clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Vikings Camp Evaluations, Part I: Offense

New, comments

Eric Thompson starts his assessment of every player on the Vikings roster based on what he saw in Mankato.

The final night practice in Mankato gave some great insight into who will be impact players for the Vikings in 2017.
Thad Chesley

It was bittersweet to leave Vikings Training Camp in Mankato for the final time late Saturday night. I stayed on the field until they turned the floodlights off, soaking in everything I could. I watched players tossing commemorative footballs into the crowd and chasing their kids around the field. I admired stars staying well after practice to sign nearly every autograph for fans. I looked skyward for every last moment of the final fireworks show. I have now covered a handful of night practices from Blakeslee Stadium for Daily Norseman; the atmosphere of the final edition in 2017 will always be a special memory.

Of course, I couldn’t just stand there for three hours soaking up the nostalgia all night. I had work to do! Saturday marked my fourth day in Mankato. I used most of that time to get an idea of where all 90 players stood as the team transitions from camp in Mankato to the preseason in Buffalo on Thursday. I watched drills closely, saw how players performed in 11-on-11, and took pages upon pages of notes.

And now I’m going to share those notes with you!

So how is this all going to work? I’ll go position by position for every player on the Vikings offense and give my brief evaluation of what I saw from them during my time in Mankato last week. Think of it as a CliffsNotes version of Training Camp for each player. These won’t be comprehensive evaluations; they will simply be blurbs giving you a general idea of how I thought the player performed. After each mini-evaluation, I will provide where I think the player will end up after the final 53 is announced: lock, bubble, practice squad, or cut.

Got it? Good.

But before we get started, please enjoy nearly 200 high-quality images from our intrepid photographer Thad Chesley. Once again, he did an amazing job of capturing a ton of great moments from the night practice in Mankato. Scroll through to make it feel like you were there on the field!

Quarterbacks

Sam Bradford

Teddy who? I kid, I kid! Put down your pitchforks and torches. That said, I think the offense is in pretty good hands with Bradford this season. Although it feels like we have been debating his merits in Minnesota for the better part of a decade, this was Bradford’s first (and last) Mankato experience. And he was pretty damn impressive. He had a rather quiet start to camp, but he certainly finished with a flourish. There were a handful of intermediate and long throws that Bradford fit into very tight windows during the Saturday night practice. His accuracy has always been great, and the confidence in his receivers and the offense seems to be growing. There are still a lot of ways the Vikings offense could falter in 2017. Right now, I wouldn’t put Bradford very high on that list. He should be just fine as long as the line can keep him upright.

Prediction: Lock

Case Keenum

After watching a week of camp, I have Keenum second on the depth chart at QB. He’s a lot closer to third than he is to first though. Keenum did well enough on short and intermediate passes, but anything long was a real struggle for him. His lack of arm strength was incredibly noticeable. On anything long, he’d change his delivery to where he sort of rocked back on his back foot before lunging forward and launching a (usually inaccurate) pass. His pocket presence was OK, but he probably would have been clocked several times if it weren’t for his red jersey. I think the Vikings are getting about what they thought they would when they signed Keenum—a relatively inexpensive stopgap that could come in for a game or two without mucking things up too badly. But if Bradford goes down for an extended period of time...watch out.

Prediction: Lock

Taylor Heinicke

I was really excited to see the comeback of Heinicke last week. The reviews of his first week of camp were a bit mixed but many people thought he had a chance at winning the QB2 job. For the four days I was in Mankato, that definitely did not seem to be the case. Heinicke struggled mightily with his accuracy and decision making. It actually looked like he had regressed since being the surprise third stringer his rookie year. I liked some of what he did moving around in the pocket, but definitely not throwing on the move. Heinicke’s lack of arm strength reared its ugly head even more than it did with Keenum.

Prediction: Bubble. I’m assuming the Vikings will keep all three healthy quarterbacks, even with Teddy there. But if they don’t, Heinicke is out.

Teddy Bridgewater

Get well soon! Again, the #1 “problem” I’m praying for the Vikings to have at the end of the year is deciding between a 100% healthy Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford coming off a career year.

Prediction: PUP list. Hopefully not IR after Week 6, but it wouldn’t surprise me either.

Running backs

Dalvin Cook

The hype is real, you guys. He hasn’t played a down of professional football yet, but it’s impossible not to get excited about Cook’s potential. Cook is an incredibly gifted athlete and an incredibly skilled runner, which could be a lethal combination. I think I was most impressed with how he sets up his blocks. He can casually hit the hole, wait until a defender commits, and then use his amazing lateral quickness to burst through on the other side. He reminded me a bit of Le’Veon Bell in that respect. (OK, that’s probably too lofty of a comparison for a rookie—let’s call it Le’Veon Lite.) Plus his pass catching and blocking looked much more natural than the last guy. The Vikings might have something special on their hands with Cook.

