EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings opened an NFL draft by addressing the offensive line for the second time in three years, tabbing left tackle Christian Darrisaw out of Virginia Tech.
Darrisaw joined center Garrett Bradbury, a first-round pick in 2019 out of N.C. State, as Minnesota's opening-night selections on the o-line.
The Vikings, Falcons and Jets are the only three teams who have used two first-round picks on offensive linemen over the course of the past three drafts.
The Jets, coincidentally, did so this year after trading up with the Vikings to nab guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 14.
For this look at Darrisaw, we turned to NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who appeared in 143 NFL games with the Cowboys, Colts and Eagles.
Known on Twitter for his "#BaldysBreakdowns," Baldinger said Darrisaw "just got better every year at Virginia Tech.
"Christian Darrisaw does a good job of just covering people up," Baldinger told Vikings.com recently. "In the run game and in the pass game, he kind of makes people disappear. He's got good size, so if he's cutting off inside, he gets square with them, and all of a sudden, that defensive tackle at Clemson or Miami, wherever he's playing, he kind of disappeared.
"He stays square in the pass game, he's got a good kick-step. What I would do with him against good players, like at Clemson or Miami or whatever, when the quarterback threw the ball, I would just freeze the tape and see where his pass rusher is," Baldinger added. " 'Is [the pass rusher] grabbing [the quarterback's] shoulder pad? Is he 3 feet away from him? Does the quarterback have time to make the throw?' Time and time again, Darrisaw looked like he does a great job of staying between his man and the quarterback enough. In the run game, I saw him move people."
View behind-the-scenes images of first round draft pick Virginia Tech T Christian Darrisaw as he met the Vikings organization for the first time at TCO Performance Center.
Player Profile: Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech, junior
Born in Petersburg, Virginia, Darrisaw played high school football at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 323 pounds, Darrisaw has the requisite size for a tackle, and he's poised to continue the progression that hallmarked his collegiate career.
After a semester at stringent Fork Union Military Academy, Darrisaw quickly progressed for the Hokies. Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente told Twin Cities media members on April 30 he remembered their 2018 preseason camp when his staff found itself saying, "When was the last time this freshman made a mistake?"
Even though Virginia Tech had been the only Power 5 school to offer Darrisaw a scholarship, and the ride was contingent upon the semester at Fork Union, he showed that level of the sport wasn't too big for him.
A stiff test presented early when Darrisaw was one of nine true freshmen in FBS to start Week 1, and it was a game against a Florida State pass rush that boasted Brian Burns, who finished that season with 10 sacks on the way to becoming a first-round pick (16th overall by Carolina in 2019).
Darrisaw showed strongly with 13 starts as a sophomore in 2019 and opened 10 games in 2020, when he garnered First-Team All-ACC honors and a 95.6 grade, the highest mark issued to an offensive lineman in a Power 5 conference by analytics site Pro Football Focus.
View photos of Virginia Tech T Christian Darrisaw who was selected No. 23 overall in the First Round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
2021 Outlook: It's super early, but the Vikings do plan to play Darrisaw at left tackle.
The investment of a pick that high makes it likely not a matter of "if" but "when." Bradbury has started every game of his first two NFL seasons, and Darrisaw will do his best to be ready when the Vikings say it's time.
Minnesota is in its second week of Organized Team Activity practices and has gone with veteran Rashod Hill at left tackle with the first team so far. Darrisaw has been running with the second team.
Hill has been a valuable part of the team as a swing tackle, totaling 17 starts in 59 games played for the Vikings since joining Minnesota in November 2016. He could provide a bridge or return to the swing tackle role behind Darrisaw and right tackle Brian O'Neill.
Much of the assessment of the offensive line won't be complete until full pads go on at training camp, but right now coaches can learn the way Darrisaw learns and applies knowledge and evaluate and refine his technique as the team progresses toward a mandatory minicamp (June 15-17).
We asked Baldinger what "homework" he would assign Darrisaw.
"If I was Darrisaw, and it's not like he doesn't know this, but I would have four or five different sets," Baldinger. "I would have a short set, a latch set, where I'm just grabbing a guy. I would have that deep set. I'd have an intermediate set. I would have a set where I would punch right away. I would have a set where I would drop my hands.
"I'd just change up my sets because once a guy like Nick Bosa, Danielle Hunter or Za'Darius Smith — once these good pass rushers see you set the same way all of the time — they're going to start adjusting their pass rush to what you do, so I would get as many different sets as possible," Baldinger continued. "I would work on a lot of them in practice and walk-throughs. I'd work on changing up my sets, so you can't just say, 'OK, he punches the same way every set on his third step.' I'd just have the ability to change it up.
"And then, I would really work, even in my own backyard, I would go get chutes to force me to come out low, because the low man is going to win, and too many guys play too high," Baldinger added. "It's about pad level, and if you want to move guys off the ball, you've got to get lower than they do.
Coachspeak: "He'll be a left tackle, but he's got to come in and compete and win the job just like everybody else. We'll be able to keep O'Neill at right [tackle] and go from there. … I hate to say 'instant starter.' This guy's got to come in here and prove himself just like everybody else. Hopefully that's what he is. … He's got really good strength. He's a good kid. He's a hard worker and really athletic and can get out in space and do the things that we like to do. I think the addition of not just run blocking but being able to pass protect is big as well."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer after Minnesota drafted Darrisaw
Film Breakdown: Former Vikings player and coach Pete Bercich, now a Vikings Radio Network analyst, looked at some of Darrisaw's tape from Virginia Tech.
Bercich described Darrisaw as a "monster" because of his size and ability to use it with great athleticism.
"He's easy to find [on film]," Bercich said. "He's this giant on the left side of the offensive line, and then his athleticism stands out right away."
Attributes that Bercich enjoyed are Darrisaw's fierceness in the run game, whether at the point of attack or farther from the action, and his functional footwork in the pass game. Bercich noted that Darrisaw frequently ended plays that were reviewed out of the camera's view, which also meant that his defender was far removed from making a play.
Darrisaw showed the ability to take care of things at the line of scrimmage and then to get to the second level of the defense on zone run plays that are likely to be similar to what the Vikings will use, as well as the ability to react on a quarterback option.
"This is an option play with the guard pulling, so in this case, Darrisaw has to step down to make sure no one can get in that gap immediately with the guard vacating, and then he has to wall-off on the backside," Bercich explained. "What you love is he walls this guy off and then he sticks with him and really gets him all the way out of the picture, so a nice job."
As noted by Baldinger, Bercich agreed that Darrisaw has done a great job of staying between his man and the quarterback on pass plays. Even if a defender has gained an edge momentarily, Darrisaw has snapped back quickly.
"The defensive end from [Boston College] gets into him, but he's able to recover, not give up any ground and then turns around and pushes him right out of [the camera's view]," Berich said. "You're seeing that ability to drop [his] anchor, settle and work those good feet and push guys out of the frame.
"Another example in pass protection, no wasted movement with his feet," Bercich added of another play. "He steps with that left foot, gets upfield, and you can kind of see how he's trying to build that pocket, but again, a little softness on that upfield shoulder, but he has the strength to recover, gets the guy, stays with him, the quarterback pulls the ball and runs, and the defender is not in the screen. So just great athleticism and ability to move, and then that size to really drop the anchor when he needs to."