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Vikings Training Camp Evaluations, Part I: Offense

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

With Kirk Cousins at the helm of John DeFilippo’s offense, the Vikings will look different in 2018. How did each of them perform in Training Camp?
Thad Chesley

For the Minnesota Vikings offense, it’s a brand new year at Training Camp in so many different ways. There’s a new $84 million man fronting a quarterback room that’s missing all three quarterbacks that were so heavily debated last year. There’s a new offensive coordinator fresh off a Super Bowl season ready to infuse new ideas after Pat Shurmur departed to lead the Giants. And last but not least, camp is now taking place at a brand new, state of the art facility that’s much closer to the Twin Cities.

Thanks to that last part, I was able to cover an amount of Training Camp that was previously unprecedented in my previous years at Daily Norseman. Instead of carving out three or four days to make the 90-minute drive to Mankato, I took the very short trip to Eagan no less than a dozen times over the course of camp this season. The extra time allowed me to get a much better feel for how the players performed throughout camp.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to agree with my evaluations more this year; it simply means that I’m providing my amateur scouting takes with a little more confidence and a lot more notes this time around.

For those of you that are new to my annual process after covering camp, allow me to explain. 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 Eagan. 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. Today we’ll discuss the offense; my evaluations of the defense and special teams will post tomorrow morning.

Got it? Good.

Before we get started, please enjoy part one of the high-quality images from our intrepid photographer Thad Chesley. Once again, he did an amazing job of capturing a ton of great moments last week in Eagan. Scroll through to make it feel like you were there on the sidelines!

Quarterbacks

Kirk Cousins

After a couple of press conferences, I joked that I couldn’t wait to vote for Senator Kirk Cousins in 2032. He always seems to know just what to say and do. Every response was perfectly thought out and calculated.

It’s the same on the field too. Cousins is excellent at reading the defense before the snap and following his progressions according to plan. He knows just what he needs to do to put the offense in the best possible position to succeed. But when things didn’t go according to plan, it seemed to get a little dicey at times for Cousins. While he is much better than his predecessor, Case Keenum, at finding open receivers and getting the ball out on time, he is definitely not the improviser that Keenum was in Minnesota.

For the most part I was very impressed with how Cousins handled himself in camp, and of course that drive he had to open the Denver game was impeccable. I have no doubt that he’ll rack up some impressive numbers with the weapons he has around him. But how he handles things when they aren’t the way he drew them up will ultimately be the difference that justifies his big payday.

Prediction: Lock

Trevor Siemian

Siemian was just about what you’d expect from an experienced backup. He had some good days, he had some bad days, and he had some that were just decent. His deep accuracy was a little better than I anticipated, but it still wasn’t outstanding. I liked what I saw from Siemian in the pocket; he was good at sensing pressure and quick enough to avoid a lot of it. The biggest negative I saw was his propensity to throw passes that the defense could get to. Siemian had too many near- and actual interceptions.

Would it be the end of the world if he’s needed for a spot start or two? No. Is he capable of coming in and having a Keenum-like run if he’s needed for a stretch this season? I seriously doubt it. Of course, last year I said “we’re screwed if Sam Bradford goes down” in this same space.

Prediction: Lock

Kyle Sloter

Sloter was stupendous in his “revenge game” at Denver last Saturday. I wish I could say the same about his performance in Training Camp. He was pretty erratic for the most part—lots of missed open receivers and throwing behind players on fairly easy throws. He has a little hitch at the very top of his delivery that seems to throw his timing off fairly often. Some members of the media I talked to in Eagan couldn’t believe this was the same guy that performed so well with the Broncos last preseason. While he had some impressive reps and throws, Sloter really struggled at times in camp.

But then you put him in an actual preseason game and all those deficiencies seem to melt away. Both touchdowns in Denver showed off what he’s capable of with his arm and with his legs. Apparently Sloter is just better in game situations? I guess if you had to pick between being bad in practice and being bad in games, you’d go with the former.

Prediction: Lock, unless the Vikings really surprise us and go with two QBs.

Peter Pujals

Thanks for coming out, Peter! Pujals barely got any reps in practice, and the fact that he didn’t play a snap in Denver should tell you all you need to know about his chances of making the team. He didn’t do anything egregiously bad, but he also didn’t do anything exceedingly good with his minimal opportunities.

Prediction: Cut, unless the Vikings insist having a QB on the Practice Squad.


