The jump from college to the NFL is the toughest for quarterbacks. The landscape is littered with high picks at that position who were lost in the transition, from Ryan Leaf to JaMarcus Russell to Christian Ponder to Blake Bortles and many more before, in between and after them.
What could be the next toughest position jump? Cornerback? We saw some Vikings youngsters take their lumps last season. Tight end? Catch like a receiver. Block like a lineman. Wide receivers? How many dominate in college and can't get open in the NFL? How many running backs are pass-protection savvy as rookies?
Now, how about left tackle?
"Most spots are tough to go from college to pro," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "Obviously quarterback would be the toughest one, but left tackles face some flamethrowers over on that side."
Vikings first-round pick Christian Darrisaw is finding that out as he takes his first steps as a professional. He has to be physically and mentally agile. And tough. Tough. Tough. Tough. It's easy for Darrisaw to crack a smile during Zoom interviews. Does that grin turn into grit when he's blocking Khalil Mack into the sideline?
The Vikings were looking for that this week during minicamp, as Darrisaw mixed it up with a defense that should have more bite than it did a year ago, when injuries, opt-outs and young defensive backs led to one of Zimmer's worst defenses.
Offseason transactions have added experience and depth to the defense. The selection of Darrisaw with the 23rd pick has the potential to be the final piece of an offensive-line puzzle that has been years in the making. If Darrisaw can hold down the blind side and allow Kirk Cousins to wreak havoc with running back Dalvin Cook and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, the Vikings offense will sail. And the engine that drives it will be a line that includes two first-round picks in Darrisaw and Garrett Bradbury and two second-round picks in Brian O'Neill and Ezra Cleveland.
Zimmer, however, is not ready to hand left tackle over to the Virginia Tech product. The Vikings want to see him produce.
"He is a very talented and athletic kid. He is very, very smart and works very hard," Zimmer said. "We'll just have to see. We've got some other guys that are doing well at tackle, too, [Olisaemeka] Udoh. Rashod Hill, he is a big veteran guy who is a terrific pass protector along with Brian O'Neill.
"[Darrisaw] is competing and he's got to continue to compete. It's a tough job. They're all pretty tough, honestly."
Darrisaw isn't the only new left tackle in the NFC North. Second-round pick Teven Jenkins tops the Bears depth chart at left tackle, but his challenge is a different one. Jenkins will move over from right tackle, where he played most of his college career. His path to playing time might be clearer than Darrisaw's, because Chicago coach Matt Nagy doesn't have many other options he can mention in a Zoom conference call like Zimmer can.
The other division opponents have left tackles who are enjoying the job security Darrisaw is seeking. Taylor Decker stepped in at left tackle his first week after being drafted by the Lions in 2016 and has been a mainstay, earning an $60 million extension last September. The gold standard, of course, is Green Bay's David Bakhtiari, a two-time first-team All-Pro who started all 16 games his rookie year in 2013 and has not looked back. Bakhtiari did tear an anterior cruciate ligament late last season but has been pleased with his progress.
Darrisaw mentioned Bakhtiari as one of the tackles he's admired. Good answer. Whether he will be able to step into the Vikings lineup right away like Bakhtiari did remains to be seen. He has to get in the playbook, get used to seeing more fronts and keep Cousins off his keister.