10 players to watch in the Vikings’ third preseason game

The Minnesota Vikings are likely to give their starters a good amount of work on Saturday afternoon against the Arizona Cardinals but their success isn’t the only thing worth watching in the team’s third preseason game. Here are the 10 most interesting Vikings players to focus on…

Tight end, Irv Smith 

In his first two preseason appearances, the second-round pick from Alabama has caught eight passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. According to PFF, he has also lined up largely as a tight end, playing 45 plays on the line of scrimmage, 10 plays as a slot receiver and only once as an outside receiver. Will we see that change this time around? Will the Vikings look to work him down the field? Or will the remain conservative with his usage?

Kicker/punter, Kaare Vedvik 

The  Vikings passed up on an opportunity to give the former Raven a 59-yard field goal attempt against the Seahawks but since he blasted a 55-yard field goal in practice on Thursday, it’s possible we might see Vedvik get a chance to kick a long field goal. Of course, it’s also possible that he will punt early in the game over Matt Wile. At this point, there still doesn’t seem to be clarity on what Vedvik will be doing if he makes the team. Dan Bailey handled kicking duties in the first half against Seattle and was successful on one short field goal. Much of the roster is probably already decided but this one could still be up in the air.

Receiver, Brandon Zylstra

It tells you a lot about the wide receiver competition that Zylstra’s 37-yard performance was the most impressive among pass catchers not named Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs in last Sunday’s contest. The former CFL’er made the team last year and played 262 snaps (per PFF) on special teams to only 17 as a receiver. That experience may give him an edge. Since the team is openly “showcasing” Laquon Treadwell and neither Jordan Taylor or oft-injured Jeff Badet has risen to the challenge, the door is wide open for Zylstra to put together another solid game and win a job.

Receiver, Bisi Johnson

After flashing his route-running ability in the opening preseason game and grabbing a touchdown, Johnson did not stand out in the second preseason game. In fact, his most memorable play was getting walloped on a punt return. The seventh-round pick has impressed at times and earned reps with the second team but he hasn’t consistently stood above the rest of the receivers jockeying for position. Like Zylstra, he’s a few plays away from having a much stronger argument than many of the other receivers.

Guard, Pat Elflein

The lowest graded preseason player on the Vikings by PFF, Elflein’s early looks at left guard have been questionable. Of course, that’s only based off 28 total snaps and last week’s issues might have been a matter of small sample size or something that is correctable. But considering he’s coming off a a tough 2018 and switching positions, the former center will be worth keeping an eye on.

Running back, Mike Boone 

For the second year in a row Boone is fighting for a job. His preseason rushing performances have been strong and he grabbed a 45-yard pass against the Seahawks but Mike Zimmer said that he’s looking for Boone to shine on special teams. Zimmer said it’s possible he could even get a chance in the return game. With Ameer Abdullah missing last week’s game, the door is open for Boone to win the RB3 gig.

Defensive end, Karter Schult 

The Vikings have given the former AAF’er a lot of action in their first two preseason games, playing him a total of 59 snaps. Against Seattle he registered a QB hit and three run stops. With depth on the D-line questionable behind the starters, there may be an opportunity for Schult to earn a practice squad gig.

Cornerback, Duke Thomas 

Zimmer has seemed exasperated by the struggles of depth defensive backs during camp/preseason. Thomas had a much stronger game against Seattle, including a forced fumble (though he walked away from the play to celebrate) and he gave up just one reception into his coverage. With seventh-rounder Kris Boyd struggling to find his way onto the field and Bene Benwikere in line for a backup slot corner position, Thomas can make the squad. But if he struggles, the Vikings may look for other free agent options.

Guard, Dru Samia 

The Vikings fourth-round pick spent the early days of camp playing on the third team but with injuries to Brian O’Neill and Aviante Collins pushing Dakota Dozier into a tackle spot, Samia has seen second-team reps. Even with a crowded group of backup linemen it would be surprising if the Vikings didn’t have Samia as part of their 53 but he still has work to do in order to be seen as anything more than a project.

Defensive tackle, Armon Watts

The massive defensive tackle has put together back-to-back strong games in the preseason. There will be tough decisions to be made on the D-line, including whether they see Hercules Mata’afa as a legitimate third-down pass rushing option and if they look at Watts as a future option.