The Mr. Mankato competition does not end with the Minnesota Vikings hitting the field for an actual (kinda) game on Thursday night. In fact, it’s only just begun. Preseason games are the biggest stage for our inexperienced competitors to make their mark. So as the Vikings head to Buffalo to play preseason Game 1, which contenders made a strong first impression and which still have a ways to go?
*(If you’re not familiar with Mr. Mankato, to qualify the player must be either inexperienced – a la a practice squad player from last year – or a recent draft pick past the third round)*
WR, Rodney Adams
Mike Zimmer called Adams one of the leaders for a roster spot, saying he and Stacy Coley were the “most consistent” in Mankato. The fifth-round pick has shown flashes of picking up route running and the playmaking and quickness that made him an intriguing prospect for the Vikings. His ability to step into a slot role helps Adams’ case. One area where he will have to step up to win Mr. Mankato is on kick returns. In practice, the team does not do returns live, so preseason is where at least part of the Mr. Mankato battle will be waged.
Wr, Stacy Coley
Coley is fast. Some players have good 40-yard dash times, but don’t appear that speedy when the pads come on, but the former Miami star showed the ability to beat corners on “go” routes. One area of concern coming out of the draft was Coley’s commitment and focus. He did not show signs of lacking either during camp. The seventh-rounder made catches when the ball was thrown his way and flashed some exciting athleticism. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be targeted on deep balls during preseason games.
LB, Ben Gedeon
The Vikings picked Gedeon in the fourth round because they liked his smarts, instincts and power. In camp, he displayed enough of those elements to earn some time with the first team. The former Michigan Wolverine also took snaps at all three different linebacker positions. In college, his biggest issue was with coverage, so his ability to track down running backs and play zone coverages in the middle will be a focus during preseason games.
C. Pat Elflein
Offensive linemen have trouble standing out in the Mr. Mankato contest because they simply don’t have enough flashy plays, but Elflein will be under fans’ microscope as he battles with Nick Easton to win the starting center job. The Vikings’ third-round pick has split first-team reps throughout camp and battled against the likes of Linval Joseph. Whoever he matches up against during preseason games is likely to be a lesser opponent than the Vikings’ monster in the middle.
Elflein has a tendency to finish blocks, especially in the run game, which may stand out enough to Vikings fans to get some Mr. Mankato attention.
TE, Kyle Carter
Yes, that’s right. Kyle Carter. He was originally part of “the field” in our pre-camp odds, but the former Penn State tight end has made catches when the ball has come his way and seen time with the first team during goal line drills. At 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, Carter is quick and has shown flashes of having good hands. In preseason, he will need to impress as a blocker. Right now, he could be considered ahead of sixth-round pick Bucky Hodges.
DE, Tashawn Bower
The former LSU defensive end jumped out to a strong start in camp, using his height and quickness to give tackles problems. He didn’t have as many standout days as camp progressed, but he put his name on the map as an intriguing player. Bower is most likely to see reps with the third team in the preseason, so he’ll be facing backups’ backups on the other side. For Mr. Mankato purposes, a few sacks could push him up the board.
DE, Ifeadi Odenigbo
It’s a stacked group of defensive ends and Odenigbo has thrown his hat in the mix with a solid few weeks in Mankato. He was a big-time producer during his final season at Northwestern and will have a chance to bring his bull-rushing style to an NFL field. It would seem that either he or Bower winning a roster spot over Stephen Weatherly is unlikely, they both have a chance to show they can get after quarterbacks and impress the Mr. Mankato voting panel.
G, Danny Isidora
Zimmer has name-dropped Isidora several times this offseason as a player who has impressed him. The fifth-round pick guard would have to really be spectacular to win Mr. Mankato, but he’s still worth a look during the preseason games to see if he can win a backup job behind starting right guard Joe Berger.
CB, Terrell Sinkfield
Last year, Sinkfield was a wide receiver in camp. This year, he’s a cornerback and he’s appeared to make the transition fairly well. The Minnesota native is incredibly athletic, but is still learning how to play corner. Unless the Vikings add a veteran at the 11th hour, Sinkfield will have a shot to beat out Tre Roberson, Horace Richardson and Jabari Price for a depth corner job.
The Vikings’ notable sixth-round pick did not stand out in Mankato as much as some expected considering his size/speed and production at Virginia Tech. He left camp behind Kyle Carter in the race for the No. 3 tight end (though the Vikings might keep four TEs).
Hodges still has time to catch up. The 6-foot-6 tight end is being asked to do things – most notable block and line up in a three-point stance – that he didn’t do very often in college.
DT, Jaleel Johnson
In an attempt to make up for Sharrif Floyd’s absence, the Vikings added a bunch of bodies to the mix at the defensive tackle position, including veteran free agents Datone Jones and Will Sutton. Those moves have pushed Johnson down the depth chart and he can expect to see mostly time with the third team against Buffalo. Defensive tackle is a tough position to earn Mr. Manakto, but if Johnson creates buzz from rushing the passer (he managed 7.5 sacks last year at Iowa),
LB, Elijah Lee
The Vikings’ seventh-round pick is built for making plays in the preseason and standing out amongst his Mr. Mankato contenders. Lee is quick and has good instincts, but linebackers don’t often get much shine in camp because they’re not allowed to hit. If Lee is going to make up ground, he’ll have to do it with splash plays in preseason games. The same goes for making the team. He might project as a practice squad player with Edmond Robinson, Emmanuel Lamur and Ben Gedeon ahead of him.
WR, Isaac Fruechte
The former Gopher has had some good days in Mankato, but heads into the preseason with Adams and Coley ahead of him. Still, he’s a big wide receiver at 6-foot-3 and might be able to stand out on special teams. Fruechte was listed on the depth chart as a returner, so he should be in the mix on kicks and punts. He will have to prove that his reliability is better than Adams’ or Coley’s upside.
WR, Cayleb Jones
Early in camp, Jones flashed the ability to be a deep threat, even though he isn’t as quick as some of the other receivers. He’s got a large frame and can rise up to make tough catches. Will he actually do that against opposing teams? That will determine whether he makes noise in the race for Mr. Mankato. Jones will also have to be solid on special teams to have a chance.
S, Jack Tocho
A corner-turned-safety, Tocho will see his first (mostly) full speed action as a safety when he takes the field against Buffalo. He’s touted as a smart player who should be able to adapt quickly. A safety won Mr. Mankato last year, so it’s possible that a few big plays could help him rise up the board. However, he’s got a long way to go to be in the mix for a roster spot. Jayron Kearse, Anthony Harris and Antone Exum Jr. are all ahead of him heading into preseason.