Round 1, No. 18 overall: Garrett Bradbury, OL, NC State
My take: The Vikings walked away from the first round with a vast upgrade for the interior of the offensive line, which was arguably the team’s biggest need. By selecting Bradbury with the 18th pick and deciding against taking one of the tackles who fell to them (Andre Dillard, Jawaan Taylor and Cody Ford) or trading back to earn more draft capital, Minnesota made not one but two improvements to its O-line group. Bradbury says he’s willing to play wherever the Vikings need him, whether that’s replacing Pat Elflein at center or sliding into the vacancy created at left guard by Nick Easton’s departure in free agency. That position flexibility is critical for a team that is looking to work out its best starting five over the next four months and, as this team knows all too well, pays big dividends in allowing the unit to stay in lockstep if an injury arises. Minnesota nailed its first-round pick by addressing its most pressing need right off the bat and getting ahead of the inevitable run on offensive lineman that could occur in Rounds 2 and 3. General manager Rick Spielman knows the key to protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins and bettering a run game that struggled last season is to fix what’s going on up front.
Athletic on the interior: Bradbury’s stock skyrocketed after he put his athleticism on display at the NFL combine. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder ran a 4.92-second 40-yard dash (third among OL), finished in the top five among his position group in the three-cone drill (first, 7.41 seconds) and short shuttle (tied for fifth, 4.53 second) and had 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press (second). Those physical attributes are eye-popping on their own, but how that athleticism projects within the Vikings’ zone-blocking scheme is what makes him the ideal fit on the interior. For starters, the tight end turned guard turned center played in a similar system at NC State and was long considered a scheme fit in Minnesota. Couple his quickness, speed and athletic ability with the outside zone action the Vikings aim to run, and Minnesota will begin to make strides at running the ball more effectively. “I think that’ll be a big strength of his,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “The big thing with these athletic guys is, if you can get them moving sideways and you can get one guy cut out of the gap, then this one-cut downhill run game should really be good for Dalvin [Cook].”
A perfect fit: Before Gary Kubiak was hired in Minnesota as an assistant head coach/offensive adviser, he spent last season scouting much of the 2019 draft class in Denver. Bradbury, according to Spielman, was one of Kubiak’s favorites. Having worked with O-line coach Rick Dennison for decades, Kubiak knew the type of player they both wanted and was able to help the Vikings zero in on drafting the guard/center based on how well he’d fit within the parameters of the offense. “One thing about these guys being together, they know the exact type of guy that they’re looking for, and along with [offensive coordinator] Kevin [Stefanski], I think that this guy will be a really good fit, and then scouts, obviously — everybody loved this kid in the draft,” Zimmer said. Bradbury’s durability certainly stood out to the Vikings. He played every snap of the season before sitting out the final 13 during a rout of Louisville in 2018, had just two penalties in 942 offensive snaps and did not allow a QB pressure in 1,026 total snaps last season.
What’s next: Zimmer hinted that the Vikings might not be done addressing the offensive line, and that could be something they continue to build in the second and third rounds. Along with Dalton Risner (who can play both guard and tackle spots), Greg Little, Yodny Cajuste and Nate Davis, among others, there are still a ton of offensive line prospects Minnesota could look to draft on Day 2. The Vikings’ other needs that could be addressed as early as Friday come at defensive tackle and finding Cousins more pass-catching options from the host of tight ends who are waiting to be taken (Irv Smith Jr., Jace Sternberger, Dawson Knox) and the inevitable run on wide receivers. The Vikings also need help in the secondary with a lack of depth at safety and questions at cornerback.