The Mr. Mankato competition — founded by Mackey & Judd in 2014 — looks to celebrate and crown under-the-radar players at Minnesota Vikings training camp, and this year’s pool of eligible candidates is VERY strong. Maybe the strongest in recent history, with the arrival of third-round quarterback Kellen Mond.
Chris Long from 5 Eyewitness News is the official oddsmaker, and he has spent every waking second of the past several months putting together the rankings for this year’s camp (OK, he crammed it in last minute and sent us the email at 1:51 a.m., per usual, but it still qualifies as a work of art).
Take it away, Chris…
(And yes, we’re still calling it Mr. Mankato. We thought about changing the name to the Eagan Everyman, which was Patrick Reusse’s idea, but we don’t have enough budget to change the branding in 2021. So, Mr. Mankato it remains…)
Alright, football fans. No fancy intro statement this year. After last year’s mess, it’s time to get back to watching training camp in person.
Let’s bleepin’ go.
1.) Player MUST be a 3rd round draft pick or later (undrafted / signed from a practice squad counts)
2.) Player must not be an “established NFL player” (there’s some leeway here … K.J. Osborn returned kicks all 2020, but didn’t do anything else. He is eligible. Ditto fellow 2020 special teamer Dan Chisena)
3.) If a player does not fall into category 1 or 2, a committee member may put that player up for review — and that player must receive more than 50% of the vote to be put on the ballot
4.) The competition runs through the entire preseason — not just the Mankato portion. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Off the board from last year:
(I think that’s everyone)
2020: Cam Dantzler
Finalists: Dan Chisena (was 99-1!), D.J. Wonnum, Alexander Hollins
Favorite: Cam Dantzler (3-1)
Misses: Honestly? I don’t think there were any.
This means my write-up was way too long.
2019: Brandon Dillon (officially: “The Field”)
Finalists: Alexander Mattison, Bisi Johnson
Favorite: Alexander Mattison (3-2)
Misses: Ifeadi Odenigbo, Austin Cutting
2018: Kyle Sloter
Finalists: Mike Boone, Chad Beebe
Favorite: Holton Hill / Brandon Zylstra
Misses: Brian O’Neill, Tyler Conklin, Jalyn Holmes, Ifeadi Odenigbo
2017: Tashawn Bower
Finalists: Stacy Coley, Jaleel Johnson, Ben Gedeon
Favorite: Rodney Adams
Misses: Eric Wilson, C.J. Ham
2016: Jayron Kearse
Finalists: CJ Ham, Jhurrell Pressley, David Morgan
Favorite: Moritz Bohringer
Misses: Anthony Harris, Stephen Weatherly
2015: Stefon Diggs
Finalists: T.J. Clemmings, MyCole Pruitt
Favorite: Stefon Diggs
Misses: Danielle Hunter, Anthony Harris
2014: Adam Thielen
Finalists: Jabari Price, Matt Asiata
Favorite: Kain Colter
Misses: Jerick McKinnon
Retroactive winners also include Audi Cole (2012) and Marcus McCauley (2007)
- THE DRAFTEES (in order they were selected)
KELLEN MOND QB Texas A&M / 21DRAFT-Rd3
He’s so strongly favored here, he probably shouldn’t be eligible.
The heaviest Mr. M favorite ever was Alexander Mattison in 2019 at 3-2. Although, he *was* edged by unseeded and overlooked Brandon Dillion. I may be spoiling the reveal – but that record will fall.
Considering the general opinion a plurality of Vikings fans have for Kirk Cousins – Mond will be the crowd favorite if he does just about anything short of curling up in a ball and weeping on a side field at every training camp practice session. He actually could probably do that once or twice, but as long as he throws a few balls the other days there will be people seeing “Mond=Super Bowl” in their crystal balls.
Every good pass Mond throws – especially any mid-to-high difficulty TD pass – at camp will be greeted by “Ahhhhhh… hey…. lookee here at this guy!” type sentiments from the anti-Cousins crowd (and they’re not a silent minority, either).
The saying says the most popular guy in a lot of NFL towns is the backup QB. KC8’s track record here certainly lends itself to that holding true this August.
Scouting zinger: “Athletic quarterback with a next-level arm who flashes brilliance”
Mond has the skills to elicit some emotion out of the thrilled-to-be-back training camp crowd.
He will be the most closely-watched (and celebrated) player of Eagan 2021.
CHAZZ SURRATT LB North Carolina / 21DRAFT-Rd3
Lots of “Oh?!” notes with this guy.
