The Vikings’ first depth chart made one thing clear: rookies are being brought along slowly, regardless of where they were selected. Only three first-year players, Daniel Carlson, Mike Hughes and Brian O’Neill, have their names in one of the first two columns. And Hughes is only a second group guy as a return man. As a corner, he in the third group behind Terence Newman.
That said, a few rookies and second-year guys who saw first and second group action in the preseason opener showed that they belonged in a big way. Others, on the other hand, did considerably less to help their stock. Now, the odds that this single game will influence personnel decisions on its own are slim. A variety of factors will make those determinations. But here, we are simply examining trends: who is trending up, who is trending down.
The guy is an elite cover talent. It was obvious immediately. On multiple occasions, he ran receivers’ routes for them, showing not only great hips and athleticism but fantastic instincts, as well. Hughes’ ball skills could still use some work, as he missed on opportunity at an end zone reception despite great coverage. However, the tools to play the position are without question starting caliber. It would be a minor upset if he did not move ahead of Newman as the sixth defensive back.
Thomas and fellow undrafted rookie, Mike Boone, are both fourth on the depth chart behind Mack Brown. Yet, each saw a ton of second-group snaps, while Brown was relegated to the end of the game. And when Thomas got the ball in his hands, it was something to behold. His ability to catch out of the backfield could serve as his ticket to the third running back spot. He has that change-of-pace, third-down value that could earn him a half dozen touches a game. After over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns, Thomas clearly has the early edge in this running back battle.
Granted, Isidora and Tom Compton are both second-team guards on the depth chart. So theoretically, they are on a level plane. However, Compton has stepped in as starting guard in place of Nick Easton. And in that role, Compton certainly was not bad. But Saturday, Isidora looked like the best lineman on the field. He surrendered no ground in pass pro with solid hand work. His athleticism for the position is above average, which made for excellent zone blocking. Everything about Isidora looked starter quality. Now, whether that leads anywhere in 2018 may rely on yet another line injury. But from my vantage point, Isidora should be the first option to step in right now, and he should absolutely factor into the line’s future.
Kendall Wright and Stacy Coley seem relatively secure as fourth and fifth receivers (depending on severity of Coley’s injury suffered in practice yesterday). The sixth spot is a complete wild card. Beebe, Tavarres King, Brandon Zylstra, Jake Wieneke and Cayleb Jones, to name a few, all have shots. Beebe made a few plays Saturday, finishing with three catches on four targets and a 10-yard touchdown. It is a narrow edge, to be sure, but an edge nonetheless in a wide open race.
Carlson likely had the lead for the kicking job anyway, given he was a fifth-round pick. But all doubt essentially went out the window when he split the uprights on a 57-yarder. Kai Forbath will likely have the chance to counter next week, but he simply lacks Carlson’s elite leg power.
Johnson started at nose in place of Linval Joseph, but he also took snaps well into the second quarter, generally alongside Ifeadi Odenigbo. In that time, nothing about Johnson really jumped off the screen. His strength in the running game still leaves something to be desired and while he got to the quarterback once, his overall pass rushing prowess a little lacking, as well. Truth be told, at least on first glance, Odenigbo and David Parry both were greater factors inside than Johnson was. Johnson clearly carries the most value in coaches’ minds, otherwise he would not have started. But he needs to show a bit more development as preseason continues, particularly as a run-stuffer.
Blake Bell likely has more value than Conklin as a blocking tight end, so Conklin has to separate himself as a pass catcher if he is to make the 53-man roster. On Saturday, he was more of a liability in that area than an asset. He has just one catch for two yards on three targets, but his primary low-light was a “drop” that resulted in a turnover. I put drop in quotes because it will not go down as one, as Trevor Siemian‘s pass was off-target. That said, Conklin had both hands on the ball before it bounced off and went for a Broncos interception. It would have been a tough-ish catch, but one that could have and probably should have been made. An opportunity to make an impression slipped through Conklin’s fingers in that moment.
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