Prediction: Lock

Latavius Murray

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see him in action as he returned to the first practice after I left camp. The one thing that everyone in Mankato noticed about Murray even though he wasn’t taking snaps: his size. At 6’3” and 230 lbs, Murray is huge compared to most running backs. Obviously I can’t assess his play, but I’m sure he will be a healthy part of the offensive attack, especially in short yardage and red zone situations.

Prediction: Lock

Jerick McKinnon

Jet had a rough start to camp thanks to being a little banged up, but by Saturday night he was reminding everyone what his strengths were. McKinnon can still dart around the field like a water bug and flash his incredible athleticism. His pass blocking and running between the tackles still leave a lot to be desired though. Don’t draft him on your fantasy team, but don’t completely forget about him either. Jet should still be able to make some plays here and there.

Prediction: Lock

Bishop Sankey

I was pleasantly surprised with some of what Sankey did at camp. He’s an excellent athlete that made some surprising physical displays in camp and flashed a few nice runs on Saturday night. That said, his vision wasn’t anything special and he tended to get stopped by the first defender more often than not.

Prediction: Bubble. He might be worth keeping around, but I don’t see how he passes the three guys in front of him on the depth chart.

Terrell Newby

Newby did everything that was asked of him at camp. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t asked to take many reps and he didn’t do much of anything that stood out during those reps.

Prediction: Cut

C.J. Ham

I must admit that Ham has taken to learning fullback on the fly much better than I expected. His blocking technique was really good and he seemed to be in the right place most of the time with his assignments.

Prediction: Bubble. It all comes down to whether the Vikings keep a fullback. If they do, it’s obviously Ham. If not, it’s probably the Practice Squad.

Wide Receivers

Stefon Diggs

Smooth. As. Silk. Diggs makes everything look effortless. His route running is flawless and his chemistry with Bradford looks great. The only knock I can think of is that his size prevents him from consistently winning contested catches. Luckily for Diggs, he can consistently create enough separation to erase that issue.

Prediction: Lock

Adam Thielen

It has been so incredible to see Thielen’s progression from year to year at Training Camp. From undrafted free agent that was invited almost as a courtesy to Practice Squad body to special teams ace to out-of-nowhere breakout receiver to legitimate NFL starter, Thielen has had to prove himself every step of the way. And now that he’s firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, don’t expect him to ease up. His route running continues to improve and his hands are top notch.

Prediction: Lock

Laquon Treadwell

Well, at least we won’t have to worry about a sophomore slump, right? Unfortunately, Tread was another guy I didn’t get to see in action due to the hamstring he suffered running routes and definitely not scrapping with Antone Exum. (Wink, wink.) By all accounts he looked better before the injury. I’m still concerned that he might have some trouble getting out of his own way though. At this point, we shouldn’t be focusing on whether he was worth that first round pick last year. Let’s just hope that he can be a meaningful contributor to the offense. If he keeps his head on straight, I think he will be.

Prediction: Lock

Michael Floyd

The first word I wrote in my notes about Floyd: WOW. There is no wasted movement with this guy. He can catch just about everything in his zip code with that frame of his. If he can put his off-field issues behind him, there could be a bright future in front of him in his home state.

Prediction: Lock (when he returns from his four-game suspension)

Jarius Wright

He’s baaaaaack. After being relegated to an afterthought since the very beginning of the 2016 season, it looks like Wright is poised to rejoin the ranks of meaningful Vikings contributors. Wright made a lot of excellent plays out of the slot in camp, especially getting extra yards after the catch. I’m still a little concerned as to exactly how many snaps he’ll get when the regular season starts, but in my opinion he has earned them.

Prediction: Lock

Stacy Coley
Rodney Adams

I had to include these two together because it seems like they are in direct competition with each other. Both players were switching back and forth in the return game and getting similar reps with the second and third teams for most of camp. Although Coley was drafted two rounds after Adams, I think Coley has had the edge. His route running looks cleaner and he has been much more consistent. Adams was supposed to be the superior returner coming into camp, but he looked extremely uncomfortable fielding punts for the most part. Kick returns were more or less a dead heat; that will be much easier to evaluate when they’re going full speed in the preseason.

Prediction: Coley: Lock, Adams: Practice Squad. I think both of them could make the roster to start the season but Adams would get bumped when Floyd returns. Of course, both of those could change drastically based on how each performs in the preseason.

