Why the Vikings should draft an offensive lineman in the first round

(Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) Alijah Vera-Tucker
(Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) Alijah Vera-Tucker /
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Minnesota Vikings
(Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) Kirk Cousins /

Cousins’ health should be priority No. 1

The Vikings made it a priority to upgrade their defense in free agency and they definitely accomplished that. They upgraded at defensive tackle with Dalvin Tomlinson and added Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander to their secondary.

Minnesota also gets Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce back, and suddenly, the defensive side of the football looks to be light years better than it was in 2020.

Now that the defensive overhaul is complete, the Vikings can focus on what should be priority No. 1 moving forward, and that is keeping quarterback Kirk Cousins upright and healthy next season.

To do that, the team is going to have to start investing in the offensive line. As it stands now, their offensive line is even worse on paper than it was a season ago.

The interior of the offensive line could be the same as last year, assuming Ezra Cleveland remains at right guard. That wouldn’t be good as center Garrett Bradbury struggled again in pass protection last season and Dakota Dozier was simply one of the worst guards in the league.

Brian O’Neill returning at right tackle is the only saving grace, as Rashod Hill lining up at left tackle would be a huge decrease in talent and overall ability from Riley Reiff.

Cousins can’t be expected to be productive or to stay healthy playing behind such a suspect group. If the Vikings truly want to win in 2021, they have to give their quarterback more time in the pocket, and the only way to do that now is to use their 2021 first-round pick on an offensive lineman.

If Minnesota goes with Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, he’d be the presumptive starter at left tackle, which would push Rashod Hill to his rightful backup position, and it would keep Cleveland at guard. This would make the biggest hole at left guard where Dozier would still be slated to play.

If they go with USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, he’d probably start at left guard for the Vikings, and Cleveland likely would start at left tackle. The big hole in this scenario would be at right guard, where perhaps newly acquired Mason Cole would start. While he hasn’t been great in the past, he has performed better at guard than center, and it probably wouldn’t be a huge drop-off from Cleveland’s play a season ago.

Going the offensive lineman route at pick No. 14 gives the Vikings the best possible group of blockers they can forge together for the 2021 season. This improvement wouldn’t guarantee Cousins’ health, but he’d definitely be afforded much more time to find the open man.