We’ve finished about half of training camp, and it seems as if we don’t have a clear winner for the Mr. Mankato award just yet. It’s a silly award meant to recognize that longshot camp performances happen every year without necessarily translating into regular season success, but it’s been fun to track the highlights of players who otherwise may not get their due.
The official list at 1500ESPN gives us the potential candidates, and it seems like a good time to review the lead candidates.
I refuse to recognize the candidacy of third-round pick Pat Elflein, who otherwise would be in the running now that he’s getting play with the ones and (to my eyes) is outperforming Nick Easton. But he’s too high of a pick in my view to be a Mr. Mankato candidate.
There are four draft picks worth going over, and another four undrafted free agents or holdovers from a previous year. I want to get Jaleel Johnson and Jack Tocho out of the way because even though they’ve done well in camp—Tocho did fantastically in individual drills right before camp broke for a day off—neither have been pushing as a top performer at their position or generated enough highlight plays for their candidacies to earn the coveted honor just yet.
So too with Isaac Fruechte, one of my dark horses. He, like Tocho, had a fantastic Monday but hasn’t put together enough of a solid resume at the receiver position to outshine other Mr. Mankato candidates, and has had enough relatively lukewarm performances to balance things out.
After that, things are hard to break down. I would argue that Terrell Sinkfield has had the best day-to-day performance of any of the candidates and that by itself would create a strong resume for him, but without a consistent number of pass deflections and interceptions, it will be difficult for him to create buzz and earn the Mr. Mankato nod.
The next-best performer might be Elijah Lee, but he also suffers from the Sinkfield issue; his fantastic play thus far hasn’t resulted in splash moments where he stands out, instead slipping blocks to meet the running back before a whistle blows or deterring coverage in his zone.
I’m partial to Tashawn Bower, who not only has some great performances to his name, but also the allure of another all-upside LSU pass-rusher who just needs a little development. But I don’t think a defensive end will ever win the award because they can’t ever take the quarterback down. Bower has been great about disrupting the pocket and creating problems on the outside in the run game, but he won’t draw eyes in the same way a receiver or ball-hawk defensive back can.
That leaves two candidates left in my eyes: Cayleb Jones and Bucky Hodges. Both have been a lot of fun to watch, and they’ve scored touchdowns in dramatic fashion, both in red-zone drills and deep bombs downfield. Hodges has had fewer opportunities because he’s also been asked to block, but Jones hasn’t been as consistent from day to day in camp, putting together his least exciting day on Monday before players left to relax.
It feels to me as if Jones has received more attention, however scant attention is during this portion of training camp, than Hodges for his performances. To that end, Jones might be a frontrunner for the award, but I think Hodges’ consistent performance as well as his improvement as a blocker makes me want to argue that he will earn the award by the time the committee makes their decision.
Besides, he scores touchdowns. Who doesn’t want to score touchdowns?