The Vikings were hoping they were getting a ten-year starter at left tackle when they drafted Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft. Based on his performance as a rookie, Kalil has met and exceeded all expectations.
A starter from Day One, Kalil did not miss even a single snap all season, participating in 1097-of-1097 offensive snaps in all 16 regular season games plus the team’s playoff loss at Green Bay. Linemen don’t get much statistical glory, so other than a blocked kick early in the season, he doesn’t stand out in a boxscore.
Kalil was billed as the only surefire premium pass protector in last year’s draft, and he did not disappoint. He displayed his unique blend of size, length and foot quickness from the start to be a highly proficient blind-side pass blocker from the very beginning, and rarely got any help in the protection schemes.
While outstanding, he wasn’t perfect. Depending how you grade things, Kalil may have allowed as many as six sacks on the season. However, at least four of those sacks were more the fault of the quarterback, in situations where he had his man blocked or ridden wide from the pocket, only to have the quarterback (Christian Ponder or Joe Webb) essentially break the pocket and run into a sack. Another involved a stunt miscommunication with left guard Charlie Johnson. The only truly clean sack he allowed all season might have been by Julius Peppers against the Bears in Week 11.
That said, like any left tackle, he faced plenty of top-end pass rushers this season and kept many of them quiet week in and week out.
There was some buzz among critics early on that he was a bit soft and not nearly as physical as his older brother, Ryan Kalil, the center with the Carolina Panthers. But the rookie quickly dispelled those notions very early on.
While his run blocking may still be a work in progress, he got better and better as the season developed and could hardly be criticized for not being physical enough. In fact, he picked up a pair of personal foul penalties over the course of the season for perhaps being a bit too physical (after the whistle).
Where he really stands out as a run blocker is downfield blocking in space, where his natural athleticism is simply a joy to watch. Perhaps the highlight play of his season came on Adrian Peterson’s big day against the St. Louis Rams on a sweep play in which Kalil literally launched a defender out of Peterson’s path en route to a long gain.
His rookie season culminated with a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii as an alternate. He can still continue to refine his game, get stronger and even more dominant in the running game. But Kalil has already established himself as one of the elite left tackles in the entire league – a home run pick for GM Rick Spielman.
Kevin Brown has been writing about the Vikings for 25 years with Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.