to be a major asset in the running game, he just needed a lot of coaching on his technique after not receiving much at Elon. Based on how he improved from the preseason to the regular season finale, it appears that he's on the right developmental path in that regard.
During that Week 17 game, Udoh displayed a strong all-around game and a nastiness that was missing at times in the preseason. On 31 snaps, he earned a great 79.7 pass-blocking grade from PFF and a solid 63.7 run-blocking grade. The main issue was that he was called for two penalties – a hold against Mack and an unnecessary roughness call for a hit after the whistle – that dropped his overall grade to 53.4. The holding is a bigger concern, as he has had a tendency to be grabby that coaches will need to keep working with him on.
After essentially redshirting in 2019 along with fellow rookie Dru Samia, Udoh will look to earn a bigger role this season. As mentioned earlier, that's probably not going to happen at tackle. O'Neill is locked in as the Vikings' right tackle, with some combination of Reiff and Cleveland on the left side. Hill was retained this offseason as the team's swing tackle. There's been no official indication that the Vikings would move him to guard, but doing so would almost certainly give Udoh a greater chance at significant playing time. Samia seems to be in line to start at right guard, but it's entirely possible that Udoh could beat out Elflein, Dozier, and Collins to start at left guard in 2020.
Udoh's power in pass-protection would be a major upgrade from Elflein, who surrendered 32 pressures and six sacks last season. If he can continue developing, he could also turn into a strong run-blocker on the interior. It's certainly worth a shot, in my opinion.
Previous OL player previews:
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