The Vikings’ offensive line was a disaster for the most part in the last decade, costing the team important games and ruining seasons. In 2022, the five guys up front have been better, especially in some spots.
Even if he was not named to the team, left tackle Christian Darrisaw is playing at an All-Pro level in only his second season. His jump has been remarkable. According to PFF, Darrisaw is the second-best offensive tackle in the NFL, behind only Trent Williams, arguably the best offensive lineman in the world.
We Now Know 80% of Sunday’s Vikings Offensive Line
Left guard Ezra Cleveland turned into one of the better guards in the NFL. He is in his third season and a reliable player. His run blocking, especially, is extremely good. PFF graded him as the 10th-best offensive guard and the fourth-best in run blocking. His pass protection is still inconsistent and is something he has to work on in the offseason.
His counterpart on the right side, rookie Ed Ingram, had the normal struggles of a first-year player. However, he is playing much better late in his rookie campaign, and his potential is evident on tape. He just has to clean up a few things, and a second-year improvement is likely.
Those three players have never been in question and will continue to start for the Vikings in the postseason. The two other positions, center and right tackle, have been a question mark in the last couple of weeks.
Starting center Garrett Bradbury missed time with a back injury. He was unavailable in the final five games of the regular season. His recovery was delayed by a minor car accident after the win over the Colts, but he returned to practice in the week leading up to the postseason game.
On Thursday, Bradbury logged a full practice and ultimately even disappeared from the injury report on Friday. According to head coach Kevin O’Connell, he will be available on Sunday and start at his usual center spot.
Bradbury struggled in his first three seasons but had a breakout season in 2022 until he got hurt. The center is in the final year of his rookie contract, so the better he plays, the more money he will get in free agency.
With Bradbury now at full strength, the Vikings will have four of the five familiar starters on deck. The fifth one is still up in the air. 2021 Pro Bowler Brian O’Neill left the game in Week 17 at Lambeau with a partially torn Achilles. He is out for the year. The Vikings replaced him with Oli Udoh, naturally a tackle, but he was used as a guard in 2021. In the two games replacing O’Neill, Udoh allowed two quarterback pressures, a good number.
Udoh was not the top backup at offensive tackle. Third-year player Blake Brandel was the number-one choice when Darrisaw suffered two concussions. The team either views him as the left tackle backup and Udoh at right tackle, or they simply think Brandel is a better player.
Nevertheless, both have shown to be solid backups but not starting-caliber players. The coaching staff has to decide who will be the starter in the franchise’s most important game in three years. The last Vikings playoff game was in January 2020 against the 49ers.
The coaching staff and even Udoh only talked cryptically about the starting offensive tackle. At this point, replacing the right tackle once again after two good performances seems unlikely but possible, given the depth chart all year long. The team would have to activate Brandel from IR first, but he said he’s ready to go if needed.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt