After spending much of the spring looking for ways to address their most prominent need, the Vikings took a step toward filling it Thursday night with the player they had hoped they wouldn’t have to live without.
The team selected North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury with the 18th overall pick in the NFL draft, adding the 2018 Rimington Trophy winner to a group they’re again trying to remake, this time with the guidance of their new offensive staff.
Bradbury is the first offensive lineman taken in the first round by the Vikings since Matt Kalil went fourth overall in 2012, and just the fourth lineman drafted in the first two rounds since general manager Rick Spielman joined the team in 2007.
The Vikings grew enamored of Bradbury during an extensive study of their offensive line options as they looked for players who could excel in the outside zone running scheme they will emphasize, with assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennison working with new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings’ new offensive coaches “know the exact type of guy they’re looking for.” It became obvious over the past few weeks that Bradbury was it.
“We’ve done an awful lot of work with all the offensive linemen,” Zimmer said. “This is a guy that’s been on our radar for quite a while. Gary Kubiak had an opportunity, all fall, to really evaluate a lot of college football players, and this was one of his favorite guys with the offensive group. And then, I was sitting in my office one day, and [defensive line coach] Andre Patterson was watching all of the defensive linemen — and obviously, there’s a lot of great defensive linemen in this draft. He came in and he said, ‘Who’s this center from N.C. State? This guy’s a really good football player.’ So that even intrigued me more.”
The former high school tight end proved his wares in the ACC while playing against four defensive linemen — Clemson’s Clelin Farrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and Florida State’s Brian Burns — who were taken ahead of him. His stock rose further this winter, when he stood out at the Senior Bowl and put up some of the best marks by an offensive lineman in the bench press, three-cone drill, short shuttle and 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
He talked to Spielman and Dennison at the Senior Bowl, and met with the Vikings again at the combine. On Friday, he will be introduced as one of the headline additions of the team’s offseason.
“I’m ready to help protect the quarterback, run the football,” Bradbury said. “I want to be on the field; I want to help the team win. I’m just excited to get started.”
Where Bradbury will play figures to be the next question. He was a left guard as a sophomore before playing his final two years at center. If he stays at that position, Pat Elflein could transfer to guard, where he played for three years in college. The Vikings figure to play free-agent addition Josh Kline at right guard.
Spielman and Zimmer demurred when asked whether Bradbury would be a guard or a center, though in his radio interview on KFAN after the Vikings’ pick, Zimmer called Bradbury “one of the best centers we’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“We’re just trying to get the best football players in here,” Spielman said. “And then, once we get into OTAs, when we get into training camp, the coaches will figure out the best combination.”
The Vikings have the 50th and 81st picks Friday, and could look to add to their offensive front again if they can find a player they like. But by taking an offensive lineman Thursday, they resisted whatever temptation they might have had to bolster their defensive front with one of the draft’s talented tackles. The straightforward pick, in the end, was the one the Vikings made.
“The one thing I know is, he doesn’t play corner,” said Spielman, who’d joked Tuesday his wife, Michele, had told him he could sleep in his office if he took a cornerback in the first round again. “So I can go home tonight.”