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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Fusco’s departure again shines a light on Spielman’s draft failures on the line

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings’ decision to release starting right guard Brandon Fusco on Friday not only served as a reminder of just how bad the offensive line had been in 2016, but it also eliminated the one lineman whom Rick Spielman could brag about having been right on when he used yet another late-round pick to attempt to find help at that position(s).

This has to be a sensitive subject around Winter Park considering the number of times the Vikings’ general manager has swung and missed in this area. And that doesn’t even address the part about not using more picks in the first three rounds on offensive linemen.

Spielman joined the Vikings in May 2006 as vice president of player personnel, but coach Brad Childress had the ultimate say on roster decisions until he was fired in November 2010. Spielman was not promoted to GM until after a 3-13 finish in 2011, but it’s fair to say he became the dominant voice in the draft room that year.

In 2011, the Vikings took offensive linemen Demarcus Love and Fusco in the sixth round. The following year, left tackle Matt Kalil was selected with the fourth overall pick. Guards Jeff Baca and Travis Bond were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively, in 2013; David Yankey was selected in the fifth round in 2014; tackles T.J. Clemmings (fourth round), Tyrus Thompson (sixth round) and Austin Shepherd (seventh round) were selected in 2015; and tackle Willie Beavers (fourth round) joined in 2016.

Kalil became an immediate starter, ended up in the Pro Bowl as a rookie but, partially because of injuries, hasn’t been the same since. He played in only two games this past season before undergoing season-ending hip surgery and is set to become a free agent in March.

Of the nine players taken in the fourth round or later, the only real success story had been Fusco. Selected out of Division II Slippery Rock, Fusco started all 16 games at right guard in 2012 and made 15 starts in 2013. He signed a five-year, $25 million extension the following year but shortly after suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle that ended his year after only three games.

Fusco, 28, was moved to left guard in 2015 to replace veteran Charlie Johnson. The Vikings hope was that Fusco’s presence would help Kalil but that did not happen.

Fusco was moved back to right guard this past season after Alex Boone signed as a free agent and started 14 games. Fusco, who missed two games because of a concussion, never regained the form he had shown before his injury. The Vikings’ brass decided that freeing up $3.2 million in salary-cap space was preferable to keeping Fusco around.

The Vikings are left looking for starting left and right tackles as well as a right guard. The only starters who appear certain to return are center Joe Berger, who could move to right guard if another center is found, and Boone, who signed a four-year, $26.8 million deal last year. Berger signed with the Vikings as a backup in 2011 after being let go by the Miami Dolphins.

Spielman’s draft picks, meanwhile, mostly have been busts. Love, Baca, Bond, Yankey and Thompson are no longer around. Shepherd was credited with appearing in 14 games in 2015 and spent last season on the practice squad. He was signed to a reserve/future contract by Minnesota after the season.

Beavers was the highest draft pick to be cut by an NFL team last season but returned to the Vikings and is on the roster. Clemmings’ struggles at left tackle in 2016 were well documented as he attempted to replace Kalil by moving to a position he had no business being asked to play.

The Vikings also jettisoned Mike Harris on Friday after he sat out the entire season because of an undisclosed injury. Harris had been the Vikings’ starting right guard in 2015 and his ability to play either guard or tackle would have helped a unit that needed all the assistance it could get.

The Vikings signed Harris in late August 2014 after he was released by the Chargers in what proved to be a wise pick up by Spielman.

Unfortunately for Spielman, the same can’t be said when it comes to his track record of drafting linemen. And the one guy he could brag about having plucked late in the draft, now also has been shown the door.

The post Zulgad: Fusco’s departure again shines a light on Spielman’s draft failures on the line appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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