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A Player to Watch in Every Position Group for the Vikings During Training Camp

With training camp in full force and preseason in the near future, here's someone to watch for in every position group.

The Minnesota Vikings are heading into their third year under the regime of general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell. They’ve had a major impact on the culture and feel of this team, but this is the first year where the roster looks like it’s theirs. Drafting J.J. McCarthy 10th overall a few months ago and spending the newfound money they had by letting Kirk Cousins leave, this roster is taking shape how the duo had in mind when they took over, and now with a new (hopefully) franchise quarterback, their window to build a competitive roster around him has begun.

Minnesota has competition battles for so many different starting and backup positions, training camp and preseason games are as important as they’ve ever been. The Vikings made multiple depth signings this offseason and added one of the better undrafted free agent classes in the league, hoping to find a gem or two out of the rough. Preseason games can be a stark reality once you realize how drastic the talent gap is between the preseason players and Sunday starters, but those preseason games are the Super Bowl for so many of those guys and I’ll list some players to keep an eye out for, in hopes to make preseason a bit more watchable.

A Player to Watch in Every Position Group for the Vikings During Training Camp

Quarterback- Jaren Hall

Obviously, this isn’t the most interesting quarterback to watch. But these are some deep cuts, guys to watch in the fourth quarter of the last preseason game. McCarthy will be what everyone talks about, and rightfully so, but Jaren Hall’s development as the potential third quarterback on the roster is intriguing. Hall started two games last year and ended up playing about two quarters worth of football in those games, due to a concussion and a benching. The fifth-rounder out of BYU is now entering his second year and in a camp battle with the veteran Nick Mullens.

With the signing of Sam Darnold, Mullens becomes expendable and could be traded on cut-down day, but only if Hall can prove he’s capable of holding down the third-string spot. While Hall mostly struggled when he played last year, he was put in some unfortunate circumstances and ended up being completely overshadowed by Josh Dobbs, then with the season on the line he gets thrown into the fire on primetime against the Viking’s biggest rivals. With another offseason under his belt and more development, Hall will be an exciting player to watch.

Running Back- Kene Nwangwu

The new kickoff rules the NFL will introduce this season are something special-teams coaches and head coaches have been asked about incessantly, with intrigue from everyone on how teams will attack the new style of kickoff. It’s unclear how the Vikings will — or any team for that matter — but Kene Nwangwu has held the kick-return job ever since he was drafted back in 2022.

Running backs will seemingly hold an advantage with these new rules and teams will bring run-game concepts over to the special-teams side of things. Nwangwu has been a dynamic returner throughout his career up to this point and he’s someone who could benefit from this rule change. He hasn’t been able to see the field much as a running back due to some issues with his vision and reading out plays, but this is something that’s now needed to return kicks. This is a big training camp for Nwangwu and his efforts in the return game could be the reason he makes the team or gets cut.

Wide Receiver- Jalen Nailor

I wrote an entire article about Jalen Nailor and how I think he can make an impact on the games that count this year, but to summarize; Nailor has received praise from coach O’Connell at every chance possible. In his limited in-game action, he’s shown flashes of what he can do, and with K.J. Osborn heading to New England this offseason, Nailor will see increased playing time whether he wins the third receiver job or not.

Tight End- Robert Tonyan

Between the workout he had in Minnesota that led to his signing and his performance early in OTAs, Robert Tonyan has had some great practices. The veteran tight end has completed the cycle of NFC North teams after signing with the Vikings, and he’ll compete with the logjam of vets and younger tight ends for playing time until T.J. Hockenson heals up. All of the tight ends besides Josh Oliver (he’ll play a lot in the regular season) will be interesting to watch this preseason.

Between Tonyan, N’keal Harry, who has made the switch to tight end, Nick Muse, and undrafted free agent Trey Knox, they’ll all see preseason playing time in hopes of finding a placeholder until the star tight end Hockenson can return.

