The Vikings' season came to an end in large part because they were dominated in the trenches.
This was a team loaded with talent at the offensive skill positions and boasting Pro Bowlers at edge rusher, linebacker, and in the secondary. The Vikings' struggles at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball rendered all that talent moot in their divisional round loss to the 49ers. Defensively, they allowed 186 rushing yards while failing to generate much pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo. Meanwhile, an overmatched offensive line created no push in the running game, surrendered six sacks, and made a comeback effort impossible in the second half.
That wasn't an isolated occurrence. In several of their losses during the regular season, most notably against division rivals Green Bay and Chicago, the Vikings were similarly outclassed at the line of scrimmage. It's difficult to win games in the NFL when that happens. As a result, a major priority for the Vikings this offseason has to be finding difference-makers in the trenches. At InsideTheVikings, we've already done a thorough examination of the team's offensive line situation, and will be going in depth on the defensive line next week.
For now, let's look at two players – one on each side of the line – that the Vikings could possibly select in the first round of the upcoming draft. Both of these players have seen their stock rise as a result of strong senior seasons and impressive Senior Bowl practices this week in Mobile, AL. By the time the draft rolls around, they could each wind up being great fits for the 25th overall pick. You can watch them during the Senior Bowl game at 1:30 p.m. CT on Saturday (NFL Network).
Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma DT
The Vikings badly need an upgrade at three-technique defensive tackle. Former seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen provides decent run-stuffing ability, but offers nothing as an interior pass-rusher. Far too often, opposing quarterbacks were able to simply step up in the pocket and avoid edge pressure. Adding a dangerous pass-rushing presence in the middle of the defensive line would be a fantastic complement for Danielle Hunter and whoever is on the other side (Everson Griffen? Ifeadi Odenigbo?).
That's where Gallimore comes in. Once thought of as a middle-round pick, the former Oklahoma defensive tackle saw his draft stock skyrocket during his senior season. The 6-foot-2, 304-pound Gallimore is an incredibly explosive athlete for his size and has a motor that never seems to stop. He's unbelievably strong and boasts several pass-rushing moves that allow him to wreak havoc on the interior. The knock on him – and the reason he's still projected by some as a second-round pick – is that his ability didn't always translate into production. He had just 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks over the past two seasons combined.
Still, the ability is clearly there. And he showcased it this week in Mobile, impressing greatly at Senior Bowl practices against some of the country's best centers and guards. Gallimore was named as one of the Top 7 winners from the week of practices by NFL.com.
Gallimore benefited from Oklahoma's slanting, stemming defensive front that allowed him easier access to gaps and edges, but his production was still somewhat average. Personnel directors and scouts I spoke with worried about his ability to create disruption on his own. This week, Gallimore may have put some of those concerns to rest. He opened the door for teams to view him differently, at minimum. The former Sooner was able to translate his trademark high energy and athleticism into frequent pocket pressure in one-on-one drills. He also helped muddle lanes vs. the run. Gallimore might be a somewhat polarizing prospect, but this was a good week for him.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com ranks Gallimore 37th on his big board. "Gallimore will be a better pro than college player," Jeremiah wrote. "His arrow is pointed up." Danny Kelly of the Ringer has Gallimore at No. 25 on his big board, which is the exact spot where the Vikings will pick on Day 1. "Gallimore looks like he’s playing at a different speed than anyone in the trenches," Kelly wrote.
Assuming Gallimore impresses at the NFL Combine in February, he may end up being a prospect the Vikings fall in love with late in the first round.
Josh Jones, Houston OT
It's no secret that the Vikings need to improve their offensive line, specifically on the left side. One way to do that would be drafting their left tackle of the future in the first round. Doing so would allow them to cut Riley Reiff for salary cap purposes or keep Reiff and move him to left guard.
Jones is one of the primary names to know when it comes to offensive tackles who could be taken late in the first round. Like Gallimore, he used a strong senior season to rise into the first round discussion. Jones allowed four pressures during the entire season, recording the best pass-blocking grade PFF has ever given to a Group of Five tackle. At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, Jones has great size, length, and athleticism. His technique will require some coaching, but the tools are all there. He solidified his first-round status with a head-turning week of practices in Mobile, also making NFL.com's Top 7 winners.
There has been buzz building around Jones from the midpoint of the 2019 season, but this was going to be a big week for him. Would he continue the momentum or fall behind others at his position? Jones struggled to find his footwork and consistency on Day 1 here in Mobile, but he stood out on Day 2 with strong reps, stoning rushers in pass protection and sustaining run blocks on the second level. On the final day of practice, Jones had impressive victories over North Carolina's Jason Strowbridge – another big winner this week – including a pancake at the end of a one-on-one rep. He heads toward the NFL Scouting Combine with great momentum, and should only help his case even more with his athletic testing.
Here's that pancake rep against Strowbridge:
The Vikings have met with Jones, according to Luke Inman of Zone Coverage. They've also shown a propensity to favor Senior Bowl prospects, with half of their draft picks from the past two seasons having attended. Last year, all three offensive linemen the Vikings drafted – Garrett Bradbury, Dru Samia, and Oli Udoh – were Senior Bowl participants. The fit makes sense; Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison is well-regarded and would likely be able to get the best out of Jones. In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Vikings taking Jones at No. 25.
Cornerback is a possibility for the Vikings in Round One, but this draft class is deep at corner. The best move might be to take a lineman with their first pick, and Gallimore and Jones are two intriguing options.