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2020 Vikings Position Recap: Offensive Line


EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings offensive line was, as usual, a focal point in Minnesota during the 2020 season.

And it will be a focus of the offseason as the Vikings decide which direction they go with that unit.

Overall, the play of the men up front represented much of how the Vikings season went as a hole, with some strong moments, some frustrating moments … and some in-between moments, too.

Minnesota's offensive line used five different starting combinations up front this past season, with center Garrett Bradbury and left guard Dakota Dozier playing every snap.

Right tackle Brian O'Neill also started all 16 games, missing just a handful of snaps in Tampa Bay after he was inadvertently poked in the eye. And left tackle Riley Reiff was also a mainstay, missing only the season finale because he landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

While there was strong continuity in four of five spots, the Vikings started four different players at right guard.

Rookie Ezra Cleveland, a 2020 second-round pick, led the way with nine total starts. He took over for an injured Dru Samia, who started four games after the season's initial starter, Pat Elflein, was injured after Week 1.

Even Cleveland couldn't avoid the injury bug, as Brett Jones started in Weeks 11 and 12 due to an ankle injury Cleveland suffered and played through in Week 10.

No matter who was in, the Vikings had a strong running game all season, as Minnesota ranked fifth overall with 142.7 rushing yards per game.

According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, the Vikings ranked 18th overall with a run blocking grade of 65.7.

Minnesota's pass blocking grade, according to PFF, ranked 29th overall at 55.5. PFF also credited the Vikings with 214 total pressures allowed, which were the 11th-most among all teams.

Vikings linemen accounted for 172 of those allowed pressures (80.4 percent), with PFF noting quarterback Kirk Cousins being responsible for 27 allowed pressures (12.6 percent). The final seven percent of pressures were attributed to tight ends and running backs.

Overall, the Vikings offensive line endured both highs and lows in 2020.

But if the unit can keep progressing forward, it could mean the Vikings have one of the league's top offenses in 2021.

Notable Number: 0

The Vikings did not record a single outing in 2020 in which they kept Cousins clean the entire game. The quarterback was sacked at least once in all 16 games, and was brought down multiple times in 12 of 16 games.

Minnesota allowed 39 total sacks in 2020, which tied for the 12th-most allowed in the league. (And is also in line with the unit's PFF ranking in pressures allowed from above).

The 39 sacks allowed was 11 more than Minnesota gave up in 2019. Cousins has been sacked 107 times in his three seasons in Purple.

Memorable Moment

When your running back goes off for 216 total yards and four scores, you know the offensive line did its part.

That was the case in Week 8 at Lambeau Field, when Dalvin Cook rushed for 163 yards and three scores … and highlighted his 63 receiving yards with a 50-yard touchdown catch on a screen.

Check out Cook's receiving touchdown above, and you'll see Bradbury, Dozier and Cleveland helping to bust Cook loose. O'Neill shows his hustle by adding a downfield block of Preston Smith and gets to the end zone just a second after Cook, too.

That play summed up the athleticism of the line, which was needed on one of the most explosive plays of the season.

Oh yeah, they also showed their muscle by leading the way on a 21-yard touchdown run, along with a pair of 1-yard scores.

Regular-Season Statistics

Riley Reiff

1,002 offensive snaps (92.6 percent); started 15 games

Dakota Dozier

1,082 offensive snaps (100 percent); started all 16 games

Garrett Bradbury

1,082 offensive snaps (100 percent); started all 16 games

Ezra Cleveland

621 offensive snaps (57.4 percent); started nine games

Brian O'Neill

1,069 offensive snaps (98.8 percent); started all 16 games

Dru Samia

272 offensive snaps (25.1 percent); started four games

Brett Jones

137 offensive snaps (12.7 percent); started two games

Rashod Hill

120 offensive snaps (11.1 percent); started one game

Pat Elflein

52 offensive snaps (4.8 percent); started one game

Olisaemeka Udoh

2 offensive snaps (0.18 percent); no starts

Kyle Hinton

No offensive snaps; spent all but one game on practice squad

Aviante Collins

No offensive snaps; spent entire season on practice squad

Blake Brandel

No offensive snaps; spent entire season on practice squad

The highest high

1. Minnesota's offensive performance at home against Detroit in Week 9 was one of the best of the season.

The offensive line played a key role in that, allowing just one sack of Cousins, which tied for a season low. (Minnesota had four games in which it allowed one sack).