Dude is somehow 24 years old… and arrived at North Carolina as a highly-touted quarterback coming out of high school. Rivals had him at a 4-star – and he had offers from Clemson, Florida, Auburn.
Saw one scouting report that said he’s a dead ringer for right-out-of-college Eric Kendricks… which is impressive considering he only saw the field in his junior and senior seasons after flipping from QB to LB.
If the Vikings can coach him up, there might be a lot more in there.
Scouting zinger: “Plays 100mph snap after snap. Treats running backs like speed bumps as a blitzer.”
Gonna need to get bigger, though.
Second highest draftee eligible for the award and plays a position where there will be reps. He’s got a very good shot at winning if Mond disappoints.
WYATT DAVIS OG Ohio State / 21DRAFT-Rd3
His dad Duane was Jerry Johnson in ‘Little Big League’, Alvin Mack in ‘The Program’, Featherstone in ‘Necessary Roughness, Jerome (who took the hall pass on the first day and didn’t come back until the final exam) in ‘Summer School’, and Buster Douglas in the HBO Mike Tyson movie.
Oh, his grandfather is Packers legend and Hall of Fame DE Willie Davis.
This guy possesses a serious sports bloodline.
Pretty good steal landing him in the 3rd round, I think. Everybody seemed to list him as a 2nd rounder – he was a unanimous All-American last year – and rated among the top 3 guards in the draft.
Why’d he slide? A knee injury he played with most of last year which really hit him somewhere in the first half of the National Championship game.
But he also only gave up all of 4 sacks in 800+ pass snaps in college.
Scouting zinger: “No panic. There are losses on tape, but he fights to the end to recover them”
However, as we always say in our OL Mr. M capsules… it’s hard to shine playing in the trench at training camp. That’s all that’s going to keep him from being one of the top two or three favorites.
That said, pretty much everybody is penciling him in as a Week 1 starter. That has to count for something.
PATRICK JONES II DE Pittsburgh / 21DRAFT-Rd3
(I promise, we’ll shorten these up after we get through the 3rd rounders)
Might be hard for any DE named Not Danielle Hunter to flash at camp this year. All eyes will be on #99. Nothing the other DEs can to about that.
Jones will forever be regarded – for better or worse – as The Guy The Vikings Got With The Pick They Got For Yannick Ngakoue.
The battle to be the other bookend opposite Hunter is gonna be tough. Stephen Weatherly is back and they drafted two more.
Jones did have 17.5 sacks in his final two years at Pitt – and was 5th in the nation in 2020… and his 6’4 260 frame is NFL prototypical for an edge guy.
Scouting zinger: “Knows how to get skinny and shrink his strike zone for opposing tackles”
He also has long arms. They measured at 32 7/8 inches. That’s long, I think.
13 TFL and 9 sacks (led the ACC) in 11 games last year.
He and Brian O’Neill used to battle in practice at Pitt. Will do so again in Eagan.
KENE NWANGWU RB Iowa State / 21DRAFT-Rd4
WAHN-goo, to answer your first question.
He’s here to take K.J. Osborn’s job as return specialist. He wasn’t even RB1 at Iowa State – but he was a monster on kick returns.
Draft experts put him in the conversation for fastest player in the entire draft – ran a 4.29 at Pro Day (at 210 lbs!).
He also was a gunner on the other side of kickoffs and punt returns.
His main competition for playing time is probably Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
His main competition for Mr Mankato is everyone who isn’t only on special teams.
Scouting zinger: “Elite testing numbers for a running back”
CAMRYN BYNUM S California / 21DRAFT-Rd4
Cal only played 4 games last season, so there’s not a lot of recent tape on Bynum.
PFF tabbed him the best run-defending CB in the draft… and he started every single game all four years at Cal.
He was a CB in college, but is gonna slide to safety – where he’ll be stuck behind Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods this fall.
His impact on the ’21 Vikings would likely have to be on special teams.
Scouting zinger: “Suddenness working back downhill is middling”
JANARIUS ROBINSON DE Florida State / 21DRAFT-Rd4
jun-NAIR-iss, by the way. Pretend that “U” isn’t there.
Long arms, huge hands, big body… which is all fine and good, but he potentially the best backstory in the class. You’re gonna hear a lot about it in the coming weeks.
His family lost their home in Hurricane Michael in 2018. They evacuated last minute and were left with a suitcase each of belongings. Soon after, with help and guidance from Florida State, he set up a GoFundMe drive to help the family get back on their feet.
They moved into their new home in 2020… shortly before he became the first in his family to graduate college.
After the recovery from losing his family home, he committed himself to community service. He held a free football clinic in 2019 in his hometown of Panama City. When the pandemic took out the planned 2020 edition, he pivoted to a huge backpack drive for high school students in need.