Running backs/fullbacks

Dalvin Cook

We all know that Cook is coming off a pretty serious knee injury. If we didn’t, I’m not sure how you could tell on the practice field. He looks every bit as quick and explosive as he did last year before going down in the fourth game of the 2017 season. Cook was pretty heavily involved in the passing game in most practices as well; I think we’ll see some big plays on screens and wheel routes from him this year. The drops that hindered him a bit last season didn’t appear to be a problem so far. The team still had him on a bit of a pitch count, and he was (wisely) held out of the first preseason game. But the electricity emanating from every touch he did have should have Vikings fans and fantasy football players alike extremely excited.

Prediction: Lock

Latavius Murray

After last season, I thought I had Murray’s career path down. While he wasn’t the flashiest player ever, he could do a serviceable job. A good yet limited back that never really lived up to his great combine numbers. And you know what? That’s more than good enough to be in the rotation on an NFL roster, especially when you have someone like Cook.

But wow, was I pleasantly surprised with Murray in camp. He looks a bit leaner and a lot smoother out of the backfield this year. His two long runs against Denver backed up what I noticed on the practice field. While Murray won’t be the bell cow as long as Cook remains healthy, I think he will be more involved with the offense than many anticipate. Murray and Cook appear to have formed a great bond off the field. It looks like they could compliment each other on the field just as well.

Prediction: Lock

C.J. Ham

Ham made the transition to fullback a lot more seamlessly than most of us anticipated last year. This season he appears to be picking up right where he left off as an efficient blocker and a capable pass catcher. How often he’ll actually see the field when the games start to count remains to be seen in John DeFilippo’s new offense, but there is little doubt that he’ll perform well whenever he’s called upon.

Prediction: Lock (You can’t get rid of all the “HAM!” gifs on Twitter when he makes a play!)

Roc Thomas

How long does it take to go from a muddled, closely contested roster battle to darling of Training Camp and a “Mr. Mankato” front runner? If you’re Thomas, about 16 snaps and two big touchdowns. He did exactly what a fringe player needs to do to make the final 53—he showed what he did best when he was called upon. Thomas showed why he was such a stud with FCS Jacksonville State, racking up 131 yards on just eleven touches.

However, don’t call the third running back competition just yet. Eleven touches is still a very small sample size, and Thomas definitely wasn’t standing out as much in Eagan. He’s a solid runner between the tackles but he wasn’t exactly making a ton of guys miss in practice. Let’s see if he can keep the momentum going over the next three preseason games.

Prediction: Bubble. He probably has the RB3 spot locked down for now, but there is still a lot of preseason football to play.

Mike Boone

Before the game on Saturday, I thought Boone had the edge for that last running back roster spot. He stood out athletically, especially in the passing game. Boone never really separated himself over his competition as a runner, but I thought his ability catching passes as a change-of-pace back made him stand out over the others. He even had a couple of nice plays early on against the Broncos. Then of course, #RocNation happened. If Thomas is going to be that explosive in the passing game, I don’t think Boone can match him carrying the ball. Boone’s vision has left a lot to be desired, especially if the point of attack is muddled at all.

Prediction: Right now he seems like a great Practice Squad candidate. He still has a decent chance at the 53.

Mack Brown

Brown has two years of NFL experience on his undrafted rookie competitors, but he doesn’t have the reps in camp to back it up. Brown has been banged up for a good chunk of Training Camp and seems to be falling behind the other two with each missed practice. When he’s out there, I think Brown is probably the best between-the-tackles runner in the RB3 competition. But is it enough to garner him a roster spot, especially when hampered by injuries and relative age? (Brown is about four years older than both Thomas and Boone.) I have my doubts.

Prediction: Cut

Johnny Stanton

The quarterback-turned-linebacker-turned-three-other-positions-before-turned-fullback makes for a great story. Unfortunately for Stanton, it takes more than a great story to make an NFL roster. He is a hard worker and willing learner, but the learning curve is just too steep for him to have a chance at cracking this roster.

Prediction: Cut. Decent chance at the Practice Squad.


Wide Receivers

Stefon Diggs

The guy is just money. Literally. His precise route running is an absolute marvel to watch up close. Diggs and Cousins seem to have a pretty solid rapport already. The former fifth rounder has established himself as a key leader on the team. I saw more Diggs jerseys in the stands in Eagan than any other player. As long as he stays on the field this season, I think he’ll prove to be worth every last bit of that new payday.

