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Updates from Week 4
The backup quarterback situation was resolved early last week, with the Raiders sending Nick Mullens to Minnesota for a conditional 2024 seventh-round pick. Neither Kellen Mond nor Sean Mannion inspired confidence with their camp and preseason performances. The Vikings acted on the rumor that they were seeking an upgrade at the No. 2 quarterback position. Mullens gives them a veteran option to keep them competitive if Kirk Cousins were to miss time.
Cousins, meanwhile, finally struggled in practice. The Vikings' first-team defensive line dominated the starting offensive line in an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday, helping the defense secure three interceptions from the hand of Cousins. He previously dominated throughout camp, with this final showing indicating the offensive line's performance could dictate the upside of Cousins and the entire offense. Neither Cousins nor Mullens played in the preseason finale, with Mond and Mannion splitting time and leading the offense to just 13 points.
Dalvin Cook didn't log a single preseason snap this year, with the Vikings simulating game situations often toward the end of practice weeks. Arif Hasan recently compared Cook's outlook to Todd Gurley's 2017 and 2018 seasons, with a pass-first offense failing to inhibit the running back from fantasy success. The Vikings continued the usage trend for Cook, lining him up in the slot and wide throughout camp.
Behind Cook, Alexander Mattison seemingly locked up the No. 2 running back role in last week's preseason game. He sat out the finale, allowing Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler to battle for the No. 3 role. Most expect the team to roster all four backs, but Chandler continued to show good change-of-pace ability with his patient, shifty running style. He accumulated 44 yards on just five carries in the finale. Nwangwu flashed the burst that excites the team but fumbled while backed up against his own goal line. He carried the ball four times for 14 yards.
Justin Jefferson was the intended recipient of two of Cousins' interceptions in the intrasquad scrimmage. Both throws bounced off his hands. Fantasy managers shouldn't panic, though. Outside of the one bad performance, Jefferson remained dominant throughout camp. Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn round out the starting receiver room, with both making a case to be viable fantasy picks. Jefferson, Thielen, and Osborn sat out the preseason finale, with the Vikings exercising caution and resting 33 total players.
With the starters out, Ihmir Smith-Marsette locked up the No. 4 receiver role, albeit slightly by default. Bisi Johnson left the game with a knee injury, but Smith-Marsette was the best receiver on the field. He snagged three catches for 63 yards. Jalen Nailor had a quiet performance on Saturday but could end up the No. 5 receiver with Johnson's injury.
Irv Smith and Johnny Mundt sat out the preseason finale, indicating that Mundt would be the starter if Smith could not return before Week 1. Zach Davidson finally capitalized on playing time in their absence, catching four passes for 47 yards, and flashing the after-the-catch ability that excites the offensive coaches. Davidson struggled with drops during camp but continues to be a good dynasty stash with Smith on the final year of his rookie deal.
The intrasquad scrimmage that saw the defense dominate was on the back of the defensive line, with Za'Darius Smith continuing to gain comfort and confidence while consistently ending up in the backfield. If camp is any indication, Smith and Danielle Hunter could be one of the most lethal edge-rushing duos in the league. Behind them, Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr Jr. have battled injuries late in camp, but when the defense introduces those two into the mix, the Vikings could see a massive increase in production out of the unit.
Updates from Week 3
Kirk Cousins returned after being out with COVID-19 and had some extra fire in joint practices against San Francisco. While many have joked about Cousins' new word choice, it came at a time when Cousins and the Vikings' offense dominated the 49ers. That happened regularly when first-team offense and defense were on the field, and the Vikings showed off more of the playbook than they previously had. Unfortunately, behind Cousins, the quarterback room is a weak point. Kellen Mond continued his inconsistent play, culminating in the Week 2 preseason game with a 10/20, 82-yard, two-interception performance. Sean Mannion was far more conservative but finished 10/15 for 65 yards and no turnovers. Rumors that the Vikings are seeking a backup quarterback before the season kicks off strengthened with the performances this week.
Alexander Mattison continues to hold the No. 2 running back role. After an uninspiring performance in Week 1 of the preseason, Mattison bounced back and took every snap with the starters. Kene Nwangwu also saw a snap, indicating he still holds the lead over Ty Chandler for the No. 3 role. Chandler was the more impressive back Saturday night, rushing five times for 19 yards and a touchdown, with Nwangwu carrying the ball just twice for four yards. The team will undoubtedly keep these three and Dalvin Cook on the roster, toting their slew of riches in the running back room.
No one in the 49ers’ secondary could guard Justin Jefferson this week. Jefferson consistently won routes at every field level against every defensive back, a commonplace this summer and furthering the notion that he will explode for fantasy in 2022. He motioned into the backfield before running a Texas route against a linebacker on one instance, indicating the previously rumored enhanced creativity could come to fruition. Also succeeding this week was Adam Thielen. Thielen took some time to get going but is coming on strong as camp continues. Three-receiver sets of Jefferson, Thielen, and K.J. Osborn could prove one of the most dynamic and versatile in the NFL.
