Over the last few days, I have heard a lot of fans loud and clear.
We need to take a guard in the first round.
I don’t think a reasonable argument can be made against upgrading the guard position. Through the first 5 weeks, PFF has 75 guards with enough snaps to have a grade. The Vikings guards are among the worst in the league. Dakota Dozier is ranked 59th with a rating of 53.7 and Dru Samia is dead last with a rating of 34.2. Not only is Samia’s rating the worst of any offensive player in the NFL, but the film is indefensibly bad.
Not only have these two been bad, but the long term attempts to fix the position have been futile, with Josh Kline getting cut and Pat Elflein not being the same since he got injured in 2017 NFC Championship game against the Eagles. The frustration from Vikings fans is real, but is it an overreaction to automatically go guard in round one? Personally, I think so.
When it comes to the guard position, there is something to keep in mind. It’s the least important position on the offense other than fullback. Why is it less valuable than the other positions on the line? Let’s break it down by position.
The tackles are responsible for protecting the edge and blocking some of the best athletes in professional sports. When you have to protect the quarterback against players like Khalil Mack who can beat you with pure speed or brute power, it takes a rare combination of strength and agility to be able to play at a high enough level to succeed in the NFL.
The center is not only responsible for guarding a behemoth at defensive tackle but safely snapping the ball and calling the offensive line protection before hand. Not only do you need to be athletic enough to pull and strong enough to handle interior rushers but have the knowledge to read the front quickly and get all of your guys in the right position.
The guard position – while being the least important of the three – is still an important one. They are asked to do a combination of the other two positions, but the negative impact of the guard position can be minimized greatly by having really good players on either side. Right now, the Vikings have that. In fact, Matthew Collier made a good point on the Purple Insider podcast that Bradbury is being held back by the weak players on either side of him and it shows on film.
With some positions, drafting them early is far and away the best play. Quarterback is the best example, as 19/32 opening day starters were drafted in the first round with Carr, Brees, Garoppolo and Lock as second round picks. In fact, only 3/32 were drafted after the 4th round (Brady, Taylor and Fitzpatrick) and none of them were undrafted.
When it comes to a position, one of the baselines that can be used to judge where the best talent from a certain position group comes from is by examining the highest-paid players at the position. While it doesn’t tell the whole story, it does give us a good snapshot of where the talent originates. The one drawback in doing so is it eliminates players currently on their rookie deals. Here are the top 10 paid guards (salaries per Spotrac), where they were drafted, and their PFF grade so far this season.
- Brandon Scherff-$15,030,000. 1st Round Pick. 68.6 (21/75)
- Joe Thuney-$14,781,000. 3rd Round Pick. 83.2 (5/75)
- Brandon Brooks-$14,087,500. 3rd Round Pick. N/A
- Zack Martin-$14,000,000. 1st Round Pick. 86.9 (3/75)
- Andrew Norwell-$13,300,000. Undrafted. 74.8 (12/75)
- Andrus Peat-$11,500,000. 1st Round Pick. 62.0 (40/75)
- Trai Turner–$11,250,000. 2nd Round Pick. 46.4 (NR)
- Rodger Saffold-$11,000,000. 2nd Round Pick. 64.6 (29/75)
- Gabe Jackson-$11,000,000. 3rd Round Pick. 61.9 (41/75)
- Graham Glasgow-$11,000,000. 3rd Round Pick. 59.8 (44/75)
In this group, there are 3 first round picks, but that also needs to be taken into context. All three of them were drafted as tackles and moved into guard. Even with that fact, it should not be held against them in this scenario that they were moved inside. The rest of the group 2 second round picks, 4 third round picks and one undrafted player. What this sample size tells us is that quality guards, including multiple all-pro selections, can be found on day 2. When you look across the league, you won’t find that often with other positions.
We should as fans be concerned with how this team has been built and what resources are used to do so, especially with how poor the results have been with the guard position. With that being said, that also doesn’t mean that we immediately need to overreact and take one in the top 10-15. The name fans have been clamoring for is Wyatt Davis from Ohio State. He is a very good player but unlike Quenton Nelson, he isn’t generational nor what I consider to be an elite prospect. The data shows us that we can find a top tier guard on day 2 or in free agency and not use premium draft capital to secure one. That is better used on a player at a premium position like 3T Marvin Wilson, whom I highlighted a couple of weeks ago in my first installment of the SKOL Search series, a corner (yes, another corner), or even a quarterback.
We all want the same things with this Vikings team and that’s a Vince Lombardi Trophy resting in Eagan for eternity. The best way to get there is to maximize the effectiveness of your resources and that’s going to be waiting on a guard until day 2. The sooner everyone gets on the same page, the better off everyone will be.