He also lead a rally at Florida State shortly in the wake of George Floyd.
Has “leader” written all over him.
I’m rooting for this guy.
Scouting zinger: “Explosiveness in his frame you can’t coach”
IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE WR Iowa / 21DRAFT-Rd5
Mr M candidacy – and likely his potential spot on the depth chart – slid for the worse when the Vikings signed Dede Westbrook last week.
Patrick Peterson said Smith-Marsette took over the aux cord in the locker room… as a rookie, he took charge of choosing the locker room bangers. If that’s not confidence and swagger??!! Smith-Marsette said they were all sitting the locker room and it was too quiet – so he went looking for the bluetooth or the aux cord.
This is a good sign.
His body-type, “athletic profile” and coming-out-of-college comparison is Stefon Diggs.
Also a good sign.
His 28.7 yards/kick return at Iowa ranks #2 all time in the Big Ten.
If a special teamer is gonna steal the Mr Mankato spotlight, it’s him or Nwangwu.
Scouting zinger: “Real-deal juice. Can crank it up hot down the field.”
ZACH DAVIDSON TE Central Missouri / 21DRAFT-Rd5
One of three D-II players taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, he’s this year’s Small College Feel Good Story To Root For.
He also went to Webb City high school in Missouri where Jerry Kill coached in the late 80’s.
Tabbed by one draftnik as “the most unique player in the draft” – Davidson is the rare Tight End / Punter unicorn. Shades of Maxx Williams.
…and he’s apparently a really *good* punter. Started as exclusively a punter in college, added tight end his junior year – which was the only year he played in college – his team didn’t play in 2020.
A 6’7 punter would be fun to see. But, yeah, he’s gonna be TE only unless something really goes wrong at punter.
He’s also fast for a 6’7 dude, but may be because he’s light for 6’7 – which might make him a liability as a blocker.
But he averaged, double-checking to make sure this isn’t s typo – 22.4 yards per catch. That’s crazy for a TE… D1, D2 or whatever.
He went 40 catches for 894 yards and 15 TD that one year as a tight end. Impressive numbers.
Scouting zinger: “Gangly and ungainly, Davidson is an enigma as a one-year wonder with mega production seemingly coming from nowhere.”
JAYLEN TWYMAN DT Pittsburgh / 21DRAFT-Rd6
Has been released.
- THE UDFAs (no particular order)
TUF BORLAND LB Ohio State / 21UDFA
I mean, the man’s name is “Tuf”. That’s starting the race ten yards ahead of the competition.
He and J.T. Barrett are the only three-year team captains at Ohio State… ever.
4-time Academic Big Ten, too. So… brains.
Dad was a Badger and played for the L.A. Rams and the USFL’s Michigan team (Trivia for Judd: What was their mascot???).
WHOP PHILYOR WR Indiana / 21UDFA
First, we have “Tuf”… now we have “Whop” – whose nickname comes from his love for the Whopper at Burger King.
Given name is Mister Elias De’Angelo Philyor. His young father used to take the kids to BK on the regular. Dad would get a Whopper, and normal burgers for the kids. Young “Mister” complained he wanted the same burger his father had. Dad said there was no way the 6-year-old could take down a Whopper. But he did, and it became his go-to order.
“Little Whop” was born. The “Little” part faded out in junior high leaving us with, wonderfully, “Whop”.
He and his parents have some pretty tight stories about their bond, aside from just the genesis of the name.
Although mom still calls him De’Angelo.
BLAKE PROEHL WR East Carolina / 21UDFA
Yep, he’s Ricky’s kid.
Should help his visibility (see: Chad Beebe) but he’s still a longshot to get many reps.
SHANE ZYLSTRA TE Minnesota State / 21UDFA
This is your darkhorse, my friends.
Big brother Brandon tried for a couple years to crack the Vikings 54-man, finally getting some special teams run in 2018. He’s been with the Panthers the last two seasons.
Shane’s bigger than Brandon… 6’5 compared to 6’2.
Look at this line from 2019 (MSU-Mankato didn’t play in 2020): 81 catches, 1,676 yards, 18 touchdowns – ALL are Mavericks single-season records… and let’s remember who else once played receiver on the hallowed plateau of Blakeslee Stadium.
Anybody who was a record-setting receiver at MSU-Mankato has at least an outside shot at winning Mr. Mankato… but Shane’s far better than just an outside shot.
AMARI HENDERSON CB Wake Forest / 21UDFA
His cousin is C.J McCollum
Was on Jags PS last season, signed w/ Vikings after rookie minicamp tryout – which came just days after his brother was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Tied for 2nd in the ACC for interceptions his senior season in 2019.
