Coming off a massive upset in Buffalo, the Minnesota Vikings have plenty to be excited about.
In Sunday’s game, which many are calling the game of the year, the team showed the league, fans, critics, and the rest of the world that they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Offensively, only one guy is talked about nationally on a consistent basis. This is of course wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who since being drafted by the Vikings seems like he breaks a new record every game. The recognition is certainly justified, as he made one of the best catches you will ever see in the 4th quarter against the Bills.
Below Jefferson’s tier, you have guys like quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and tight end T.J. Hockenson. These players are stars of the team who most football fans are aware of, but are not the marketable faces of the NFL like Jefferson.
At the end of the offensive chain stands the unsung heroes of teams, the offensive line. While they rarely get the attention they deserve, offensive linemen are the structures of every play.
Minnesota’s trenches over the last decade have been inconsistent, to say the least, however it seems like they are getting to a solid point for the first time in years.
Moving down the line, Christian Darrisaw has been incredible for the Vikings in just his second year in the league. Allowing 10 pressures in nine games this season, Darrisaw has been a brick wall for defenders. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the best offensive lineman in the league, an incredible feat for such a young player. Darrisaw exited the game vs. Buffalo on Sunday and was replaced by backup tackle Blake Brandel. Darrisaw was put into the league’s concussion protocol, and his potential absence could heavily impact Minnesota’s upcoming game vs. the Cowboys.
Next to Darrisaw stands left guard Ezra Cleveland. Cleveland, drafted in 2020, has improved every year in Minnesota. After a horrendous week against the Washington Commanders, he bounced back with a PFF grade of 90.2 against the Bills, the second-highest on the team vs. Buffalo, behind only Justin Jefferson. His grade is currently 71.9, 13th in the league among guards.
The man responsible for the snap of every play, Garrett Bradbury, has been a pleasant surprise for Vikings fans who have watched him since joining the team as a first-round pick in 2019. His pass protection has noticeably improved since last year and he seems more aware of his assignments than in previous years. His PFF grade is 9th among centers in the league, significantly better than his performances in other seasons.
Every chain has a weak link. In the case of Minnesota’s offensive line, that weak link is right guard Ed Ingram. Saying Ingram has had a rough time during his rookie year is a massive understatement. His PFF is a measly 55.8, 60th among all guards in the NFL. Ingram has allowed 37 pressures this season, the most in the league. Even without stats, he is clearly nowhere close to being on the level of his fellow linemen. Against the Bills, his feet tripped up Vikings QB Kirk Cousins twice, blowing up multiple plays. A positive is that Ingram is still a rookie and has plenty of time to develop, but as of now is a major weakness for the team.
Sealing off the right side is veteran right tackle Brian O’Neill. Some of O’Neill’s statistics show a slight decline, but this is likely because he often has to help out guard Ed Ingram right beside him. He has been one of the best tackles in all of football since being drafted in 2018, and Minnesota rewarded O’Neill by signing him to a five-year contract extension worth $92.5 million dollars.
Though the Vikings’ line is far from perfect, it is arguably the best the team has had in many seasons. The offensive tackles are two guys Minnesota will likely try to keep around as long as possible, and the interior guys have been showing signs of improvement every year. If Ed Ingram can maximize the potential the Vikings’ front office saw in him when he was drafted in the second round, the team could be set for years to come.