Prediction: Lock

Adam Thielen

While Diggs might outperform his contract if things go well, Thielen’s deal is already highway robbery at this point. I still have to remind myself that this was once a borderline player that scratched his way onto the Practice Squad in his rookie season. Thielen looks like he belongs among the NFL’s top receivers in every way. He’s always getting open, even against the Vikings’ deep and talented secondary. Diggs and Thielen make an amazing 1-2 punch. (And an even better bromance.)

Prediction: Lock

Laquon Treadwell

I have two pressing questions about Treadwell after watching him for two and a half weeks in Eagan:

  1. Where the hell was this Treadwell the past two seasons?
  2. Will the progress he has made in camp actually translate into the regular season?

Treadwell showed so much more than I expected coming into camp. It seemed like he was going through the motions for his first two campaigns; now he’s doing all the little things right. He was using his big frame and reliable hands to catch everything thrown to his zip code. I lost count of how many times he made impressive contested catches, especially near the end zone.

Now, will he ever live up to that first round pick? Will he get a big bump in targets this season with so many other weapons on the offense? My answers right now: probably not and we’ll see. Getting one catch for three yards on 41 snaps Saturday wasn’t an ideal start to his preseason. But from what he showed us in camp, Treadwell should definitely be no lower than third on the wide receiver depth chart.

Prediction: Lock

Kendall Wright

“Hey look! It’s a slot receiver with the same number and last name as Jarius Wright! Five years in the league, over 300 career receptions, and he was actually competent on the terrible Bears offense last year! Perfect fit at slot receiver!”

Well...maybe.

Kendall Wright had a very quiet start to Training Camp. I thought he blended into the crowd far too often for someone with his pedigree. Thankfully he started to show up and make more plays as camp went along. I thought his best day was this past Tuesday. Perhaps he’s getting more familiar with his new teammates and offense? Either way he should still be in the mix for wide receiver depth.

Prediction: I’m fairly certain he’ll make the roster. But I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Quasi-lock?

Brandon Zylstra

After a gangbusters camp performance at the night practice at TCO, we were all ready to declare Zylstra a mortal lock to make the final 53. He stood out with at least one or two great catches in just about every practice.

Since then? Not so much. Zylstra has been sidelined with a hamstring issue for over a week now. With all the viable choices the Vikings seem to have to round out their roster at the position, the former CFL star needs to get back on the field sooner rather than later.

Prediction: Bubble. Right now, I’d put him on. Getting a preseason game or two in would really help his case though.

Stacy Coley

A lot like Zylstra, but a slight step below. When Coley has been out there, he has definitely looked worthy of a roster spot at times. Remaining out there has proven to be a problem in his young career though. His latest setback this week appears to be a little more serious than his previous nicks; Coley appears just as frustrated with his injury luck as the rest of us at the moment. A repeat of last year’s performance might not be good enough this time around.

Prediction: Bubble. I have him clinging to the sixth (and likely final) wide receiver spot for now, but that could change over the next few weeks.

Cayleb Jones

Jones’ size and strength jumped out at least once or twice every practice I watched. He’s easy to pick out on the field no matter what he’s doing. Jones really excelled in short yardage and red zone situations, as one would expect from such a big target. I’d like him to be a bit more consistent though. His route running and hands can let him down at times. There is still plenty of room for improvement there if he wants to ensure the next step from the Practice Squad.

Prediction: N/A as he’s suspended for the first four games. When he’s eligible to return and take up a roster spot? Definite bubble.

Tavarres King

Just like Zylstra and Coley, I’d like King’s chances a lot better if he participated in more of camp. Before getting hurt, he was one of my personal favorites to round out the wide receiver corps. But each practice he misses is another strike against him. Hopefully he’ll be able to show what he can do in the upcoming preseason games—he’ll need to.

Prediction: Bubble. On the outside looking in for me, but a good performance or two could change that.

Chad Beebe

If NFL passes were only allowed to travel ten yards or less in the air, Beebe would be an invaluable weapon. He was incredibly quick and shifty on everything underneath. I really liked the little things he did to consistently get open throughout camp. He used his body very well to get open for his touchdown on Saturday. However, he is really small relative to the other receivers in camp and did his damage almost exclusively in short yardage. I’d love to see him get a bit more polish before giving him a roster spot.

Prediction: Perfect Practice Squad candidate.

Jeff Badet

Badet is very speedy; he can get deep in a hurry and was in the rotation for kick returns throughout camp. Badet is also very small and the Vikings have other returners that they seem to prefer over him. There’s an outside chance that he could make an impact on special teams, but I don’t see it.

Prediction: Cut, decent shot at the Practice Squad.