Offensive Line- Dalton Risner

Re-signed just a few weeks ago, Dalton Risner returns to Minnesota to compete with Blake Brandel for the starting left guard position. Risner played well enough last year that the Vikings felt comfortable trading away long-time starter Ezra Cleveland to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick, which turned into Walter Rouse. Risner quickly became a fan favorite and a highly viewed teammate by staff and players.

It’s seemingly a 50/50 chance between him and Brandel to start and both will get the chance to work with the first team throughout the preseason. Continuity has been a strength for the offensive line between last year and this year, and if Risner wins the starting job that familiarity between that group will only grow stronger.

Defensive Line- Levi Drake Rodriguez

When listening to Adofo-Mensah’s post-draft press conference with the media he went over every player that was drafted. When he got to Levi Drake Rodriguez, you could hear the excitement in his voice. Coming from Texas A&M Commerce, Rodriguez had a great 2023 before being invited to the Tropical Bowl where he was named MVP and was even the centerpiece of The Athletic’s “Prospect X” series, where Kalyn Kahler writes about a small-school NFL draft hopeful, and this year it happened to be Rodriguez.

From that article and people in the Vikings facility, Rodriguez has a reputation for being a ball of energy. Getting to the facility before the sun rises and anyone else is there and working as hard as anyone in the building. Rodriguez is someone every fan should be watching, and he’ll get increased preseason playing time. The defensive line group, especially on the interior, is desperate for someone like Rodriguez to step up and earn a rotational role. Behind Harrison Phillips, the interior defensive line spots are wide open.

Linebacker- Gabriel Murphy

A year after signing Ivan Pace – who had one of the best rookie seasons by an undrafted player in a long time — they follow it up by singing another highly rated undrafted linebacker in Gabriel Murphy. Murphy has a ton of juice as a pass-rusher and never had a PFF grade less than an 87 over his last three seasons.

It’s unfair to expect another undrafted rookie to do what Pace did, but Murphy does play the same position, and if he makes the team he would provide another chess piece for Brian Flores to move around and blitz at will. He’ll get a lot of snaps in those late-quarter preseason games, so if you’re watching the Vikings play and don’t recognize 90% of the players out there, try and find Gabriel Murphy. He made a ton of plays in college and there’s a lot of hype and expectation on him to do the same at the NFL level.

Cornerback- Andrew Booth Jr.

If you look at a scouting report when Andrew Booth Jr. was still at Clemson, you couldn’t find one that didn’t talk about his injury history which has plagued him up to this point of his NFL career. Booth was drafted to be a part of the 2022 version of the Vikings defense, coordinated by Ed Donatell. After that went as poorly as it possibly could have, Booth was put in an unfortunate spot (same with Lewis Cine) where they were drafted to play to their strengths in a specific defense, and that got flipped on its head when Brian Flores came in. Booth is in an uphill battle to get playing time.

When he played last year, he showed flashes of what made him so highly touted in the pre-draft process just two years ago. But with so many corners brought in since then specifically for the Flores-style of cornerback, Booth needs a great preseason to make the team and impact it. But before any of that, he needs to stay healthy, something that he hasn’t been able to do since he came into the league. He’s incredibly talented and can help this defense a lot, and I hope we get to see him play this preseason, if he doesn’t, there’s a high probability he’ll be on another roster in 2024.

Safety- Jay Ward

The Vikings found a cornerstone on their defense in Josh Metellus last season. He was too good to ignore and was put all over the field last year, playing well at every spot he was in. The trio of Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, and Metellus was arguably the best safety trio in the league last year, all moving around the defense play-to-play and playing at a high level.

Jay Ward is another Swiss-army knife style of player who’s a great tackler and blitzer, something that he has in common with the three starters above him on the depth chart. He had a strip-sack last preseason against Arizona on a blitz off the edge which flashed his quickness and hard-hitting style of football, which would be huge for the Vikings to see him do that in the regular season. It’ll be a tough hill to climb trying to get playing time over the three safeties mentioned earlier, but the worst-case scenario is that he produces on special teams and continues to develop as the season goes on, while filling in for any injuries as they come.

Main Image: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports


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