This is the first in an eight-part series reviewing the 2016 Vikings and looking ahead by position.
Flexibility is the silver lining for an injury-riddled and underachieving offensive line group, especially at tackle. The Vikings can clean the slate with just T.J. Clemmings and Rashod Hill currently under contract on the outsides. In Tony Sparano’s first season as offensive line coach, the Vikings lost three tackles to injury, one to retirement and another potential starter to illness.
Under contract in 2017: G Alex Boone, C Joe Berger, G Brandon Fusco, OT T.J. Clemmings, C Nick Easton, G Willie Beavers, OT Rashod Hill, G Austin Shepherd
Pending free agents: OT Matt Kalil, OT Andre Smith, G Mike Harris, OT Jeremiah Sirles, OT Jake Long, G Zac Kerin
Grades are based on a 1-5 scale, with '5' marking an excellent season, '4' for above-average, '3' for average, '2' for below-average and '1' for failure to perform. Players who did not accrue a season (weren't on the active roster for at least six weeks) or played in three games or fewer are not graded. Based on game and practice observations, weekly film reviews and interviews. Quarterback pressures are provided by Pro Football Focus analyst Trevor Lynch.
- Joe Berger (4.0): In his age 34 season, Berger continued to be an overlooked bargain for the Vikings. Earned a starting role for the first time in six years out of camp with John Sullivan unable to return to form after multiple back surgeries. Played 852 snaps [81%]. Before they abandoned the run game, much focused behind Berger and Boone — the two most capable of opening a rare seam.Sat out two games due to a concussion, when his reliability contrasted with young Nick Easton’s growing pains in botched snaps and a protection call or two. Made starts at left and right guard, where his physical limitations were exposed. Still only allowed a team-low eight QB pressures (two sacks). Flagged once. Turns 35 in May. Under contract for a $1.76 million salary cap hit next season.
- Alex Boone (3.5): Boone was a good acquisition on a four-year, $26.8 million deal, solidifying left guard while much of the line around it crumbled. Played 873 snaps [83%], missing two games to injury. Ranked as the fifth-best guard in pass protection, allowing just 16 quarterback hurries (one sack). Decent, though not as effective for the league’s worst run game. Changed helmets midseason after the first documented concussion of his career. Flagged five times. Fined $12,154 for unsportsmanlike conduct after in-game criticism of an official in Philadelphia. Publicly stumped to move to left tackle after Jake Long’s torn Achilles, but remained at guard. Turns 30 in May. One of the only mainstays, under contract for a $6.7 million salary cap hit next season.
- Nick Easton (2.5): Showed promise and plenty of room to grow in his first NFL action. One of three to make NFL debuts for the Vikings offensive line in 2016. Active for 11 games, starting five. Played 414 snaps [39.4%]. Had a critical fumble on a botched snap in Green Bay, one of two turnovers that led to two Packers touchdowns. Did not allow a sack on 12 quarterback pressures. Flagged once.
- Jake Long (2.5): Picked up off the scrap heap after Andre Smith’s season-ending injury. Started three games at left tackle, playing 210 snaps [20%]. Leveled out after having a hand in two strip-sacks in his first action against Philadelphia. Flagged once. Suffered a torn Achilles in Washington that may have ended his career at age 31.
- Jeremiah Sirles (2.0): Made 10 starts, mostly at right tackle andbeginning in the fifth week after Smith’s season-ending injury. Played 772 snaps [73.4%], allowing the second-most QB pressures (37). Certainly didn’t lack effort, but was outclassed in games against the Texans’ Whitney Mercilus and Eagles’ Brandon Graham. A better run blocker than pass protector, but still might be better off at guard. Flagged eight times, tying T.J. Clemmings for most on the team, including four false starts. A pending free agent.
- Brandon Fusco (1.5): Returned to right guard, but still wasn’t the same player during 14 starts. Missed two games due to his second concussion of the season. Played 834 snaps [79.3%]. Allowed 34 quarterback pressures (four sacks), ranking as the 10th-most among guards despite missing two starts. Flagged twice. Currently set to count $4.8 million against the cap as the second-highest paid lineman, but likely won’t see that figure with the Vikings.
- Andre Smith (1.5): Made four starts on a one-year deal before suffering a season-ending triceps injury in Week 4. Played 181 snaps [17.2%] and gave up nine QB pressures (two sacks). More of a disappointment in the run game, where the retired Phil Loadholt left a massive hole. Flagged twice. Turns 30 this month. Pending free agent.
- T.J. Clemmings (1.0): Started 14 games at both left and right tackle after injuries forced him onto the field again. Led the team with 882 snaps [83.8%]. The former fourth-round pick was decent in his first start at left tackle, Week 3 in Carolina, but struggled to maintain any consistency throughout the season. Allowed a team-worst 58 QB pressures (nine sacks), which is the third-most registered across all O-line positions by PFF. Equally ineffective in the run game, where he was often unable to stick to and move defenders. Flagged eight times, including five holding calls.
- Zac Kerin (N/A): Active for nine games and played 118 snaps [11.2%] in spot duty,most at right guard against the Texans when the line allowed eight QB hits and seven tackles for losses.
- Matt Kalil (N/A): In a contract year, Kalil suffered a hip injury during an August practice and was placed on injured reserve with a torn labrum after two starts. Missed the first games of his five-year NFL career. Played 121 snaps [11.5%]. Pending free agent. The Vikings’ former top pick will need to prove he’s healthy wherever he lands.
- Rashod Hill (N/A): Rookie signed off the Jaguars practice squad in November to replace Long. Undrafted out of Southern Miss, Hill appeared in the season finale and played a decent 49 snaps against the lowly Bears.
- Mike Harris (N/A): Placed on the non-football illness list in August after a self-described ‘head injury’ in June. Forced to sit out his entire fifth NFL season. Harris said he hopes to play again, though he was not medically cleared at the end of the year. A pending free agent. Turned 28 last month.
- Willie Beavers (N/A): Drafted in the fourth round (121st overall) and released after camp, becoming the highest draft pick to not make his team. Spent much of a disappointing year on the practice squad. Active for two games, playing 11 snaps [1%] in an emergency spot.
- Austin Shepherd (N/A): A 2014 seventh-round guard/tackle released after camp. Spent time with the Chargers and Steelers before rejoining the Vikings practice squad.