Jake Wieneke

After watching him torch my alma mater a couple times while he was at South Dakota State, I had pretty high hopes for Wieneke coming into camp. I was kind of excited to end up rooting for a former rival. Sadly, I don’t see it happening. While Wieneke has good size and hands, he simply isn’t as fluid or proficient with his route running as others ahead of him on the depth chart.

Prediction: Cut

Korey Robertson

Robertson had a few moments that made the crowd “ooh” and “ahh” at camp. He had a few more moments that made the crowd groan. In very limited reps, I noticed more drops than impact catches. He simply didn’t do anything well enough to make himself stand out.

Prediction: Cut


Tight ends

Kyle Rudolph

We pretty much know what we have in Rudy at this point, right? He’s an excellent receiving tight end that’s especially potent in the red zone. He’s a very good route runner that can go up and get the ball. He’s a team leader and involved in about as many philanthropic endeavors as a player can be. He still isn’t a very good blocker, but that was never why he has been such an integral part of this offense throughout his career. Rudolph doesn’t seem to have quite as much chemistry with Cousins as some of the other major targets quite yet, but he’s still being targeted plenty in team drills. Rudy is still easily TE1.

Prediction: Lock

David Morgan

Morgan’s role took a big jump from 2016 to 2017, and I see him getting even more involved under DeFilippo this season. Already one of the better blocking tight ends in the league, it has been encouraging to see him develop more as a pass catcher each year. Morgan will never blaze past the defense for big plays, but he has very sure hands and fights for every inch once he gets the ball. He’s a great compliment to Rudolph on multiple tight end sets. I think he’ll have a big impact in 2018 even if he doesn’t consistently light up the box score.

Prediction: Lock

Tyler Conklin

I thought it was kind of an up-and-down camp for the fifth round rookie. He showed flashes of the potential that made him such a coveted target at Central Michigan. Conklin made a handful of really nice catches in practice. But don’t call him “Gronklin” just yet—he also showed flashes of having a lot to learn about the position at the NFL level. His blocking still needs quite a bit of work and some of his route running could be cleaned up. He’s a project, albeit a fairly promising one.

Prediction: Not quite a lock, but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t the third tight end.

Blake Bell

I wasn’t overly impressed with Bell’s performance in Eagan. While he was probably a bit more consistent than Conklin, his ceiling is much lower than the rookie. Bell is a tough and physical player that’s willing to do anything the coaches ask of him, but nothing he did in the passing game really caught my eye.

Prediction: Bubble. I’d say no, but keeping four tight ends isn’t unheard of either.

Josiah Price

When you’re waived just before camp only to be brought back a few days later to fill out the roster, that usually isn’t a great sign for your chances of making said roster. His reps were limited and I didn’t see a discernible jump in his skill set from last year’s camp.

Prediction: Cut. Outside chance at the Practice Squad.

Tyler Hoppes

I honestly forgot Hoppes was out there half the time. He was the very definition of a “camp body.” Hoppes got next to nothing when it came to reps and didn’t do anything amazing with the reps he got.

Prediction: Cut


Offensive line

Riley Reiff

In a unit that has seen its fair share of turbulence in Training Camp, Reiff has been one of the few reliable constants. I thought it was telling that Reiff was often used as the example when Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko were showing their charges offensive line drills. Reiff is no Joe Thomas, but he’ll be just fine as the starting left tackle. This line might have 99 problems, but Reiff ain’t one.

Prediction: Lock

Nick Easton

Sigh.

Certainty: Injured Reserve. Out for the year.

Pat Elflein

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything to go on from camp as Elflein has been on the PUP list to start the year. Fortunately, he seems to be making progress with the trainers on the side. The Vikings could really use him back by Week 1 to provide a little more continuity.

Prediction: Lock

Mike Remmers

Remmers hasn’t been the picture of health at camp himself, but he appears to be ready to return to action sooner rather than later. He’s the likely starting right guard when he returns. I still wish I was as convinced as the Vikings coaching staff that playing Remmers at right guard instead of right tackle is best for the offensive line as a whole. But hey, at this point, we’ll take all the bodies we can get.

Prediction: Lock

Rashod Hill

Hill might be setting the unofficial record for most injury scares in a single Training Camp. He was sick for a few days early on, was carted off on Monday only to return minutes later, and has missed a good chunk of time so far. If he is actually healthy to start the season, that should be...well, fine I guess. If there’s an embodiment of “average NFL tackle” out there, Hill would be it. I like how he rarely misses assignments and stays active in both pass blocking and run blocking. I do not like how easily he can get beaten on the edge at times.