While Irv Smith remains out until Week 1, the Vikings are searching for his replacement. Last week, Johnny Mundt took snaps with the starters. This week, a combination of Zach Davidson and Ben Ellefson was on the field. Davidson dropped a ball, highlighting the central hole in his game and why Mundt may retain a pass-catching role if Smith missed more time than initially expected. The tight end room is more appealing for fantasy with Smith healthy, and the Vikings still hope he will be by Week 1.
Linebacker Za'Darius Smith is finally returning to form. While defensive end Danielle Hunter has looked like a dominant edge rusher throughout the offseason, Smith turned in inconsistent performances, but in joint practices, Smith shined. He beat Trent Williams to sack Trey Lance and was a standout, constantly getting into the backfield to disrupt pockets. D.J. Wonnum has rotated in and has impressed. Former UDFA T.Y. McGill had a breakout performance on Saturday night, snagging 1.5 sacks and drawing praise from Kevin O'Connell. The pass rush may make the Vikings a worthy fantasy defense in 2022. Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr left the Week 2 preseason injury after a non-contact injury to his ankle. While most don't expect Booth to start immediately following Cameron Dantzler's standout camp, an extended absence would be a massive blow for the secondary.
The news out of Minnesota centers on the right guard spot. When camp opened, Jesse Davis, a veteran free agent from Miami, appeared to have the job. However, Davis struggled in Preseason Week 1, and second-round rookie Ed Ingram (LSU) took control of the job. Ingram had a great Senior Bowl and worked out with elite quickness. With Christian Darrisaw ascending at left tackle but Garrett Bradbury still struggling at center, the Vikings' line grades out about average.
Updates from Week 2
The team is searching for alternative options for their No. 2 quarterback position. The offense will filter through the passing game, with Kirk Cousins continuously impressing, and neither Sean Mannion nor Kellen Mond has performed in a way that brings the team comfort in case of injury to Cousins. Mannion was conservative in the preseason opener, completing 8/12 passes for 79 yards. Mond was inconsistent, going 4/9 before a 5/5 drive in which he had multiple 15+ yard throws. He finished 9/14 with 119 yards and two touchdowns. The final drive gave a glimpse into the Vikings' hope, exemplifying the arm talent of an NFL starter. But veterans who possess the ability to play more consistently are available, and the team hasn't ruled out adding to the room. In the meantime, Cousins should return to practice later this week after testing positive for COVID-19, though his involvement in preseason games is unclear.
Dalvin Cook is the clear No. 1 running back, but Alexander Mattison's hold on the No. 2 position is weakening. Mattison was the No. 2 back on the team's first unofficial depth chart and saw the first snaps in the preseason game (Cook sat out), but both Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler turned in impressive performances. Nwangwu carried the ball seven times for 41 yards, and Chandler had five carries for 50 yards. The Vikings' offensive line opened massive rushing lanes, but both players flashed an ability to create yards on their own. Mattison finished with eight yards on three carries. Nwangwu is turning in consistent performances, notably flashing his speed and athleticism. Chandler is taking advantage of every opportunity he receives. The battle for the No. 2 role is one to watch.
Arif Hasan detailed the creativity the Vikings will implement with their running backs under Kevin O'Connell, which could lead to a massive fantasy year for Dalvin Cook. The backs are lining up "out wide, in bunch, on the wing, in line, and, of course, in the backfield." Likely, fans won't see this come to fruition entirely until Week 1 of the regular season.
K.J. Osborn is continuing to turn heads at practice, to the point that some expect him to become the No. 2 receiver in 2022. Adam Thielen has performed more inconsistently, looking like his peak self for stretches before disappointing in the Vikings' annual night practice. Flashes of his athleticism appear, but he may assume a possession-style role, gaining value in the red zone and on third downs. Osborn, Thielen, and Justin Jefferson lock up the top three receiver spots, but the battle for the No. 4 receiver is also close to its conclusion. Ihmir Smith-Marsette projects to win the role, and he led the team in catches in preseason Week 1. Albert Wilson caught two touchdowns, and Jalen Nailor snagged two balls for 22 yards, but these players are likely battling for the No. 5 role alongside Bisi Johnson.
Justin Jefferson's involvement in the preseason games is unclear, but his role in the regular season is crystal clear. Jefferson consistently dominates practice, winning "every route in every situation," according to Arif Hasan. Jefferson will see targets early and often and be among the NFL's leading receivers when the season concludes.
Irv Smith is sidelined for the next few weeks, so the tight end room is fighting for snaps. Formerly of the Los Angeles Rams, Johnny Mundt ran with the starters in the preseason opener, playing all eight snaps in which all starters remained. Mundt's knowledge of the offense has given him an advantage over Ben Ellefson and Zach Davidson. While Davidson possesses the highest ceiling as a pass-catching option, drops have been a problem. Mundt ran five routes in the preseason debut, indicating he could see the most benefit if Smith's injury extended into the regular season.
