The Minnesota Vikings’ first season with quarterback Kirk Cousins was disappointing, as the team finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. The team will try to rebound in 2019, and began the preseason with a 34-25 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Here are three players to watch as the Vikings battle the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in their second preseason game.
3. WR Olabisi Johnson
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen form one of the NFL’s best wide receiver duos, but after those two, the depth chart is pretty barren. 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell has been a massive bust, and is unlikely to make the final roster. Minnesota has been unable to give him away to this point.
This means that there will be plenty of opportunities for rookies like Johnson to earn a role in the offense. A seventh-round pick, Johnson doesn’t have great size, speed, or athleticism, but he’s a smart player with good hands and he runs good routes. Sound familiar? That description could also apply to Thielen.
Johnson hauled in two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut, and will look to build upon that performance this week. Johnson is used to being a secondary or tertiary target. He spent four seasons at Colorado State, playing behind current NFL receivers Rashard Higgins, Michael Gallup, and Preston Williams, so he should fit right in with the Vikings.
He’s not a lock to make the roster, but is on his was to earning himself a spot.
2. TE Irv Smith Jr.
Minnesota’s second-round pick had an up-and-down first game. He caught three of seven targets for 21 yards, but was penalized twice. He’ll start out as the second-string tight end, and will eventually take over for Kyle Rudolph as the starter. But even playing a backup role for now, Smith can be involved in the offense.
He’s been working on his blocking, and is already a threat in the passing game. With the Vikings’ depth issues at wide receiver, Smith could be used quite a bit. The Seahawks have a deep pass rush unit, so Smith will need to show that he can help protect the quarterback while not committing penalties. Tight ends usually need a year or two to become acclimated to the NFL, but not having the pressure of starting right away should benefit Smith.
1. WR Dillon Mitchell
Another seventh-round wide receiver selection, Mitchell is in the same position as Johnson; fighting for both a spot on the roster and significant playing time. Mitchell is a project who doesn’t have great size, speed, hands, or route-running technique, but his ball skills are great. He is capable of making extremely difficult contested catches, but lacks consistency on the easy ones.
Mitchell has to show that he’s worth the Vikings’ time to develop, and that’s easier said than done, as there are players Mitchell is competing with who possess larger frames and more physical talent. Mitchell should get quite a bit of playing time over the next three games, and will have a chance to stake his claim to one of the open wide receiver spots.