Prediction: Lock

Tom Compton

I liked the Compton signing because of his experience, his ability to play multiple positions on the line, and his familiarity with Cousins. He’s also a Minnesota native, which is cool. I am less enthusiastic about the very real possibility of Compton being a Week 1 starter. While he has been more consistent than some of the other players competing for the starting gigs made available by injury, he certainly hasn’t been consistently great. I thought Compton looked fine at getting to the point of attack for his initial blocks but didn’t do many noteworthy things after that. I like him as a versatile backup but I’d prefer if the Vikings didn’t have to lean on him all year.

Prediction: Lock

Danny Isidora

Many Vikings fans think the second year guard out of Miami should fill the spot vacated by Easton; I have a bit more hesitation. While Isidora can have some great reps, he can still be maddeningly inconsistent. Mike Zimmer explained that Isidora still needs to work on his footwork and finishing blocks at the second level to earn the starting gig. He definitely accomplishes that at times, but not enough to make him the no-doubt best option.

I think Isidora as the starting left guard wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think I’d be terrified of some bad plays that could blow up drives and cause turnovers too.

Prediction: Lock

Brian O’Neill

The athleticism of the second round pick jumped out at me in just about every drill I watched. O’Neill has incredible agility and footwork. His relatively slender build for a tackle was also noticeable, but not as much as I anticipated. O’Neill is definitely further along in his development than I thought he would be. Even when he lost initial battles due to a lack of raw strength or unpolished technique, I was impressed with how quickly he could recover. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I believe he’ll end up getting a good amount of meaningful snaps his rookie year. (Hopefully not out of absolute necessity though.)

Prediction: Lock

Aviante Collins

If there was an award for most pleasant surprise from this Training Camp, my vote would go to Collins. The improvement he has shown since last year has been incredible. He was literally the last offensive lineman I evaluated last year because I thought he had no shot. Now he’s consistently getting to the second level and making solid downfield blocks. His pass blocking still needs a decent amount of work though.

Prediction: Nearly a lock, especially with all the injuries.

Colby Gossett

Gossett has an advantage on the other borderline players on this list because he was drafted in the sixth round this year. If everything else is relatively equal, the team will usually keep the guy they hand picked four months ago.

Gossett has a disadvantage compared to the other borderline players on this list because he has been banged up for a lot of camp. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, you can’t make the club from the tub.

Prediction: Bubble. Also a very good Practice Squad candidate.

Josh Andrews

When Andrews messed up at camp, it usually seemed to be pretty noticeable. I thought he had a pretty poor game overall against Denver. However, when I went back and watched the film again, there were some really solid plays mixed in with the more noticeable mistakes. “Up and down” is better than “bad”, but I’m not sure if it’s enough to give Andrews a roster spot.

Prediction: Bubble.

Cornelius Edison

When you’re down to your third string center on the first team, bad things are usually going to happen. Surprisingly things weren’t that bad with Edison taking starter reps. I didn’t think Edison had much of a shot heading into camp, but he has done well enough with his unexpected increase in reps to garner serious consideration.

Prediction: Bubble.

J.P. Quinn

When you’re down to your third string center on the first team, and you’re still not getting a ton of reps as a center, bad things are usually going to happen when cuts start happening.

Prediction: Cut

Kaleb Johnson

The Vikings are Johnson’s sixth team in five NFL seasons. He has yet to play in an NFL game.

Hopefully your seventh team gives you a shot, Kaleb. With how late you arrived in camp, I don’t think you’ll make your debut with the Vikings.

Prediction: Cut

Storm Norton

I soooo wanted Storm Norton to be good. He has an amazing name and even better hair.

Storm Norton was not good. He got Clemmings’d more than any other tackle throughout camp.

Prediction: Cut

Dieugot Joseph

He has some imposing size, but his footwork and technique were noticeably lacking compared to his camp peers. He was buried on the depth chart most of the time in Eagan. Definitely the second best player with the last name of Joseph in camp.

Prediction: Cut

Cedrick Lang

Remember how I said Collins was the last offensive lineman I evaluated last year because I thought he had no shot? Lang gets that distinction this year. Lang has an extremely big frame; that’s basically the only positive I saw from him. Everything else was pretty brutal.

Prediction: Cut


If you made it this far, congratulations! You’re now halfway through. Might as well stay tuned and read my defense and special teams evaluations tomorrow, right?

Right?!

Hey, come back! Don’t give up now! What’s another 5,000 words or so?