Zone Coverage: Have the Vikings done enough to improve the offense?

If you're a Vikings fan, how confident are you in the offensive line?
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Irv Smith Jr.

This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

The Minnesota Vikings made some big changes to their offense this offseason. They traded a star player and also brought in plenty of new faces through the draft. The question lingers, though: Did the Vikings do enough to improve their offense? We’ll take a look at the moves they made and the ones they didn’t and try to answer that query.

The moves they made in free agency

The biggest move the Vikings made to their offense this offseason came prior to the start of free agency. They traded disgruntled but ultra-talented Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. This netted the Vikings a plethora of draft picks, including the Bills’ first choice at No. 22.

To help offset the loss of Diggs, the Vikings went out and signed former Titans’ wide receiver Tajae Sharpe. While he’s no Diggs, he is a big target who has three years of experience in the league. Sharpe was the only new face the Vikings brought in through free agency on the offensive side of the ball. They elected instead, to use most of their available cap space to re-sign players like Dakota Dozier, Ameer Abdullah, C.J. Ham and Sean Mannion. They also cleared cap space by extending Kirk Cousins.

The other glaring move the Vikings made to their offense in free agency was cutting starting guard Josh Kline. Kline was hampered by concussions in 2019 but played extremely well in the 13 games he started for the team. This move was a shocking one, but it did free up enough money for them to go out and sign Michael Pierce, so perhaps it’ll prove to be worth it down the line.

The moves they could've made in free agency

The one move the Vikings failed to make this offseason could also be the one that proves to be the most costly. After cutting Kline, the team decided not to sign a veteran free agent to replace him. There were plenty of options at guard available at the time, with players like Michael Schofield, D.J. Fluker and Mike Iupati all available, but the Vikings instead stayed pat with what they had already on the roster.

So the Vikings will start the season with Pat Elflein at left guard and Dozier and Dru Samia battling it out on the right side. Elflein has been a major liability in pass protection, and Samia is basically a rookie after appearing in only one game in 2019. So this decision comes with plenty of risk, as the Vikings are banking on Elflein bouncing back to his rookie form, and Samia playing at the level Kline did last year.

While the Vikings didn’t bring in a free agent guard, there’s a chance they still could. If a player suffers an injury in training camp or Elflein or Samia are struggling badly, there are players like Ron Leary, Larry Warford and the aforementioned Kline, who could all come in and start for the Purple in a pinch.

Offensive additions through the draft

The Vikings used that first pick they got from the Bills in the Diggs’ trade to get his replacement in Justin Jefferson. Jefferson is coming off a great final year with LSU, where he caught 18 touchdowns and had over 1,500 receiving yards. They used a second-round pick to beef up their offensive line when they took OT Ezra Cleveland. That pick was seen as a great value, as many had Cleveland a lock to go in the first round.

Once the Vikings didn’t sign a guard in free agency, many figured they’d use a fairly high draft pick to address this now-glaring need. They went in another direction instead and didn’t take a guard until their last pick at the end of the draft. They had some promising guard prospects on the board late in the draft, with Shane Lemieux being available in the fifth round and Netane Muti on the board in the sixth, but the Vikings instead took a return man and more defense. After the draft, they signed an intriguing wide receiver prospect in Texas A&M’s Quartney Davis, and he’s expected to have a strong shot to make the final 53-man roster.

While these young players the Vikings brought in via the draft are certainly exciting, it’s fair to wonder how big of an impact they can have in Year 1. Cleveland is seen as a bit of a project, and the league-wide consensus on him was that he needed to add strength to his frame and could be a year away from seeing meaningful snaps. Jefferson is a player who could certainly be a Day 1 starter, but due to the missed OTAs and mini-camps, he is coming in well behind where most rookies are at this point of the preseason, and that could cause a delay in his development and readiness for Week 1.

Did the Vikings do enough to improve the offense?

Yes, but not by much. The offense, for the most part, will look the same as it did a season ago. They’ll have the same depth at quarterback, running back and tight end. While losing Diggs certainly hurts the talent level in their receiving corps, the additions of Jefferson and Sharpe along with a second year for Bisi Johnson makes it a deeper unit overall. Their group of tackles is improved with the addition of Cleveland. While he’s a long shot to start early in his career, he does provide exciting depth and could surprise in camp and push Reiff for that left tackle job.

The only position on offense the Vikings clearly downgraded at was guard. They still have struggling Elflein penciled in on one side, and whether it is Samia or Dozier or someone else starting at right guard, that can only be seen as a downgrade from what Kline was a season ago. They have a lot of inexperienced depth on this unit, and while it is possible Samia shows why he was a fourth-round pick a season ago and plays well, the Vikings are taking a huge risk at this extremely valuable position.

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