CHRISTIAN ELLISS LB Idaho / 21UDFA
18th on Idaho’s all-time tackling list. So, yeah.
You may remember his dad Luther – he played 10 NFL season and was a 2x-Pro Bowler w/ the Lions. His brother Kaden was a 7th rounder in 2019 who’s played 18 games w/ the Saints… so a longshot hooking on might be a family thing.
ZEANDAE JOHNSON DT California / 21UDFA
First child is on the way – his daughter’s due date is August 6th. That’s some pretty good motivation.
His intro zoom call was the most joyous thing you could ever want to be part of.
He was on campus at Cal for six years and earned two degrees (American Studies & Legal Studies).
EVAN KSIEZARCZYK OT Buffalo / 21UDFA
Ka-czar-check, to answer your first question.
He was signed to play in TSL (The Spring League) this spring, signed via the Vikings rookie minicamp.
Initially signed as UDFA with Atlanta in 2020.
His OL at Buffalo only allowed 8 sacks the entire 2019 season. That’s insane.
TURNER BERNARD LS San Diego State / 21UDFA
A long snapper isn’t winning Mr Mankato.
MYRON MITCHELL WR Alabama-Birmingham / 21UDFA
Hometown of Jasper, Alabama is the location of the SyFy Channel’s documentary “Town of the Living Dead”. Their H.S. mascot? “The Vikings”
Did find one YouTube draftnik “Bicho Prodz” who labeled him the most underrated receiver in the draft.
He’s gonna be buried behind all the other WRs.
RILEY PATTERSON K Memphis / 21UDFA
Went on the PUP list two days ago. So he’s out.
JORDON SCOTT NT Oregon / 21UDFA
College bio says he picked Oregon over 20 schools – including Minnesota. Did 6 seasons at UO.
Twitter handle is “Fat Mac 34”
After 2017 was PFF’s 5th-highest graded true freshman interior defensive linemen since they began college grading
A.J. ROSE JR RB Kentucky / 21UDFA
He’s an Eagle Scout. His Eagle project was collecting and donating hundreds of toiletries for his local Ronald McDonald House.
Was also MVP of the Gator Bowl after 12 rushes for a career high 148 yards against N.C. State.
The Vikings RB room is top-heavy.
COHL CABRAL C Arizona St / 21SIGNEE from Texans PS
2x captain at Arizona State and wants to pursue a career as a firefighter after football.
Bradbury isn’t gonna yield anything to let Cabral stand out.
ZACH VON ROSENBERG P LSU / 21UDFA
(Vikings waived him when they signed Sheldon Richardson, but he could very well come back if they want to push Colquitt)
He was a *30-year-old senior* at LSU – was the oldest player in D1 last year.
Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 6th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, he played minor league ball for six years before going back to college at LSU.
He first tried out at QB, but walked on as a TE in 2016. He moved to punter in 2017 – a reverse Zach Davidson – and was on scholarship from 2017-2020.
Have to say, the thought of a 30-year-old (turns 31 on 9/24) Mr Mankato is amazing.
He’s the 7th-oldest player on the roster – only slightly younger than Patrick Peterson and Adam Thielen.
I honestly think if we see Von Rosenberg in Eagan, he’s gonna give Britton Colquitt a run for the job.
- THE RETURNING CANDIDATES (no particular order)
If you want to read deeper dives about most of these guys, check out last year’s preview:
CAMERON SMITH LB USC / 19DRAFT-Rd5
Won Vikings Ed Block Courage Award last year after a COVID diagnosis led to the discovery of a potentially fatal heart defect which was repaired by surgery.
He did play 5 games and made 6 tackles in 2019, but after what he went through last year – and potential reps to be had at LB this year – he’s absolutely on the Mr Mankato watch list
BRANDON DILLON TE Marian College / 19UDFA
Won Mr Mankato in 2019, has appeared in 4 games and made 1 catch for 6 yards since
DAN CHISENA ST Penn State / 20UDFA & K.J. OSBORN ST Miami 20DRAFT-Rd5
Hmmmm. Both splashed on special teams last year, but I don’t think either did enough to lose Mr M eligibility.
Doubt either gets the snaps to claim the title, though.
NATE STANLEY QB Iowa / JAKE BROWNING QB Washington
Ain’t gonna happen with Kellen Mond in camp
KENNY WILLIKES DE Michigan St / 20DRAFT-Rd7
Was on IR most of his rookie season in 2020
Don’t forget, he was taken in the last round of the draft after going from a walk-on in college who didn’t have a single D-1 offer out of high school to being the Big Ten’s DL of the Year
OLI UDOH OT Elon / 19DRAFT-Rd6
Feels like he’s been around for more than three years, but, nope.
