Will Riley Reiff Haunt the Minnesota Vikings? | Zone Coverage

In the NFL, depth can be a determining factor. A violent sport where injury is commonplace, football’s best teams are often separated by whose bench players can step up in a moment of need. Back ups can make the difference between a 7-10 season and a playoff run.

Sitting 30 of their top players on Saturday against the Broncos, the Minnesota Vikings were essentially testing their depth. The results were not ideal. A 33-6 ass kicking and disappointing performances all over the field left Viking fans questioning the team’s second and third units.

With normal fear of injury and the league’s lowest vaccination rate, Minnesota may start to wish they had some of their offseason decisions back. Their biggest regret could be letting go of Riley Reiff.

Reiff’s release was considered a necessary move for a team that was pressed against the salary cap. With $11.75 in cap savings, the Vikings could get younger and cheaper at the position while dumping more money into their defense. The problem is that Reiff was better than they thought. Pro Football Focus graded Reiff 36th out of 92 qualifying tackles last season and his 21 pressures allowed ranked 49th. But more impressive was that he didn’t allow a sack all season. This is even more admirable considering that Reiff was playing next to Dakota Dozier, who was one of the worst guards in football.

At 31 years old, it’s hard to tell whether Reiff could repeat that performance. But a steady veteran presence on the offensive line is exactly what this team is missing.

It starts with Christian Darrisaw, who the Vikings were counting on to be their Week 1 starter. A second groin surgery isn’t a death sentence for his career but could guarantee a slow start for 2021. Because of cap limitations, the Vikings will have to use Rashod Hill in his place.

Hill is a serviceable backup but shouldn’t be relied upon to be a starter. In his last start at left tackle, Hill allowed four pressures against a Detroit Lions team that mailed it in for Week 17. The last time he was a long-term starter in 2018, he lasted seven games before being replaced by Brian O’Neill.

If Hill struggles at left tackle, it creates a domino effect for the rest of the offensive line. Ezra Cleveland, who is just getting used to playing left guard, will have to pick up the slack to account for Hill’s issues. With Cleveland moving to his left, it leaves Garrett Bradbury against bigger, stronger defensive tackles which have been his kryptonite since entering the NFL.

That leaves the right side of the offensive line in a world of trouble. Wyatt Davis has struggled to get on the field and was last seen playing behind Dakota Dozier, who had two penalties and two pressures allowed against the Broncos. If the Vikings can’t figure out right guard, that leaves O’Neill to fend for himself on the edge. While O’Neill has played well, the other four components of the offensive line could nullify his efforts.

All of this would happen in front of Kirk Cousins, who needs everything around him to function in order to succeed. While he could rise above the situation, Cousins hasn’t done that throughout his career. At 32 years old, it’s hard to imagine that will change.

With a schedule that includes some of the NFL’s elite pass rushers, the loss of Reiff could be the one that’s felt the hardest this season. In a year where everything is on the line, the Vikings could open the season staring across at the one player that could have made the biggest difference.