Minnesota Vikings sophomore spotlight: OL Austin Shepherd

Austin Shepherd made the 53-man roster last year, but his task will be just as big this year with more depth on the offensive line.

The Minnesota Vikings had 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft. One year after their selection, it’s time to look back on their careers before joining the Vikings, their rookie seasons and a preview of what lies ahead of them during their sophomore seasons.

The Minnesota Vikings continued to try and add to the depth of their offensive line by drafting their third offensive tackle, Alabama’s Austin Shepherd, in the 2015 draft. Despite the fact that he played right tackle in college, a lot of experts see him more as a guard in the NFL. That is where he played at the Senior Bowl, and his versatility was a big reason the Vikings coaching staff and front office decided to pick him up with the first of their two seventh-round picks.

Before the Vikings

Shepherd is used to being a part of a winning program, no matter what level he is playing at. He played on varsity at his high school for three seasons, where his team amassed a win-loss record of 36-6. He then committed to the University of Alabama in 2010 and the program went 58-9 with two Nation Championship wins.

What analysts said

“He can mirror in pass protection and takes good angles that help him get to his zone-blocking responsibilities. He’s a worker bee who can use technique and effort to win more snaps than he should against more talented players. He can be an NFL backup with the potential to become a starter.” - NFL.com bottom line


“I felt that Austin Shepherd had a chance to be drafted, and I had him as a sixth-round prospect at one point. The Vikings must have agreed on his value, but I’m not sure where he fits in with all the players at the position currently on the roster.” - WalterFootball.com

“Trimmed, well-proportioned frame with adequate build. Quick set with active hands. Consistent upper and lower body technique with correct hand placement to attack rushers with his punch. Plays sticky with good-enough lateral athleticism and foot quickness on the edges. Uses body position in the run game to seal and wall-off run lanes, beating defenders to the spot. Smart and well-coached with excellent awareness to anticipate pressures and recognize stunts and twists. Boasts a healthy appetite for football with a finishing attitude. Coachable hard worker with high character on the field and off. Two-year starter in the SEC at right tackle (27 career starts) and has versatility to move inside to guard, practicing there during the Senior Bowl.” - Dane Brugler, CBS Sports

2015 season

Shepherd had an uphill battle from Day 1 of offseason activities after being drafted in the seventh round and having two offensive tackles get drafted by the Vikings before him. It originally seemed as though the Vikings were going to slide Shepherd inside to guard, but at the end of the process they kept him on the outside, playing as the backup right tackle.

He saw the field from time to time during his rookie season when T.J. Clemmings missed a couple plays because he got banged up, and on special teams. But where he got the most action was as the team’s “jumbo” tight end in goal-line packages, where he would come in as an extra blocker.

2016 outlook

Shepherd is once again facing an uphill battle if he hopes to make the 53-man roster at the start of the regular season. The Vikings are very deep at the offensive tackle position after bringing in free agent Andre Smith and getting Phil Loadholt and Carter Bukowski back from injury. His best bet to make the roster may be as a guard, but even then it will be a stretch if everyone remains healthy. 

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