A look at every position battle following the Vikings first preseason game

The Minnesota Vikings couldn’t have asked for a better start to their preseason. Their offense put up impressive numbers, gaining 460 yards of total offense, averaging more than eight yards per play. With multiple impressive performances we can draw some conclusions about where the position battles are headed. Let’s have a look…

Backup quarterback

Snap counts: 

Sean Mannion – 26

Kyle Sloter – 14

Jake Browning – 13

Sean Mannion has taken all the second-team reps throughout training camp, giving the indication that he is way ahead of Kyle Sloter and Jake Browning in the backup quarterback competition. His usage in Friday night’s win over the Saints would not leave us with any other impression considering he played all but one series in the first half. The former Rams backup put together a solid performance, going 7-for-13 with 102 yards and one nicely thrown touchdown pass to Bisi Johnson.

Sloter did gain some ground, however. Following up strong preseason performances in 2017 and 2018, he opened 2019 by going 6-for-7 with 62 yards. He executed a play-action pass to fullback Khari Blasingame at the goal line brilliantly to cap a touchdown drive. It will be worth watching whether the Vikings give Sloter any second team snaps over the next two preseason games to get a better indication of whether his outstanding exhibition stats are due to poor competition or if he simply steps his game up when the lights are their brightest.

The fact that we saw Jake Browning points toward him having a good chance to be on the practice squad or potentially the No. 3 quarterback. Last year the Vikings did not use their fourth QB until the final moments of the last preseason game.

Depth running back

Snap counts:

Alexander Mattison – 17

De’Angelo Henderson – 17

Mike Boone – 10

Alexander Mattison has been one of the winners of training camp so far. Things can change but through the first preseason game he has solidified himself as the clear No. 2 to Dalvin Cook. With the team concerned about the turf in the Superdome, Cook sat out and Mattison played the entire time with the first team and somewhat with the second team.

Ameer Abdullah has a natural leg up on Mike Boone and De’Angelo Henderson because of his ability on special teams. The former Lion helped his cause on Friday night to be the No. 3 running back with 63 yards on just four carries. He has strong receiving ability out of the backfield that also increases his odds of sticking.

It appears Boone and Henderson are going to make the Vikings’ decisions in the backfield difficult. Henderson, who was signed from the Jets and spent time with the Broncos in 2017, has not looked out of place in camp and gained 42 yards on seven carries in New Orleans. But Boone had the play of the night, a 64-yard touchdown run. The fact that his big play came late in the contest, however, does point to Boone needing to make up ground in order to be a factor.

While fullback CJ Ham likely has the position on lockdown, it would be surprising at this point if the Vikings did not keep Blasingame on the practice squad. He has good hands and showed impressive hustle and athleticism on Boone’s touchdown run.

No. 3-4-5 receiver

Snap counts: 

Bisi Johnson – 33 

Laquon Treadwell – 32

Jeff Badet – 15

Brandon Zylstra – 13

Dillon Mitchell – 11

Jordan Taylor – 5

Davion Davis – 2

There is no competition for the No. 3 job because that belongs to Chad Beebe, who played early snaps in Friday’s game and has been head and shoulders above all the other contenders in training camp. As long as he stays healthy, Beebe is going to have a role in the offense as a slot receiver.

The Vikings’ seventh-round pick Bisi Johnson has been emerging in practice as the potential No. 4 and he helped his case for that job in New Orleans, catching two passes for 35 yards, both of which displayed his strong route running ability.

Aside from Johnson, it was an underwhelming night for the receiving corps, with Alexander Hollins, Jordan Taylor and Laquon Treadwell each catching one pass. Treadwell hurt his stock even more with a senseless blindside block. He might be out of a job even if the Vikings do not see one of the younger players emerge. It’s possible either Jeff Badet or Brandon Zylstra could still pull ahead of him despite not shining against the Saints. Taylor has fallen to the bottom of the depth chart. At this point it might be worth keeping an eye on Alexander Hollins, who has had some moments in camp and has enough speed to make him interesting.

Second unit offensive line 

Snap counts: 

Storm Norton – 40

Rashod Hill – 35

Dakota Dozier – 34

Dru Samia – 27

Oli Udoh – 27

Danny Isidora – 26

The Vikings have to be happy with the performance they received from the second and third teamers up front on Friday night. With Brian O’Neill and Aviante Collins out, Rashod Hill and Storm Norton saw a large number of reps. If Collins can’t start the season, Norton has a good chance to open the year on the roster, though Tyler Catalina scored the highest pass blocking grade by PFF of any of the backup tackles with Oli Udoh close behind.

On the interior, Danny Isidora didn’t give the Vikings any reason to think he should be cut in favor of less experienced guards. Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia did not have particularly strong nights. They scored the lowest two pass blocking grades of any Vikings lineman. The difference being that Dozier played with the second team.

Rotational defensive linemen 

Snap counts: 

Ifeadi Odenigbo – 47

Hercules Mata’afa – 35

Karter Schult – 32

Jaleel Johnson – 29

Chris Cothran – 24

Armon Watts – 16

Jalyn Holmes put together a strong performance playing in place of Shamar Stephen. When the Vikings picked him in the fourth round in 2018 they envisioned an interior pass rusher. They got just that on Friday night with five pressures and a sack (per PFF).

Clearly the Vikings want to get an extended look at Odenigbo, who they cut last year and brought back at defensive end rather than defensive tackle. He picked up two pressures and scored the highest run grade by PFF.

Mata’afa had some impressive pass rushes but will need to consistently play at a high level throughout the preseason to make the team.

It will be interesting to see if Watts gets more playing time after a solid performance late in the game.

Secondary depth 

Snap counts: 

Duke Thomas – 41

Craig James – 29

Derron Smith – 29

Marcus Epps – 28

Bene Benwikere – 28

Nate Meaders – 13

The night’s winner in the secondary was Meaders, who had a pick-six. He still has a ways to go before getting into the conversation for depth cornerback. The former AAF standouts Thomas and Smith both received extended playing time. Thomas struggled, giving up three completions on four attempts in his direction (per PFF), while Smith appeared to have a strong night. Epps made plays in the run game and showed off his tackling ability. His versatility could give him a leg up. Benwikere is in a tough spot having to adapt quickly. At the moment, we need to see much more to have a feeling of how this battle will shake out.