How much better will the Vikings offensive line be in 2017?


The Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line was a disaster last season, but look for the line to drastically improve with the additions of Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein in 2017. 

The Minnesota Vikings experienced misfortune on the offensive line in 2016 and that may be an understatement. Due to injuries on the line, the Vikings started eight combinations of lineman throughout the season. The season-ending injuries to Matt Kalil, Andre Smith and Jake Long forced the likes of T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles to step into starting tackle spots.

While Sirles was ranked 49th out of 81 tackles by Pro Football Focus, Clemmings was ranked 79th with a PFF rating of 28.3. In other words, the replacement tackles played a large part in making Minnesota the worst rushing team in the NFL. Not to mention, quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked 38 times and hit another 66 times when dropping back to pass.

The blame isn’t solely on them as Brandon Fusco and five-game starter Nick Easton both played poorly with PFF ratings of 52.8 and 45.9, respectively. Alex Boone was also underwhelming, ranking a middling 38th of 74 guards with a 76.5 rating. While consistent guard/center Joe Berger was the only bright spot with an 85.0 rating.

While injuries played a role, they shouldn’t excuse how awful the Vikings line looked last season. As the third worst offensive line by PFF, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had his work cut out for him heading into the offseason.

Spielman responded by signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency. He then drafted center Pat Elflein in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Although Reiff and Remmers have never been elite tackles, they are solid additions to start at left and right tackle, respectively. In fact, they should make a noticeable difference for the Vikings in the coming season.

Yes, Reiff only ranked 48th among tackles last year, while Remmers ranked 51st, but don’t let those rankings fool you. Last season, both tackles played the opposite side of the ball resulting in their worst seasons as starters. Just check out these tweets comparing their PFF ratings in previous seasons:

Even with better past years, there’s a strong argument that both tackles aren’t more than middling tackles in the NFL. Yet, they are still far better than last season’s starters and will be back in their natural positions with Minnesota. They are also known to be better run blockers than pass blockers as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson. So is rookie Pat Elflein, who could end up starting at center, moving Berger to right guard while Boone stays at left guard. Check out these words of praise for Elflein from an NFC West scout:

"“You are getting a guy who will be great for your locker room and will get the rest of the offensive line on board. I think he could have the same fast impact on a team’s running game that Zach Martin had in Dallas. Safe draft pick to me.” — NFC West scout"

These players’ strong run blocking bodes well for the Vikings. Along with the additions of second round pick Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, Minnesota’s rushing attack should drastically improve. But, what about the pass game?

Well, first off, Clemmings was far less than an adequate pass blocker last season. If Reiff provides just adequate pass protection on Bradford’s blind side, that’ll go a long way in helping the Vikings’ quarterback. As for Remmers, getting him back on the right side of the line should help him play better in pass protection against lesser defensive ends, while Elflein has the chance to develop into a strong all-around center in the minds of many scouts.

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Second, an improved run game will help the pass game. In 2016, the Vikings couldn’t run the ball effectively on first and second downs, forcing many 3rd and long opportunities. This gave the defense an advantage in knowing that Minnesota would have to pass. In fact, most games, the run game was so dismal that opposing defenses keyed in on rushing the passer on what seemed like every down.

Finally, the Vikings weren’t as bad in pass protection as it may have looked. Minnesota was ranked 17th in pass protection by Football Outsiders based on their 6 percent adjusted sack rate. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called a lot of short-pass plays that undoubtedly helped that rate, but that is the reality of having below average line play. Those short-pass plays also could have worked out better if the run game was more successful.

Essentially, pending another injury plagued season, the Vikings should start a far better line that will help the run and pass games. They may not be elite, but they have the makeup of one that can hold their own. Even PFF has ranked them 14th heading into 2017, which would be a drastic improvement from 2016.

Only time will tell how much the line actually improves, but all signs point to a huge improvement from the Vikings’ starting offensive line in 2017. Let’s hope that’s the case because the line is going to play a huge role in what direction the Vikings 2017-18 season takes.

Next: A way too early Vikings 53-man roster prediction!

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