Cayleb Jones

I wasn’t expecting much of anything out of Jones heading into camp, but I came away quite impressed. He found his way through coverage for some easy catches and used his big frame to make some contested catches. He could be known for something other than “Zay Jones’ brother” a year or two down the road.

Prediction: Practice Squad

Isaac Fruechte

I love a good “local kid makes it on the big stage” story as much as anyone. (See Thielen, Adam.) But unlike Thielen, who showed vast improvement from year to year, I felt like this was pretty much the same Fruechte was saw last year. I think the only way he’s making the team is if the coaches confuse him for Thielen as much as the crowds in Mankato did.

Prediction: Practice Squad or Cut

RJ Shelton

Much like Jones, I expected Shelton to be nothing more than a camp body. However, I really admired his sharp route running and ability to play above and beyond his relative physical limitations. Did I like him enough to think he has a legitimate shot to make the 53? Nah. But I was still pleasantly surprised.

Prediction: Practice Squad or Cut

Moritz Böhringer

Ahh, MoBo. We were all rooting for you. But after watching him for a week at camp, I would have to put him dead last on the wide receiver depth chart. The athleticism is still there. He has seemed to slightly improve compared to last season. But absolutely everything he does on the field looks forced. Böhringer simply isn’t sure enough of himself to be a productive wide receiver. It was a fun story and an interesting project. Now it’s a project that should probably be coming to an end in a couple weeks.

Prediction: Cut

Tight Ends

Kyle Rudolph

Rudy finally eclipsed the 500 yard mark and set career highs in every category except touchdowns in 2016. He led the team in targets last year and should be at or near the top of that list again this year. His route running and ability to catch anything near him were definitely on display throughout camp. Rudolph’s blocking remains decent at best, but he probably won’t be asked to do a ton of it in this offense. I really liked how he was lining up all over the field to create mismatches both outside and in the slot. If the offensive line can improve as we hope, there’s no reason to believe that Rudolph can’t produce even more this season.

Prediction: Lock

David Morgan

The Rhett Ellison 2.0 comparisons are probably a little lazy and predictable, but the shoe fits in this case. Morgan was the second tight end in every big set throughout camp and his blocking remains top-notch. The coaching staff seems to have made a concerted effort to get him more involved in the passing game this year. Morgan will never blow anyone away with his speed, but I think he could prove to be a solid red zone target that could snag a few touchdowns this year.

Prediction: Lock

Bucky Hodges

I wouldn’t say that Bucky had a disappointing camp, but perhaps our lofty Mr. Mankato expectations for him were a little overstated. He definitely flashed his athleticism and pass catching ability. He also showed his rawness and massive room to improve in the blocking game. We should be excited about Hodges’ potential going forward, although we probably shouldn’t expect him to make an instant impact.

Prediction: Lock

Kyle Carter

If there was a “Most Improved” award for this group, Carter would win it easily. His catching, route running, and blocking consistency seem to finally be catching up with the measurables he had coming out of Penn State. He really stood out in camp among the second teamers. In fact, as of right now, Carter is probably a more complete tight end than Hodges.

Prediction: Bubble. If the Vikings keep four tight ends—and I think they will—Carter should be that fourth.

Nick Truesdell

His size is immediately striking. Truesdell looks every bit of his listed 6’6” and 252 pounds. However, he seemed to sort of drift in and out during camp. He wasn’t consistent enough for me to put him ahead of the other names on this list.

Prediction: Cut. Maybe Practice Squad.

Josiah Price

Reps were extremely hard to come by for Price. He certainly looks the part and showed some athleticism and fluidity from what I saw. Still, there wasn’t enough for me to go off of to think that he’ll make the roster.

Prediction: Cut

Offensive Line

Riley Reiff

Another one that I was forced to give a grade of “incomplete” because he just started practicing again on Monday. He should still win the starting gig at left tackle and be markedly better than Matt Kalil. So that’s good, right?

Prediction: Lock

Rashod Hill

Rashod had a really rough time the first day I was in Mankato, but he certainly finished the week on a good note. He made Everson Griffen work for everything he got, which is no small task. Toward the end of the week, he was frequently winning one-on-one drills. (And letting everyone know about it. #TACKLESWAGGER) If either free agent tackle goes down or struggles this year, I now have a lot more confidence that Hill can be a very serviceable swing tackle.

Prediction: Lock

Alex Boone

It looks as though Boone’s bite might be doing a better job of backing up his bark this season. He seems to have really grown into his role, especially opening up holes in the run game. Boone looks 100% healthy and 100% ready to live up to his Rhino nickname.

