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Who’s Up and Down After the Niners Game

Roster competition was the name of this game

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings lost an entirely forgettable preseason game to the 49ers 17-7, due in part to sloppy play at times, but primarily due to poor quarterback performance. This time more of that goes to Kellen Mond, who wiped away any good vibes from the Raiders game with a remarkably poor performance against the 49ers.

But that aside, this was a pre-season game to evaluate depth players, and Kevin O’Connell mentioned that even his play-calling was geared toward seeing more of the players in position groups that are still up in the air. So he called more passes because he doesn’t need to see the running backs anymore, while there are a lot of questions on the back end of the wide receiver (and tight-end) depth chart. There are also questions on the back end of both the offensive and defensive line depth chart too.

So, with roster competition in mind, let’s look at who helped their chances, and who hurt their chances to make the roster based on their performance against the 49ers.

Who’s Up

Here are the players that helped their chances to make the roster or move up the depth chart.

T.Y. McGill, DT

McGill had 6 pressures in 22 pass rush snaps against the 49ers, including two sacks. He also did well in run defense, which may be more important to the coaches. McGill also has the body type to play both nose tackle and defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, which Ed Donatell said last week was important in evaluating the back-end of the defensive tackle depth chart. McGill solidified his hold on a roster spot with his pre-season performances, and also makes a case for himself at the third defensive tackle over Armon Watts.

Harrison Hand, CB

With the injury to Andrew Booth Jr., Hand got extended playing time, and he made good use of it. He led the team in PFF coverage grade, not allowing a reception on only 3 targets in 34 coverage snaps, and also did well in run defense. He helped his roster chances with his performance.

Kyle Hinton, LG

Hinton has quietly been doing very well at left guard in extended playing time. He played the entire game against the 49ers and allowed just one hurry in pass protection despite drawing Javon Kinlaw most of the time. He also did well as a run blocker, although not as dominant at times. Hinton has played all but eight snaps in the first two pre-season games, and is making a strong case for a roster spot over Chris Reed, who hasn’t played in any pre-season game yet due to an elbow injury. Reed is listed as the backup left guard over Hinton, after losing the right guard competition to Jesse Davis and Ed Ingram. Hinton has given up a total of two QB hurries in 62 pass blocking reps, according to PFF, and zero in ‘true pass sets’ meaning more extended time in the pocket pass pro snaps. He’s been the highest graded OL on the team in both pre-season games in true pass set situations.

Austin Schlottmann, C

Schlottmann was the highest graded blocker on the team against the 49ers, with an elite 92.2 overall blocking grade by PFF. Most of that is weighted based on run blocking, but he was good in pass protection too- not allowing a pressure in 25 pass blocking reps. With both Kyle Hinton and Schlottmann doing well, Chris Reed may be losing his hold on a roster spot. Can’t make the club in the tub.

Blake Brandel, RT

Brandel, like Kyle Hinton, is another backup offensive lineman that is quietly doing very well in both pre-season games. He’s playing right tackle and has earned an overall 81.9 PFF grade over two pre-season games, allowing just one QB hit in 41 pass blocking snaps. He’s also done well as a run blocker, with a 75.9 run blocking grade over the same span. He’s also outperformed Oli Udoh in both pre-season games and could make a case for himself as swing tackle.

James Lynch, DT & Jonathan Bullard, DT

Lynch and Bullard- along with McGill- have outperformed their competition on the back end of the depth chart for an IDL roster spot, particularly as run defenders. Bullard and Lynch were the two highest graded run defenders against the 49ers, and although neither gets many reps as the pre-season starters, they’re not being overtaken on the depth chart.

Jalen Nailor, WR

I give Nailor a slight upward nod because he’s caught everything catchable when he’s been targeted, with no drops. His yards per route run (1.38) is also favorable to Albert Wilson (0.85) and Bisi Johnson (0.81). He’s next in line to compete for the punt returner job, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette is providing an opening for Nailor to compete for that job.

Who’s Down

Here are players that didn’t help their roster chances, or their position on the depth chart, based on their performance against the 49ers.

Kellen Mond, QB

Mond’s performance against the 49ers killed any positive vibes he generated against the Raiders. Vikings’ offensive coordinator Wes Phillips’ comments last week about what he’s looking for in a backup QB- someone who can help the starting QB in the QB room, can go in and run the offense without many snaps- strongly favors Mannion as well.

Mond’s lackluster performance (21.2 passer rating) creates a real dilemma for the Vikings. Do they cut him and hope he clears waivers? Do they give him a roster spot he doesn’t deserve and is needed elsewhere in hope that he develops? Kevin O’Connell didn’t rule out picking up another QB once teams get down to their 53-man rosters. But at this point, I suspect Mannion is the backup, and Mond is on the bubble.

Armon Watts, DT

Watts hasn’t been getting much notoriety, but after two pre-season games, his run defense grade stands at just 35.8. He’s been better as a pass rusher, but as the third defensive tackle in the Vikings’ new 3-4 base defense, his run defense is the priority- and it hasn’t been good. Watts has not held up well against double teams, and while he’s only played about a dozen snaps in run defense, his poor performance is an extension of what he’s shown in previous years as a run defender. I suspect the Vikings’ interest in Ndamukong Suh is a reflection of Watts’ performance as a run defender.

Jaylon Twyman, DT & T.J. Smith, DT

Both have been getting more reps than those ahead of them on the depth chart- Lynch and Bullard- but they haven’t been able to make their case for moving up the depth chart. These two may be on the outside looking in at the end of the month.

Zach Davidson, TE

Davidson had two drops against the 49ers, one that would’ve been a first down, and another that would’ve been a big play up the seam. Had he made those grabs his stock would’ve continued to rise, and he gets some credit for getting wide open on the seam route, but his drops proved costly. Davidson is grading well in pass protection, which helps his stock. Still, it’s a close competition between Davidson and Ellefson for what may be the last roster spot at tight end.

Janarius Robinson, OLB

Robinson grades better as a run defender, and that may be his role if he makes the active roster, but his pass rush lacks both a plan and variety. He seems content to pursue a bull rush every time, and he doesn’t do much off of it. Robinson is effectively a red-shirt rookie, having missed all of last season and training camp with a leg injury, and he has all the athletic tools to be a good edge rusher, but his development so far has been slow.

Chris Reed, IOL

Reed didn’t play against the 49ers, but the fact that his competition at both left guard and center did very well begins to cast some doubt on his hold on a roster spot. Reed and Jesse Davis were signed as stop-gap/bridge players prior to the draft to provide competent interior line options. With Hinton and Schlottmann showing that they can be too, the older and more expensive Reed may find he is no longer needed. The Vikings may give more weight to Reed’s past performance as a starter, which was okay, but he hasn’t done much since joining the Vikings to solidify a roster spot.

Myron Mitchell, WR

Mitchell had just two targets against the 49ers, one of which was badly overthrown. The other hit him in the hands late in the game and would’ve been a big play. But Mitchell dropped it. It was only one drop, but Mitchell needs to make the most of every opportunity to make the roster in a highly competitive receiver group.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, PR

Smith-Marsette has done well as a wide receiver- leading the backup WRs in yards per route run at 1.66- but has been more unreliable as a returner. His lost fumble against the 49ers only heightens that concern. Kene Nwangwu will be the kick returner once the regular season starts based on his performance last season, so Smith-Marsette isn’t a part of that consideration. KJ Osborn is backup kick returner, and Ty Chandler is third.

Smith-Marsette has been given every opportunity to secure the punt returner job but has not done so. It’s unclear whether the Vikings will move on from Smith-Marsette as a punt returner, but Smith-Marsette is not helping his cause.