The seemingly annual reboot of the Minnesota Vikings offensive line has commenced.
Whether the Vikings decide to keep veteran left tackle Riley Reiff in 2021, the franchise needs to find a new guard to replace left guard Dakota Dozier, who ranked 36th out of 39 qualifying left guards last season after allowing a 7.5% pressure rate.
Minnesota doesn’t have the cap space to chase some of the league’s top guard free agents. However, an “impactful upgrade” recently became available in New Orleans Saints guard and former Vikings guard Nick Easton.
InsideTheVikings’ Will Ragatz proposed Easton could be a prime candidate to replace Dozier in free agency.
Here’s his breakdown of how Easton compares to Dozier:
Easton started nine games for the 2020 Saints, playing 562 snaps. He allowed 18 pressures and two sacks, committed three penalties, and finished with a PFF grade just shy of 60 (which is considered average). Dozier, who somehow played nearly 1,100 snaps, allowed 46 pressures and six sacks while committing nine penalties. His PFF grade was 44.6. Dozier’s pressure rate of 7.5 percent wasn’t much higher than Easton’s 6.0 percent, but that’s still a noticeable difference.
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Average Guard Play Is all the Vikings Need
The Vikings’ offensive line showed flashes of competence throughout the 2020 season and could be a piece like Easton away from becoming a serviceable unit.
Tackles Brian O’Neill and Reiff both posted above-average position grades by Pro Football Focus while center Garrett Bradbury was the highest grade offensive lineman and was the ninth-ranked center in the league through four weeks.
Then the guard play diminished all potential for the group. Dru Samia was disastrous as the league’s worst lineman through five weeks before he suffered a wrist injury.
Ezra Cleveland had an up and down rookie season, which is often expected with most rookie linemen. He should retain his role at right guard so long as Minnesota decides to keep Reiff. Cleveland should take steps forward with a full offseason to prepare for his role with the team, leaving the potential of just replacing the left guard spot.
For a unit that’s been historically bad for the Vikings, an average upgrade at left guard could be all they need to take the offense to the next level.
Minnesota has finished in the bottom 10 teams in pass blocking in all but one year with coach Mike Zimmer. That year was 2017 when the offensive line produced the 17th-highest pass-block grade in the league and made helped Minnesota make a run to the NFC Championship — the same year Easton started 12 games for the Vikings at left guard.
Vikings team pass block grade and rank since 2014:
2014: 72.4 (23rd)
2015: 67.9 (28th)
2016: 64.7 (30th)
2017: 71.9 (17th)
2018: 63.6 (27th)
2019: 63.0 (27th)
2020: 55.5 (29th)
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) January 14, 2021
Easton’s Injury Issues
Easton allowed just 12 pressures and zero sacks on 400 pass-blocking snaps in 2017, however, he dealt with several injuries including a season-ending left ankle fracture.
He suffered a neck injury that ended his 2018 season and led to the Saints signing him to a four-year, $24 million deal in 2019. He’s started in 15 of 22 games over the past two seasons after several concussions in 2020.
Easton will likely assess if he wants to keep playing after his concussion issues. If he does, a reunion with the Vikings could be an affordable option for competition at left guard during training camp.
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