The unit was also a factor in the run game, as the Vikings rushed for a season-high 275 yards against the Lions.

Cook led the way with a career-best 206 yards on just 22 attempts (9.36 yards per carry) and included a 70-yard score among his two touchdowns. Alexander Mattison added 69 yards on 12 attempts (5.75 yards per carry).

The lowest low

1. The Vikings were sitting at 6-6 and in the NFC's final Wild Card spot when they traveled to Tampa Bay for a Week 14 road game.

But in a battle of playoff hopefuls, the Vikings offensive line couldn't withstand the pressure from a blitz-happy Buccaneers team that sacked Cousins six times.

That was the most sacks allowed in a game by the Vikings in 2020 and is tied for the most sacks on Cousins in a game during his three seasons with the Vikings.

2 pressing questions for 2021

1. Where does Ezra Cleveland play in his second season?

Cleveland was an all-conference left tackle at Boise State before the Vikings tabbed him with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

But the Vikings worked primarily with him at guard. He opened training camp at left guard with the second team before eventually starting nine games at right guard.

Reiff turned in one of his best pro seasons and is under contract for 2021, but there has been some speculation as to whether he returns (for what it's worth, there was considerable speculation in the media last year about Reiff being with the Vikings in 2020). When Reiff was unavailable for the finale, Minnesota turned to Hill. If Reiff isn't back, will the Vikings shift Cleveland to left tackle? Or do they keep him at right guard, where he was sandwiched between a pair of other young linemen in 2020.

2. Will the Vikings keep adding early-round linemen?

The Vikings have certainly focused on offensive linemen in the past few drafts, taking one in each of the first two rounds in each of the past three seasons.

O'Neill (2018) and Cleveland (2020) were second-rounders, and Bradbury was a first-rounder in 2019. That strategy has allowed Minnesota to have a trio of building blocks along the line for the foreseeable future.

Will they do it again? That depends on the question above with left tackle, while the Vikings could also look to add depth at left guard, too.

The trio of O'Neill, Cleveland and Bradbury — plus another high draft pick — could set up the Vikings well both in 2021 and down the line.

One final thing to keep in mind is that O'Neill is entering the final season of his rookie contract, which means a potential contract extension could be on the horizon.


"Those guys battled their rear ends off all year. I think you're always going to look to improve that area. There's no area that we don't want to look to improve. I thought Riley Reiff had a heck of a year. O'Neill has a chance to be an extremely really good player. Bradbury is a good player. He was dinged up a little bit this season, but he's a tough kid, never says anything, doesn't want to miss any time, and I think Cleveland has a chance to be a good player and Dakota battled his rear end off. I do like that group. The continuity that they have, the communications that they have. I like that group, but we'll have to see, and if we can improve, we'll improve."

— Zimmer on the overall play of the offensive line

"Ezra's awesome. He definitely started coming out of his shell toward the end of the season. He definitely kind of had the rookie mindset of, 'I'm going to put my head down, do what I need to.' Once he started to get some starts under his belt, getting more comfortable, he definitely came out of his shell. Ezra's a great add to the room on the field and off the field. Everyone likes him. And he's gotten a lot better. He's going to be a really good player in this league and I'm excited. I don't know where he's going to play, but I'm excited I'm in the room with him, for sure."

— Bradbury on Cleveland's potential going forward

"It's not something that I think about. I have an agent who will handle that whenever the time comes and all that stuff will take care of itself. Play your [butt] off, and everything else will take care of itself. I'm … excited about the group we have. Whatever comes."

— O'Neill on a possible contract extension