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Oli Udoh made great strides this offseason.
After two NFL seasons where he played sparingly, Udoh earned the starting right guard position in 2021 after a strong training camp and decent preseason.
Udoh looked good in the first three games of this year. Then, he hit a snag. The right guard tallied a PFF grade of 54.9 in the Browns game in Week 4.
Udoh dropped off harder after that. He earned a PFF grade of less than 42 against both the Lions and Panthers.
Look, PFF grades are helpful, but the scoring is not the end-all-be-all. Looking at other things, though, Udoh has not been great. He is among the most-penalized players in the NFL with six accepted so far. Udoh had highlight-reel blocks against the Cardinals in Week 2. But recently, it’s gotten harder and harder to notice his positive qualities during games.
OK, here’s why the Vikings should stick with him. Yes, yes, the Browns game where he gave up seven hurries was horrendous. Outside of that, he has allowed six hurries. That isn’t perfect — and of course, you can’t just discount bad games —but Udoh has shown enough promise against some decent competition to keep his starting spot.
Also, Udoh tallied four penalties in the Carolina game alone. The same thing goes for the Panthers game: you can’t rule it out; it’s still a bit concerning, but there have also been games where he’s played pretty cleanly.
The Vikings should be reluctant to give the starting reigns to someone else with the team’s current guard depth. Dakota Dozier, serving on the team’s practice squad, is most likely not a starting-caliber guard in 2021. Dozier struggled in a starting role in 2020.
There’s also Wyatt Davis. I know some Vikings fans are clamoring for Davis, but the rookie might need time to adjust to the NFL. He was a third-round pick for a reason. In my mind, there is a tendency among fans to look at unknown quantities on the roster — like Davis, who has zero starts and no offensive snaps this year — and think they must be better than players who are earning more reps and faltering at times.
However, Dru Samia is proof an enticing draft prospect isn’t always going to thrive as a starter in the league.
Udoh’s strong start to the year should help him keep his starting job through a few bad games. Based on the bust rate of draft prospects and the lack of depth strength on the interior of the Vikings’ offensive line, the team should stick with Udoh.
However, if Udoh struggles in his next several games, it might be time to say that his hot start was a flash in the pan. For now, the Vikings should keep Udoh in the starting lineup. Let’s see how he plays against the Cowboys and Ravens.