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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings lack of offseason O-line moves shows confidence in Nick Easton

By Matthew Coller

One of the biggest storylines heading into Minnesota Vikings training camp will be the right side of the offensive line.

Will Mike Remmers play tackle or guard? Will second-round pick Brian O’Neill earn a job? Will Rashod Hill end up as the Day 1 starter?

“It just depends on how everything shakes out,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “This week we decided to keep him at tackle maybe next week we’ll put him at guard, but at this point Rashod Hill was a little bit banged up this week so we said lets keep him there and look at him again this week. We can look at [Danny] Isidora at guard, [Tom] Compton at guard and kind of see where we’re at there and then move forward.”

The focus will be entirely on the right side because it’s become clear that the Vikings are set on the left with Nick Easton as their starting guard.

Heading into training camp 2017, Easton was set to battle for the starting center spot with rookie Pat Elflein. In limited time at guard, Easton demonstrated a more effective skill set than Alex Boone in the zone running scheme, which was designed to fit Dalvin Cook’s vision and explosiveness.

With Easton starting, the Vikings’ offense performed at a high level in the run game and short passing game even when Cook went down for the season with an ACL tear. They finished seventh in rushing yards per game

Easton’s late-season injury took a toll on the Vikings’ O-line in the playoffs. Following his injury, Zimmer talked about Easton’s season and where he would be missed the most. On December 24, Zimmer said:

“Nick did a really good job. He’s a tough kid, smart, very competitive. We’ll miss him. He’s very, very athletic. But I thought he played well, really all year long. He had to learn the guard position because we moved him from center to guard early on. I thought he really got better and better.”

“Not just with the screen passes but some of the other things because he could get to the second level and use his athleticism. I think it had a lot to do with it. We got some more athletic guys in there, we were a little bit shorter in stature. I thought it helped our offense quite a bit.”

While the head coach seemed pleased and the front office made it clear by their lack of action that they were happy with Easton’s play, there is a discrepancy between their view and his grades from the football analytics site Pro Football Focus, which works with all 32 NFL teams. Easton ranked 58th of 77 guards.

If we look closer at his grades we can see clearer why the Vikings are confident in Easton.

For starters, the Harvard-trained lineman did not a allow a sack in his first season at left guard. He ranked seventh in the PFF stat Pass Blocking Efficiency, giving up just 12 total pressures. Easton was one of only five guards who played 50 percent of snaps that did not give up a sack last year.

Grades also don’t take into account quality of competition. Easton’s worst two games came against Cameron Heyward and Aaron Donald, who ranked 10th and first respectively by PFF. His other two regrettable games were against Atlanta, (Grady Jarrett ranked 14th), Carolina (Kawaan Short ranked third) and Tampa Bay (Gerald McCoy ranked eighth).

Easton also matched up with Geno Atkins (second), Akiem Hicks (14th), Mike Daniels (16th) and Brandon Williams (19th). His best graded game was against Atkins.

Another important distinction about Easton’s game is his ability to break open explosive plays. A less athletic player who was inferior in space might have fewer negative plays, but also play a role on fewer big gains. Think of a batter who hits a solid .275 with a handful of home runs compared to one that hits .230 and hits 25 bombs.

Here is an example of a home run from Easton that you wouldn’t see from the majority of guards:

As you can see, Easton hustles to hit the safety on a screen pass to Stefon Diggs, breaking open a game-changing play that helped seal the Thanksgiving Day win for the Vikings.

At 6-foot-3, 300-pounds, Easton isn’t big for his position. But he ran a 5.10 40-yard dash at his pro day in 2015, which would have been the sixth fastest at the NFL Combine and only 0.05 behind No. 5 overall pick guard Brandon Scherff.

So not only is it likely that we see Easton grade better this year, but his athleticism will play a role in new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo maximizing the talents of Dalvin Cook and help create a more versatile offense. Even if there are times where he is overpowered, the Vikings appear to have decided he is the guy at left guard because see the ups as much higher than the downs.

The post Vikings lack of offseason O-line moves shows confidence in Nick Easton appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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