E Point Perfect

Thoughts on Vikings 2022 Draft Picks in Preseason Opener & Outstanding Rookie Class of 2020


Thoughts on Vikings 2022 Draft Picks in Preseason Opener & Outstanding Rookie Class of 2020
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings Insider, The GM’s View 

There’s always a major focus in training camp on the current crop of rookies, how they’re progressing and how much we can expect them to contribute to the current team. 

This year is no different, and from my perspective, watching them in camp and the preseason opener in Vegas, the class of 2022 looks promising. While the top two picks — first-round safety Lewis Cine and second-round corner Andrew Booth Jr.— both started in the secondary (because Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson were sitting by coach’s choice), they didn’t do anything that jumped out, good or bad. 

But I certainly have liked what I’ve seen from these two players in camp, and I’ll be watching them closely in this week’s joint practices with the 49ers, who bring a strong group of wide receivers and tight ends, led by Pro Bowlers Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.

In the Raiders game, I was impressed with the following two 2022 picks — second-round guard Ed Ingram and third-round linebacker Brian Asamoah. Ingram looked strong in his run blocking and ok in pass protection, an area he should improve with more reps. Asamoah was super quick in pursuit and made one big hit.

The rookie who had the best performance in the opener was fifth-round running back Ty Chandler. He led the Vikings with 50 rushing yards on just five carries for a terrific 10-yard average and showed great speed and vision in his runs. He also flashed on a tremendous 56-yard kickoff return when he cut back across the field and outran a bunch of Raiders before being brought down. That return set up the Vikings first touchdown of the preseason on Kellen Mond’s two-yard pass to Albert Wilson.

Young RBs Shine in Vikings Preseason Opener
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

It may be hard for Chandler to get many touches this season with the Vikings outstanding running back group, and second-year man Kene Nwangwu (two TD returns last year) will almost certainly be the primary kickoff returner. But Chandler has given the coaches something to think about in terms of giving him opportunities to play this season, especially if the top backs get nicked, and his speed should be valuable to the special teams. 

Let’s also give a shout-out to former Gopher and fifth-round defensive lineman Osezi Otomewo who had four tackles in the latter stages of the game.

Sixth-round pick Jalen Nailor had a bad play with a muff on a kickoff but rebounded with two catches for 22 yards. He’s in a tough competition for the fifth and sixth receiver positions and should make the practice squad if he isn’t on the final active roster. 

It’s another big week for the rookies and this draft class that also includes fourth-round corner Akayleb Evans, sixth-round offensive tackle Vederian Lowe, and seventh-round tight end Nick Muse. Two days of joint practices and preseason game No. 2 with the 49ers, a final four team from last year, will test the mettle of all the rookies.

The Outstanding 2020 Vikings Draft Class:

I’ve always said we must wait two or three years to fully evaluate a draft choice and a draft class. This is Year 3 for the Vikings 2020 draft choices, and credit is due to former GM Rick Spielman and his scouting department for a job exceptionally well done with this group. 

Minnesota has four current starters led by two-time Pro Bowler Justin Jefferson, who was picked in the first round at No. 22 overall (it’s still amazing to think he was the fifth receiver taken in that draft, and the Vikings are forever grateful to the Eagles for taking so-so receiver Jalen Reagor just ahead of J.J.). 

Justin Jefferson's Response about His Next Contact Is the Stuff of Dreams
Feb 4, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Other current starters: a solid and improving guard in Ezra Cleveland (second round); a talented but inconsistent in the past corner in Cam Dantzler (third round), who looks more focused this year as he tries to hold off Booth for the outside corner spot opposite Patrick Peterson, and wide receiver K.J. Osborn who came on with 50 catches and 7 TDs last season and will be a starter as the third receiver in Coach Kevin O’Connell’s offense. Osborn should get plenty of targets as defenses focus more on Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook. Osborn is turning out to be a terrific fifth-round pickup from that draft. 

2020 fourth-round edge/outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum led the Vikings with eight sacks last season, and he will be an essential part of the rotation to keep Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith fresh and healthy. 

Six other members of the class were on last year’s active roster or practice squad and are in the competition for roster spots this season: defensive lineman James Lynch (4th round), linebacker Troy Dye (4th round), corner Harrison Hand (5th round), offensive tackle Blake Brandel (6th round), safety Josh Metellus (6th round) and guard Kyle Hinton (7th round). Another seventh-rounder — defensive end Kenny Willekes— had some play time last season and is currently on injured reserve.

That’s a terrific draft class with so many contributors and a superstar in Jefferson.

Other Observations from the Raiders game:

1.I thought O’Connell was wise to sit 10 starters in the preseason opener as he is rightly focused on having a healthy team for the critical September 11 opener with the Packers.

There was no need to risk vets such as Cook, Hunter, or Za’Darius Smith, who have battled injuries in recent years (and all three should sit out the next two preseason games). I also agree with his decision to sit key players in Jefferson, Thielen, Peterson, Harrison Smith, and Eric Kendricks. These starters will get plenty of work in the practices with the 49ers this week.

Starting tight end Irv Smith Jr. remains out after thumb surgery (with the hope he’s back for the opener). 

Kirk Cousins also missed the game with Covid, although he is expected back for the 49ers practices this week and may get a series or two in Saturday’s game before he probably sits out the preseason finale in Denver. 

2. Other than too many penalties, not finishing two early drives, and shaky kick coverage, there were many good things for the Vikings against the Raiders, including strong play from the starting defensive line-Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Armon Watts. I liked linebacker Patrick Jones’ pressures as he rushed from the edge. And both Nwangwu and Chandler had fine games at running back, showing the great depth at the position. 

Mond got better as the game went on and threw two second-half TD passes to Albert Wilson, whereas Sean Mannion made some plays but ultimately couldn’t finish his drives with touchdowns and missed a few open receivers for potential TDs. Mond showed great touch on the 21-yard completion to Myron Mitchell in the third quarter and threw a perfect strike on the 20-yard over-the-shoulder TD pass to Wilson.

Mond looked much more poised than in his rookie season, and I thought he was better than Mannion in this game as their battle for the No. 2 QB job continues. In the competition at right guard, I thought Ingram looked good while starter Jesse Davis was just ok. 

Around the NFL Observations:

1.The Packers’ outlook for Week 1 against the Vikings improved this week with three key players activated off PUP (physically unable to perform): Pro Bowl guard/tackle Elgton Jenkins, starting tight end Robert Tonyan, and second-round receiver Christian Watson. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll be ready to face the Vikings, but now they’re on track. All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and kicker Mason Crosby remain on PUP as of now with their knee issues. 

2. Along with many NFL fans, especially in Houston, I was happy to see Deshaun Watson struggle in his preseason debut in Cleveland, completing one of five passes for seven yards in three series. Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski announced that Jacoby Brissett would be the starter Week 1 in Carolina (probably against former Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield in what would be a fascinating twist) once Watson’s suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy takes effect. It’s now under appeal by the NFL but will be at least six games and likely significantly more.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl

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