Training camp preview: Who’s ready for the Vikings right guard competition?
*Press the mic*
Two Viking right guards walk into a bar. The bartender walks right past them and fires Kirk Cousins.
What’s big and purple that won’t stay here very long? A right guard of the Vikings.
Knock Knock. Who is here? Right guard. Good guard, who? Oh, it must still be training camp.
Put it this way: The Minnesota Vikings’ interior offensive line issues over the years have been the butt of many a joke. And like all good humor, there was a lot of truth behind it.
Since 2016, the Vikings have had a different right guard for Week 1 each year. From Brandon Fusco to Joe Berger via Mike Remmers, Josh Kline, Pat Elflein and Oli Udoh, it’s been a journey. In those six years, the only time a Vikings right guard ranked in the top 40 pass-blocking guards by Pro Football Focus rank was in 2017 with Berger, who retired after that. season.
So when the Vikings left general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, it was logical to expect them to take a different approach to the struggling interior offensive line. In some ways they did and in others they didn’t.
If we look from 30,000 feet, signing two cheap veterans and signing a guy who hasn’t played good guard since he was 18 doesn’t seem like a big change. During the dark years of good guard, the team’s approach has largely been to move player positions or sign someone for as little money as possible. They asked Berger, Remmers, Ezra Cleveland and Oli Udoh to play in a different place from their natural position and the highest paid right guard the Vikings have put on the field in Week 1 since 2015 cost 4.6 million dollars on the salary cap.
This time around, they’re moving former Dolphins tackle Jesse Davis to guard and spend a total of $4 million between him and veteran journeyman Chris Reed. It looks like they’ll also be asking former LSU left guard and second-round pick Ed Ingram to switch from left to right side to enter the competition as well.
None of this convinces us that the laughter will stop anytime soon. But with a microscope, you can see something in particular that deviates from the past: strength in numbers.
Now, there’s certainly no guarantee that throwing a bunch of bodies at position is going to work, but in recent training camps there was either no competition for a struggling player like Elflein or Remmers, or a nominative only competition. At camp 2021, for example, Udoh faced Dakota Dozier, who had struggled to make her way the season before at left guard and eventually walked back on a contract worthy of a backup-level player. He was cut after camp and brought back to the practice squad.
This time, the competition seems legitimate. Davis and Reed signed very similar contracts and both have extensive track records in that position.
While Davis played almost exclusively at tackle last year, he played 509 snaps at right guard in 2020 and 921 plays at RG in 2018. The 2018 season stands out as Davis’ best pass blocking year over the which he ranked 33rd in pass blocking rank. Although he was 44th of 56 in pass blocking efficiency, which is based on sacks and pressures allowed.
None of Davis’ numbers on a large sample size would suggest he’ll transform the Vikings offensive line, but he’s also unlikely to tank him. During his career, the 32-year-old lineman has played nearly 5,000 snaps, indicating his team hasn’t felt the need to replace him. There’s something to be said for that considering the Vikings have continued to shuffle players looking for answers year after year. His PFF ratings as a guard are on par with substitute level, which doesn’t sound exciting until you see Udoh ranked as the fourth-worst guard in football last year.
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Davis sets a bar for the rest of the good guard contenders. If you can outplay his game, you’re probably better than replacement level. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be a beginner.
Chris Reed has never been a full-time starter, spreading 1,340 snaps over six seasons and five teams. He is rated an above average run blocker three years in a row and a grade below replacement level as a pass blocker. The former Mankato lineman has had more ups and downs in his pass blocking than Davis. He had four games above average and three with bench-worthy ratings, including allowing five pressures in a game against Tennessee.
I thought it might be a product of a mix between left guard and right guard, but it wasn’t. As a full-time starter for Carolina in 2020, Reed had a four-game streak rated below 35, which is bankable-level play, and then followed that up with three straight games over 70. , which is very good.
If the battle comes down to Davis vs. Reed, the Vikings’ offensive staff will have to decide which player can be more consistent as well as give them a higher cap and better run blocking on the inside. There is an argument for either player to get the job.
There could be an argument that no player gets the job if Ed Ingram plays well or if Wyatt Davis reminds the Vikings he exists.
Let’s talk about the latter first. The current executives seem to have about as much confidence in their 2021 third-round pick as the last coaching staff. Davis, who was picked at Ohio State and considered a candidate to start right away, never saw the field in his rookie season — not even when the starting right guard fell in a match in which he was active. They chose Blake Brandel instead.
He has a chance to prove them wrong by spending free agent money on two veterans and a second-round pick on Ingram. The team didn’t decide by chance that Davis wasn’t part of the future – they sure provided him with the reasons why he wasn’t in the mix last year and the areas where he could improve. ‘to improve. It’s in the realm of possibility that he can make the necessary adjustments, but it’s also amazing that he’s gone from favorite to be RG1 last year to suddenly being the longtime dark horse for the job.
About Ingram: It would be a surprise if he came from behind to win the job due to Davis and Reed’s level of experience. However, if he doesn’t win the job, it’s hard to say choosing him in the second round was justified. A second-round pick would need to be more gifted and provide an instant upgrade over replacement-level players or they simply weren’t worth a second-round pick.
Reviews of him around the draft coverage universe were highly skeptical of his ability to outperform players like Reed and Davis.
“Ingram’s physical and playing profiles are a bit of a mismatch, which could see him drift between starter and backup over the course of his career,” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote.
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Due to Ingram’s past sexual assault charge and suspension from LSU, the draft pick already has a target on its back. The Vikings argue with his selection that their valuation on Ingram is better than the consensus of the outside world. It’s certainly possible but historically it’s not always a good bet.
Where Ingram might stand out is in pass protection. He ranked highly at LSU last year as a pass blocker and allowed just 11 rushes on 484 pass blocks. If his run blocking is behind but pass blocking scores are better than Davis/Reed, this regimen might value those things differently than the previous group.
And to accomplish more than the previous group, the new regimen will need better guarding results than its predecessors. In 2021, Kirk Cousins faced the fourth most pressure from right guard in the NFL. In 2020, he was third. In 2019, seventh. You see where this leads. Cousins is not one to escape the middle and when he was pressured last year, Cousins only completed 45.9% of his passes (per PFF). Reducing the number of snaps he is under pressure is essential for better performance. Can this be done with the schema? Maybe. But the scheme cannot cover so much. The Vikings have to pick the right winner for the right guard competition or you’ll hear the same old punchlines.