This is the third post in our “Pre-Camp Predictions” series. We will revisit these predictions during and after training camp.
The left guard spot is a hole in an otherwise tight Vikings offensive line. Subpar play there last season could have contributed to Matt Kalil’s down year. Charlie Johnson wasn’t exactly a competent blocker, making left guard a definite position of need going into the offseason.
The selection of David Yankey out of Stanford in the 5th round was deemed a steal by many. Draft analysts had given him 2nd and 3rd round grades. It remains to be seen whether he is the spark plug this O-Line needs, but considering the Vikings’ past success in drafting late-round offensive linemen, we have reason to be optimistic.
Yankey is quite big for a guard at 6’6″, 315 lbs. He isn’t a flashy player, but is dependable, rarely missing blocking assignments. NFL.com calls him a talented puller. He is the bruising run-blocker Charlie Johnson isn’t. Yankey’s biggest weakness is inconsistency, having some good games and some bad games. He has a high football IQ as well as high character, leading Stanford as a captain last year. He also played with OL coach Jeff Davidson’s son Nick for the Cardinal, so Davidson knows what he’s got. I think Yankey has the talent to start Week 1, but unfortunately it’s not my decision.
It’s frustrating to watch Charlie Johnson play. He just isn’t a very good NFL player. Throughout his career, he’s really never been starting caliber. He’s stuck around so long because of his versatility. At 30, he should not be starting at left guard. He’s too slow, and isn’t nearly as powerful as Yankey and other guards.
Although some have speculated that Johnson might be cut after training camp, it’s hard for me to see that happening. He is entering the first year of a two-year, $5 million deal, but his versatility is too valuable to let him go. If Johnson doesn’t win the LG job, he likely will become a swing tackle as well as depth at guard. His veteran presence can help teach Yankey and other young guys such as Jeff Baca.
Vlad Ducasse was the Jets’ 2nd round pick in 2010. He never lived up to expectations in New York, but the Vikings snatched him up in free agency. Ducasse is even more versatile than Johnson, having played both tackle positions and both guard positions in his career. He’s younger too, at 26, as well as considerably cheaper. He just isn’t that great at blocking; he’s slow and, as New Era Scouting puts it, isn’t a “quick thinker.” He’s a riskier backup than Johnson, but would save the Vikes some big bucks. Don’t expect Ducasse to challenge for the starting job.
Other than that, a dark horse would be Baca. He rode the bench last season, but if he improves tremendously, Baca could become the third Vikings’ 6th round pick on the starting line. He’s not nearly as physically talented as Yankey, but could put up a fight. The other interior lineman, Joe Berger is a career backup, and he’ll almost surely stay that way.
The Prediction: This is my prediction, not my endorsement, but I think Charlie Johnson will be the starting left guard. If I had my choice, it’d be Yankey, but Johnson’s experience will win him the job. In the past, Davidson has almost always given his late-round picks a year to learn before stepping into a starting role. It happened with Baca most recently, as well as with Fusco, Chris DeGeare, DeMarcus Love and John Sullivan, who played but didn’t start in his first year.