Why the Vikings offensive line might not be better next season

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The Vikings went 7-9 last year, but it’s easy to see how the team will be better in 2021.

Minnesota made a plethora of upgrades to its defense. That group will likely be way better than it was in 2020. The special teams is undefined at key positions right now, but it almost can’t be worse than it was last year.

Look around, and you can see a lot of fans and analysts making the point that the offensive line will also improve. While that would be nice for the team, it certainly isn’t a sure thing.

Though it wouldn’t be shocking if the interior part of the offensive line got better, I think people need to be realistic about the expectations for the group in 2021. Here’s why they may actually not improve this upcoming season:

LT Riley Reiff is a big loss

Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Riley Reiff gets set during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Reiff is coming off a season where he gave up just one sack and only had one penalty. He finished 2020 with a PFF grade of 71.4. Unless the Vikings are aggressive in landing a good offensive lineman in a trade, it's unlikely Minnesota's 2021 left tackle will outproduce Reiff's production from this past season.

Rookie production can be unpredictable

Vikings rookies, including OL Christian Darrisaw, front left, and Wyatt Davis practice during NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

The assumption that the offensive line will get better is based in part on rookies coming in right away and producing. That's a risky bet. Christian Darrisaw could be a very good player as a rookie, but he still might not be as good as Reiff was in 2020. There's also Wyatt Davis. Davis was a third-round pick. It's not even a given that he will start over Mason Cole, Kyle Hinton, Dakota Dozier and more, let alone thrive at guard in his first NFL season. If the Vikings offensive line could be fixed by simply throwing draft capital at it, the unit would already be fixed by now. Center Garrett Bradbury was a former first-round pick. Granted, the offensive line improved the year he became a starter in 2019, but I think that was mostly due to the scheme, and the group did not improve that much — if at all — in 2020. Yes, rookies look great on paper, because you haven't seen them play yet, but it's time to pump the breaks on Darrisaw or Davis taking the league by storm.

The offensive line stayed healthy in key areas last year

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 23: Brian O'Neill #75 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on durning the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 23, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Vikings interior offensive line had issues with health this past season. That was the weak spot on the team, though. Guard Pat Elflein got injured after one game, but he was arguably the worst offensive lineman starting. Then, there was Dru Samia, who struggled mightily before getting placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Eventually, the team went with Ezra Cleveland, who was probably the best guard they had in 2020. Brett Jones also made two starts and played pretty well. It helps a lot when players like Brian O'Neill and Reiff play 15 games or more — the team's two best linemen stayed relatively healthy. The Vikings are an injured starting tackle away from almost certainly having a worse exterior in 2021.

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