Still looking for a breakthrough on the OL but with Darrisaw and Davis coming in via draft, it’s gonna be tough.
JOSH METELLUS S Michigan / 20DRAFT-Rd6 & MYLES DORN S North Carolina / 20UDFA
Metellus played special teams in 2020, Dorn is still looking for snaps. Can either find some reps at safety and break out to play a little behind Smith and Woods?
JAMES LYNCH DT Baylor / 20DRAFT-Rd4
While the other Lynch from Baylor – Blake – had a 10-tackle game in Week 16 against the Saints last year, James is still looking for his breakout. Blake’s off the Mr M board, James isn’t.
KYLE HINTON OG Washburn / 20DRAFT-Rd7
Last year’s Small College Guy To Root For didn’t end up seeing much time.
The newcomers on the OL may keep it from happening this year, too.
BLAKE BRANDEL OT Oregon St / 20DRAFT-Rd6
He’s still 6’7, still tied for tallest Viking (Brian O’Neill), still looking for reps after practice squadding all of 2020.
Came out of college rated PFF’s best pass blocker in the draft. Would still like to see what he can do.
DYLAN MABIN CB Fordham / 20SIGNEE from Raiders PS
Got 33 snaps in the haphazard CB rotation at the tail end of last season.
Picked off Blake Bortles in a joint training camp practice w/ Rams/Raiders and ran it back 90 yards for a TD.
Just about every male in his family is in football: Dad played at Louisville, brother Jordan had a cup of coffee w/ the Browns, his cousin played 3 NFL seasons, his uncle coaches at West Florida
ZACK BAILEY OL South Carolina / 20SIGNEE from Bucs PS
Prax squad last 4 games of 2020, but buried on the depth chart
LUTHER KIRK CB Illinois State / 20SIGNEE from Cowboys PS
Was active vs GB last year, didn’t play.
2019 Shrine Bowl MVP, Was a HS QB
Most recent tweet – 2 days ago “Never really trusted back-up cameras”… worrisome.
Previous tweet before that: “They gotta bring back Guitar Hero” … redeeming.
JAKE BARGAS FB North Carolina / 20UDFA
Played 1 game in 2020 (vs Saints) after being on PS
Transitioned from TE to FB w/ Vikings
Had a bunch of D-1 offers to play lacrosse
QB KELLEN MOND
Just a massive favorite
LB CAMERON SMITH
LB CHAZZ SURRATT
There are reps to be had at LB. Smith coming back and shining would be a hell of a story.
TE SHANE ZYLSTRA
Big kid, brother was a Vike, Minnesota-native, went to Mankato = lots to like.
S CAMRYN BYNUM
OG WYATT DAVIS
Two draftees at positions where there’s thin depth and room to shine.
WR WHOP PHILYOR
WR BLAKE PROEHL
Rare not to have any pass-catchers with shorter odds than this.
Whop’s here on name alone. Proehl, well, is too I suppose.
RB KENE NWANGWU / WR IHMIR SMITH-MARSETTE
These two are a coupled entry assuming one of them is gonna run down K.J. Osborn for PR/KR.
DE PATRICK JONES
DE JANARIUS ROBINSON
DE KENNY WILLIKES
There are gonna be a lot of DEs getting looks behind Hunter & Weatherly
…but can any of them really breakout?
TE BRANDON DILLON
TE ZACH DAVIDSON
Dillon’s a former Mr Mankato. Can he do it again?
Davison is a feel-good D-II kid with one year of college ball at his position. And he punts. Just sayin’.
LB TUF BORLAND
Like the guys at 5-1, there’s room for reps at LB. And, seriously, his name is “Tuf”.
CB AMARI HENDERSON
CB DYLAN MABIN
CB LUTHER KIRK
We all know about Vikings corners. Someone should have a chance to run up the depth chart.
WR/ST DAN CHISENA
WR/ST K.J. OSBORN
One was a shining star of special teams last year, one looked to be a massive bust.
QB NATE STANLEY / QB JAKE BROWNING
Another coupled entry. Barring chaos, these two are jockeying for the practice squad spot.
P ZACH VON ROSENBURG
Ok first, the 30-year-old rookie has to re-sign with the Vikings. If (when?) he does? Colquitt will have a battle.
The field is 35-1, and hard as it may be I’m resisting listing “kicker to be named later” again this year.
Let’s go… and welcome back, fans!