For the next several weeks, I will be looking back at the roster, examining the positions to find weaknesses as well as strengths.
By Jordan Wright
After reviewing the quarterback, running back, full back, wide receiver and tight ends positions, I will be focusing on the offensive line, an area that was a major liability last season.
Matt Kalil was graded as Pro Football Focus’ 46th overall tackle in 2015 (out of 77 qualifying offensive tackles) with a player grade of 46.9. Last season the Vikings picked up Kalil’s fifth year option on his rookie deal which will pay him over $11 million in 2016 (second highest cap hit on the team behind Mike Wallace).
Kalil is simply a bad left tackle. After a rookie season that saw him drafted No. 4 overall and making the Pro Bowl, Kalil has regressed significantly. The only redeeming factor about Kalil is that he is durable and has played through injury.
Brandon Fusco is coming off the worst season of his career. After being asked to make the switch from right guard to left guard, Fusco teamed up with Kalil to produce one of the worst left sides of an offensive line in the NFL. Fusco’s PFF grade of 61.6, while better than Kalil, only ranks him 44 out of 81 qualifying guards in the league. Brandon will have a cap hit of $3.5 million this season, but if he can regain his form from previous seasons that cap hit will seem like a steal.
Joe Berger filled in very well when John Sullivan went down with an injury. PFF agrees, as they’ve given Berger a player grade of 89.1 which ranks him 2nd out of 39 centers. Equally as stout against the pass as he is in the running game, Joe proved just how valuable of a backup he is. 2016 is the last year of his contract and he will make $1.435 million.
Mike Harris made the switch from tackle to guard this past season, and the experiment proved to be a success. Harris ended the 2015 season with a player grade of 76.9, ranking him as the 23rd best guard in the NFL and the second best offensive lineman in Minnesota. Harris is a free agent and should be a priority re-sign for the Vikings.
T.J. Clemmings was a rookie last season and was not expected to contribute much right away. However, once Phil Loadholt was lost for the season, Clemmings stepped into the spot and played fairly well all things considered. PFF gave him a player grade of 36.8, slightly below Matt Kalil and ranking him number 62. Clemming is still under his rookie contract, and should provide a valuable backup once Loadholt comes back.
The offensive line played poorly in 2015, but hopefully that will change for the better next season. With John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt coming back (assuming they are the same players they were before their injuries) the Vikings will have a more veteran group on the field.
The Vikings also have some young backups along the offensive line. Carter Bykowski (25 years old), Nick Easton (23), Zac Kerin (24), Austin Shepherd (23), and Jeremiah Sirles (24) are all young linemen who will be looking to take the next step and compete for a starting spot. With every position in flux this season, there is guaranteed to be tons of competition along the offensive line.
Tony Sparano was brought in this offseason to be the offensive line coach, and he brings 32 years of coaching experience (including head coach). Hopefully the Vikings will have enough pieces on the offensive line this season to throw them all at the proverbial wall and see what sticks.
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