The Minnesota Vikings kicked their training camp into high gear about a week ago when they started having padded practices. A lot of players have continued to play at the high levels they had set for themselves in prior seasons. There also have been some surprising players to step up and suddenly look like contenders for jobs on the Vikings’ roster.
Here are the Vikings who have stood out with their superb and consistent play based on reports from training camp:
There hasn’t been a bigger surprise in Vikings’ training camp so far than the play of Dantzler. The third-round rookie out of Mississippi State fell in the draft due to concerns about his speed. His coverage was never an issue in college, but his pedestrian 4.64 40-yard dash time caused his tumble down the draft board.
The Vikings truly appear to have a steal on their hands with Dantzler. Through the first few weeks of camp, he’s been making all kinds of plays on the field. He has been able to stay stride for stride with stars like Thielen, and there’s a clip on Twitter of him using perfect positioning and then timing to go up and knock the ball away at the last minute.
He clearly caught the attention of the Minnesota’s No. 1 receiver, with Mike Zimmer stating in an interview that, “Adam Thielen came up to me during practice today, and said ‘Number 27’s gonna be good.”
The most impressive thing about Dantzler is his consistency. This kid has been able to make impressive plays most days, showing that his skills on the field are no fluke. Dantzler has surpassed Kris Boyd on the depth chart and even looks to be ahead of Gladney at this point. With Holton Hill also playing well, it’s unlikely he’ll take his starting spot but could play opposite him on the outside if the Vikings’ decide to play Hughes at nickel. One thing that’s certain is that we’ll see quite a bit of Dantzler during his rookie season — potentially much earlier than many expected.
After the draft, many figured the Vikings’ starting guards would be Dru Samia and Pat Elflein. With talk that Ezra Cleveland could get moved inside for at least his first season, many rightfully assumed he’d be in the starting mix as well. No one was out pounding their chest that Dozier would be a starter. There aren’t many things that are crystal clear after a few weeks into Vikings training camp, but one that is looking like a lock is Dozier starting.
He just has done everything right in camp to this point. His play has been solid, and he’s done everything asked of him. He will play with the 1s or 2s and has the ability to play both guard spots and can fill in at tackle if need be. Dozier even played some emergency center after Garrett Bradbury went out, and it’s this kind of versatility and mental toughness that has impressed his coaches.
Dozier will be playing left guard this season with Elflein moving over to the right side. No matter how he performs, he’ll likely be an upgrade over how horrible Elflein was a season ago. Perhaps the upgrade in play will also help Riley Reiff out at tackle and the left side as a whole will be much improved this season.
Johnson was a major surprise a season ago, and he just continues to develop. When the Vikings took Justin Jefferson in Round 1 of the draft last year, many assumed he’d step into the No. 2 wide receiver role. While Jefferson has looked impressive, Johnson’s consistent play on the field has kept the rookie from grabbing that starting job.
Johnson has run extremely sharp routes and has been making highlight-reel grabs just about every day in practice. “I would say the game has definitely slowed down for me a lot, as far as understanding the playbook, being confident in my route running and things like that,” he said when asked about his steady and solid play through camp so far. “It’s just easier to go out there and just play football, really.”
Kirk Cousins said he’s one of the most improved players in camp and has no qualms about throwing the ball Johnson’s way. There’s a great chance that Johnson hangs on to the No. 2 receiver spot and is starting across from Thielen in Week 1.
At the end of the 2019 regular season, the Vikings quietly signed this former Buffalo Bill. There was a lack of buzz around the signing and for good reason: Yarbrough hadn’t started a game since the 2017 season and had just one sack in his career. Many figured if he stuck around until the 2020 season kicked off, he’d be nothing more than a camp body and be one of the first players released. Instead, Yarbrough has done nothing but impress.
Yarbrough has reportedly been creating pressure in the offensive backfield throughout camp. With Danielle Hunter out for undisclosed reasons, Yarbrough has seen plenty of reps with the first team and is on track to be one of the primary backups at defensive end for the Vikings this season.
That is the surprising part. When the draft concluded, many figured the backups to Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo would be the rookies D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes. Anthony Zettel was brought in during free agency and was thought to be in the mix, but he’s clearly dropped out of the running. Jalyn Holmes has kicked back outside, and he and Yarbrough will provide veteran depth at the position. Yarbrough’s surprising emergence is bad news for Willekes, as his track to make the team has now become much more difficult.