While the Minnesota Vikings have opened the preseason with impressive wins over the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, there are still plenty of questions to be answered before the start of the regular season. Pro Football Focus grades each preseason game, which can offer some insight into the direction of some position battles and how things might play out in 2019. Here are 10 takeaways from PFF’s grades through two games…
Pat Elflein has the offense’s lowest grade
Because Elflein played guard in college, there was an assumption that his transition to that position in the NFL would go smoothly but through the first two preseason games there have been some bumps in the road, especially on Sunday night against Seattle. After a strong 2017, recovery from offseason surgeries hampered his 2018 and now it’s questionable how the position change is going to work out. Last year the Vikings tried to move Mike Remmers to guard and the results were less than ideal. He has only played 28 snaps in the preseason so the sky might not be falling but this one is worth keeping an eye on.
Brandon Zylstra is the highest graded non-Thielen receiver
In the battle for depth receiver spots, Bisi Johnson stood out in the Vikings preseason opener and Zylstra had the strongest performance in Game 2 with five catches for 37 yards. Zylstra’s 73.4 grade (out of 100) is a nose ahead of Johnson’s 71.6. Following the game Mike Zimmer commented that Zylstra was starting to get his burst back after missing time with an injury. Considering Zimmer admitted to “showcasing” Laquon Treadwell and other receivers in the mix like Jordan Taylor and Dillon Mitchell haven’t stood out, the No. 4, 5 and 6 spots at the moment point toward Zylstra, Johnson and possibly speedster Jeff Badet.
Ifeadi Odenigbo leads in pressures and run stops
The former seventh-round pick out of Northwestern was cut after a strong camp last year but the Vikings decided they wanted to see more. They might very well be justified in that decision because Odenigbo has put together an impressive camp and preseason. He has five QB pressures and five run stops in 73 snaps (the third most on defense) and the third highest grade of any defender with more than 50 snaps. With Tashawn Bower sidelined for significant time, Odenigbo appears to be the fourth DE behind Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly.
Armon Watts and Karter Schult have made cases for jobs
While Watts was only a one-year standout in college, the Vikings loved his ability to get after the passer and his 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame. So far he has only been in for 23 pass rush snaps and created four pressures (one sack). With interior D-line jobs up for grabs, Watts may be playing himself into a spot. If he doesn’t make the roster, he should be a practice squad candidate. It will be interested to see if he gets more work in the third preseason game.
Schult, an AAF standout, has the highest PFF grade (79.3) on defense of any Vikings defender. He has two QB pressures and three run stops. It might be a stretch for him to make the roster but practice squad is a possibility for him as well.
Depth DBs have been underwhelming
The PFF grades match up with Zimmer’s comments on depth defensive backs. Jayron Kearse, who is likely to have a role in the defense as a “big nickel,” has looked like an experienced NFL’er and graded like one as well but otherwise the only defensive backs graded above 70 are long-shot corner Nate Meadors (74.1) and former AAF’er Derron Smith. It would seem that Smith has a chance if the Vikings keep four safeties as they have in the past. Craig James (61.4), Duke Thomas (59.8) and Bene Benwikere (60.5) are neck and neck by PFF’s grading system.
Brett Jones is grading exceptionally well
Depth has long been an issue up front for the Vikings but they should feel good about having Brett Jones as their backup C/G. Not only has he put together decent PFF grades in the past as a starter, he’s been dominating — yes, dominating — this preseason. He is the only Viking with a grade above 90 and scored exceptionally well in run and pass blocking. That doesn’t mean he should steal anyone’s job. It’s just to say that he’s solid, proven depth if someone goes down.
Project tackle Oli Udoh has been one of the Vikings better OL
When the Vikings picked Udoh in the sixth round, they acknowledged that the 6-foot-5, 325-pound tackle from Elon would have some work ahead of him. At least against opposing third teams, he has shown some potential by posting the third highest pass blocking grade of players with more than 30 snaps. He also lands in the category of having a good shot at a practice squad job.
Dru Samia is behind other depth OL
The fourth-rounder from Oklahoma is the fourth lowest graded player on the offensive side despite showing some flashes of his strength and aggressiveness. He saw time with the second team all last week and in the game against Seattle, so it’s clear the Vikings wanted to get a closer look at him against stronger competition. It would be surprising if he wasn’t retained considering his upside but decisions won’t be easy up front behind the starters. Danny Isidora, a third-rounder in 2017 who is on the bubble, has an average 65.0 grade and Dakota Dozier’s positional flexibility might play to his favor.
Cole Hikutini is making a case
The Vikings have repeatedly talked about their tight end depth and Hikutini has proven that there was good reason to keep him around after he spent time on the practice squad last season. He has a solid 73.0 grade on 47 snaps with the second and third teams. He has routinely put together strong practices as well. Hukutini won’t be beating out Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith or Tyler Conklin but he’s given the Vikings reason to at least consider keeping four tight ends.
Mannion and Sloter have graded closely
Mannion may have had a pick-six but PFF correctly did not ding him for Chad Beebe’s misread of the Seattle defense. The Vikings’ No. 2 QB has a solid 75.3 grade and 96.2 QB rating, giving the Vikings no reason to cut him in favor of the younger quarterbacks. Sloter has a 77.2 grade and 137.1 rating on 17-for-20 passing. Decisions will be tough on the offensive side but Sloter may have done enough to convince the Vikings to keep him as the No. 3.