The defense struggled with discipline in the preseason opener, consistently drawing flags for illegal contact. Rookie Andrew Booth Jr was flagged for defensive pass interference and a face mask on the same play, continuing his inconsistencies from practice. The team has consistently rotated the first and second units in practice, so it isn't easy to gauge the full scope of the situation. However, Danielle Hunter has returned to his previous form, meaning the sack production could make the Vikings a viable fantasy team defense.
Kene Nwangwu is one of the best kickoff returners in the NFL today-- the list of players who are better starts and ends with Cordarrelle Patterson, who might not even play special teams this year. Punt returns are more of an issue for the Vikings, who will likely turn to unproven Ihmir Smith-Marsette or rookie Jalen Nailor.
Updates from Week 1
Kirk Cousins is lighting up camp, says Luke Braun. Of course, it's easier to perform without pads and pressure, but Cousins' first season in new head coach Kevin O'Connell's offense looks promising. His connection with Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn has been notable, and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah stated that he's locked into "zero dark LeBron" mode. O'Connell has challenged him to take more frequent calculated risks, pushing Cousins to stop progressing through reads as quickly. Cousins’ command of the offense - one that will transition to a pass-first philosophy - will be key to sustained offensive success. The backup quarterback competition is heating up, with Kellen Mond pushing Sean Mannion for the No. 2 role. Mond began taking second-team reps, but it’s been a rollercoaster. He strung together solid performances early on but struggled since. If the sophomore emerges, it could allow the Vikings to keep just two quarterbacks and free up another roster spot. Unfortunately, he has underperformed relative to expectations thus far, and Mannion still holds a lead.
Dalvin Cook looks lightning fast, according to Arif Hasan. Cook, one of the NFL's best running backs, has always been fast, so an increase in speed at this stage of his career is notable. Cook lined up in the slot in bunch wide receiver sets in OTAs, and while that hasn't been a commonality in open-to-the-public sessions, he could take on a more significant role as a receiver in 2022. Behind Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, and Ty Chandler hope to fill out the depth chart. While Cook, Mattison, and Nwangwu were dinged up with minor injuries early last week, Chandler saw his first reps in team drills. Chandler impressed with his limited work and will be vying for snaps as the No. 2 running back. Nwangwu, when healthy, is the fastest player on the team and could assume a more prominent role in specific packages, though much of his impact could come on special teams again in 2022.
Justin Jefferson is winning at every level of the field, and Adam Thielen seems to be clinging to the No. 2 receiver role, but K.J. Osborn is staking his claim for more reps. He appears locked into the No. 3 role, but that will be a higher volume role with the new regime. The new offense will deploy three-receiver sets much more frequently. K.J. Osborn is running a route tree that emulates Cooper Kupp (O'Connell most recently coordinated the Los Angeles Rams' offense). Ihmir Smith-Marsette is leading the way in the competition for the No. 4 role over hopefuls Jalen Nailor, Olabisi Johnson, and Albert Wilson, according to Arif Hasan. The team likes his versatility, using him as more than just a field-stretching speed threat though Nailor is impressing and flashing his big-play ability. "We've got some guys that not only left here [from OTAs] in great shape but came back in even better shape. He's obviously one of those guys. But his mindset is exactly where I want it to be," Kevin O'Connell said of Justin Jefferson. Jefferson and O'Connell are forming a bond, and the offense should filter through the third-year wideout.
Irv Smith can't catch a break. His most recent injury is minor compared to the meniscus tear that knocked him out for the season in 2021, but it's a setback, nonetheless. Smith recently had finger surgery that will knock him out of training camp, but the Vikings expect him to return by Week 1, barring any setbacks. "With Zach, it's really exciting because I see a lot of ability in him. So, you see a high ceiling and a desire to work and get better. It's exciting to work with a guy like that where you see all this potential down the road," Kirk Cousins said of Zach Davidson when questioned on the tight end room that's absent of Smith. Davidson is emerging as a reliable pass-catcher but has room to improve. Johnny Mundt followed O'Connell over from Los Angeles, and his familiarity with the scheme could give him the immediate advantage in earning starting reps.
The defense's success will depend on the play of the young defensive backs. Newcomers Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr have been working with the first-team defense on veteran rest days, and the latter is challenging Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn with confidence. Booth and Cameron Dantzler will continue battling for the No. 2 cornerback position, with Chandon Sullivan handling the starting slot role. The front-seven looks set, with Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter healthy and ready to operate as the primary pass rushers. The front will be multiple, with most base sets being 3-4 and the two mentioned above as standing rushers. The defense is working with a plethora of new starters but is hoping for an improvement on a disappointing 2021 season.