After a nine-draft stretch where they only selected two offensive linemen in the first two rounds (Phil Loadholt in 2009 and Matt Khalil in 2012), the Vikings changed course in 2018 and began devoting higher draft picks to the group in front of Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook. They selected tackle Brian O’Neill at the end of the second round in 2018, used their first-round pick on center Garrett Bradbury in 2019 and watched as Boise State tackle Ezra Cleveland — a player they’d targeted before the draft — fell to their spot in the second round this year.
The three players, like 2017 third-round pick Pat Elflein before them, were selected in large part because of their compatibility with the zone running scheme the Vikings used under Pat Shurmur (and John DeFilippo) and have particularly emphasized under Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak. The Vikings have focused on athletic, agile linemen who can lead Cook on wide zone plays or climb to the second level of the defense on inside zone runs. The group might give something up in pass protection by way of size or wingspan, but it is constructed to thrive in settings where the Vikings can lean on their preferred phase of offense.
“This past week, it might have been a Wednesday or a Thursday, and we were walking through and running through some halfback screens,” Bradbury said. “We had finished and were huddling up for the next one, and Dalvin goes to all five linemen, ‘You guys just get your guys down. I’ll do the rest. That’s it.’ He just had this confidence about him, and we did too, that as long as the ball is in his hands, he’s going to make something happen.”
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