Prediction: Lock

Nick Easton

At the beginning of Training Camp, most people assumed that Easton was taking reps with the 1’s just a placeholder until Pat Elflein was ready. After watching him in Mankato, I think he might actually hang onto the starting gig to start the season. He won’t make the Pro Bowl or anything, but from what I saw he was probably the more consistent and reliable option at center.

Prediction: Lock

Pat Elflein

I definitely don’t think Elflein had a bad Training Camp by any means. He just showed a lot of the inconsistencies that you might expect from a rookie that’s competing to start for one of the tougher positions on the offense. My only concern was the slight case of the yips he has been having with shotgun snaps. Other than that, I still saw the potential for him to be the long-term solution for the Vikings in the middle of the line. Just maybe not Week 1 like many of us expected.

Prediction: Lock

Joe Berger

The crafty veteran is five years older than any offensive player currently on the Vikings roster, and I think it’s starting to show a bit this year. Berger, who contemplated retirement in the offseason, is definitely on the last legs of his career. That said, he hasn’t fallen off a cliff quite yet and is still a serviceable NFL starter. Will that be the case by the end of the season, especially with some of the younger up and comers that could rotate in at right guard? We’ll see.

Prediction: Lock

Danny Isidora

Speaking of those young up and comers, here’s one of them now! Isidora had a really impressive camp. He showed great initial push and leverage in drills and 11-on-11. What he needs to clean up before he cracks the starting lineup is his consistency. He got beaten pretty badly here and there due to missteps in his footwork and hand placement. But overall there was a lot to be excited about.

Prediction: Lock

Mike Remmers

So far we’re getting about what you could expect based on Remmers’ career: namely, really good run blocking and really suspect pass blocking. Remmers was beaten around the edge pretty frequently throughout camp, which is sure to make Vikings fans nervous. The good news? If Remmers proves to be a total liability against the pass rush when the season starts, Hill could come in and be an excellent substitute.

Prediction: Lock

Willie Beavers

You might want to be sitting down for this: Beavers actually looked pretty good for most of camp. I know! I can’t believe it either! This is the same guy that was waived after being a fourth round pick! Believe it or not, Beavers has actually shown a good amount of improvement this year. He looked much more confident and physical. And yes, he still gets caught up too high at times which leads to easy pressures. Yes, I still think using a fourth round pick for him was a mistake. Yes, if he has to be in the starting lineup for a large amount of time, I’ll be extremely nervous for Bradford. But he might be turning into a viable backup right before our very eyes.

Prediction: Bubble. But man, I really think he makes it.

T.J. Clemmings

Maybe I’m overreacting to all the Clemmings PTSD I endured over the past two seasons, but I’m ready to move on at this point. I will admit that it seems like guard is a much better fit for him than tackle. I just think there are better options along the interior line on the roster.

Prediction: Bubble. If the Vikings keep ten offensive linemen, He’ll probably make it. I’m A-OK with him getting cut though.

Jeremiah Sirles

At this point in his career, you’re pretty much getting what you get with Sirles. And if you remember last season, that wasn’t much better than Clemmings. I didn’t notice anything markedly different in his play compared to last year. His versatility is a plus for depth, but I wasn’t really impressed with anything I saw from him.

Prediction: Bubble. I could see it going either way, and I think I would be fine with either decision.

Zac Kerin

Remember when we all tried to talk ourselves into Kerin as a viable option last year? That was fun. Much like Sirles, his ability to play multiple positions is probably his greatest asset at this point. Also like Sirles, I think the Vikings have better options in front of him.

Prediction: Cut

Austin Shepherd

I was all set for Shepherd to make a jump into the Vikings’ offensive line rotation this year. The potential he showed at times over the past two years combined with his Alabama pedigree had me expecting bigger things out of him. I did not see said bigger things. In fact, he looked a little worse if anything.

Prediction: Cut

Reid Fragel

Fragel’s most memorable moment from Training Camp: getting booted from practice by Mike Zimmer. What wasn’t memorable: his blocking.

Prediction: Cut

Freddie Tagaloa

The dude is absolutely gigantic and he looks like he could be in the Dothraki army. And that’s where the positives end for me. Tagaloa got stood up and lost his leverage way too easily for someone of his size. His technique needs a lot of cleaning up.

Prediction: Cut, maybe a Practice Squad flier to develop him

Aviante Collins

Look, there are 90 guys out there that I’m trying to evaluate in a week. I can’t have in-depth insights on everyone. Honestly, I barely noticed Collins out there for most of my time at camp. I probably wasn’t the only one.

Prediction: Cut


Whew! And just like Bon Jovi, we’re halfway there. Stay tuned for my evaluations of every player on defense and special teams coming later this week.