If a comfortable Kirk Cousins is a capable Kirk Cousins, then a lot depends on the performance of the person snatching the football. In Minnesota, that’s Garrett Bradbury.
A first-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bradbury looked like a bust after three seasons playing for the Purple and Gold. In fact, he temporarily lost his starting spot in 2021. C1’s injury opened the door for Mason Cole and the journeyman was really an improvement.
Thankfully, last season proved to be a turning point for the North Carolina alumnus. Kevin O’Connell’s work under attack and under the tutelage of offensive line coach Chris Cooper seemed to revive the beleaguered center. The question, however, is whether there is more upside to this.
Is Bradbury still getting better? If so, the Vikings’ offense would get an unexpected boost.
Garrett Bradbury and the Vikings’ 2023 offense
The major trend in the offseason has been to say goodbye to veterans, many of whom are still strong players. Patrick Pietersen, Dalvin Tomlinson and Chris Boyd were not brought back. Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks were cut. Za’Darius Smith was traded. Cameron Dentzler was waived.
However, not Garrett Bradbury.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed a brand new deal for his starting centre. A 3-year, $15.75 million deal retains Mr. to the city of Bradbury during the 2025 season. Importantly, a pair of zero years have been added on the backend to bring down the price in the short term. His cap charge in 2023 is a very modest $2,629,805. In other words, the share of the Center in the budget this year will be 1.2%.
The expectations were high when I left college. An incredible athlete, Bradbury seemed like the perfect fit for Minnesota. He would immediately take over at center, allowing the team to flip Pat Elflein to guard, potentially improving a few spots to a single draft pick.
And, of course, Bradbury seemed to live up to the hype. Led by a 4.92 forty and 34 reps on the bench press, Bradbury put in a truly sensational performance. 9.96 RAS score, In other words, the NFL has rarely seen a physically gifted center like him.
However, what soon became apparent is that he would struggle at pass safety. In particular, he will struggle to become a strong defensive tackle. A consistent inability to anchor effectively means that Cousins usually faces pressure right in the middle.
During his first three seasons in the NFL, Bradbury committed 10 holding penalties. During that same time frame, he allowed 11 sacks. Pressure in the middle was a consistent feature of his time.
In the last season, the story changed. His holding penalty was reduced to 0. Likewise, their sacks shrunk; He allowed a pair. His overall pass blocking grade finished at 68.1, easily the best mark of his career.
He struggled in the playoffs, but some have attributed this to his recent return from injury. Putting up a 28.0 pass blocking grade against the Giants in the Wild Card Round was still discouraging. He was tired allowing 5 pressures, 4 QB hits and 1 rush. He also added a penalty.
Despite his improvement in the regular season, Cousins was still sacked too often. Kirk Cousins was dismissed 46 times, the most in his career. The basic reality is that Minnesota’s pro will need to improve in 2023.
Some of the improvement would come from running the ball more effectively, which would bring more balance and unpredictability to the offense. In addition, running well on first and second downs creates more manageable passing situations. Throwing on 3 and 9 is different from 3 and 3. Plus, adding Jordan Addison and having TJ Hockenson have a full season should help. Excellent pass catchers can open up quickly, meaning OLs don’t need to hold their blocks for as long.
Still, Bradbury is carrying a heavy load. Finding a way to somehow ensure that it continues to grow rather than just keep up is an oft-overlooked way for Minnesota to establish itself in the NFC North once again. In fact, getting someone like Jason Kelce approaching the game — an impossibly high standard — would represent a boon for the Vikings.
Most recently, PFF placed Vikings’ OL 15th in league, Along with Ed Ingram, Bradbury was listed as a “weak link and in need of upgrading”. The game is well said to be improving, but the hope is that both are still getting better. In fact, having a DT-stifling player under center would go a long way in making Kevin O’Connell’s second year surprisingly successful.