The Minnesota Vikings’ offense limped through most of the preseason. Whether it was Kirk Cousins, Jake Browning, or rookie Kellen Mond at quarterback, sustained drives were few and far between. In fact, through 10 quarters of preseason football, the Vikings’ offense had yet to even score a touchdown.
Browning appeared to have the inside track to the backup quarterback job when preseason began, but he regressed with each game. Mond, the third-round developmental rookie, hadn’t done enough in his first two games to show that he had supplanted Browning on the depth chart. However, he also didn’t do anything to show that he didn’t deserve to be above Browning on the depth chart. He had only completed 12-of-28 passes for 114 yards, but he hadn’t turned the ball over. It wasn’t pretty, but as a third-rounder, it was to be expected.
That changed Friday night when Mond came in to begin the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs. Browning had stunk up the first half in relief of Cousins, only going two-of-eight for 41 yards. Mond didn’t inspire much confidence on his first drive, sailing a pass over fellow rookie Zach Davidson‘s head. However, replay showed that Mond may not have been completely at fault for the pick. Although the ball was high, Davidson didn’t put much effort into jumping for the ball.
Mond responded the following drive, completing three passes for 19 yards and scrambling for a first down on fourth-and-five. One play later, A.J. Rose took a pitch 32 yards for the Vikings’ first offensive touchdown of the preseason. Mond’s ability to shake off the interception was impressive and isn’t an easy task for young quarterbacks. His first-down scramble came after he dropped back, read the coverage, and saw an opening. Scrambling wasn’t his first instinct like it can be for mobile quarterbacks.
Finally stretching the ball downfield, Mond opened up the Vikings’ offense on Friday. Outside of the interception on the first drive, Mond found success in both the intermediate (10-19 yards) and deep game (20-plus yards). He hit his lone deep pass, connecting with Whop Philyor on a 29-yard strike down the right sideline. He connected on four-of-five passes in the intermediate game for 81 yards.
This was a stark contrast to Mond’s previous two games. In the first preseason game against Denver, Mond was only one-of-six in the intermediate passing game for 13 yards. He didn’t even attempt a deep pass all game. Last week against Indianapolis, he was one-of-three in the intermediate game and one-of-two in the deep game. Whether it was a change in the offensive scheme or reading the defense better, Mond was calmer in the pocket yet more aggressive in his decision-making.
Under Mond, the Vikings closed a 28-10 second-half deficit with a defensive touchdown (capped with a Mond completion on the two-point conversion) and another drive ending with a Rose touchdown run. In a game where Minnesota lost 28-25, there weren’t a ton of positives, but Mond was one of the brighter spots. Although he also added a fumble (he was hit from behind while throwing), he turned in his best performance of the preseason.
From here, Minnesota should be able to make the smart decision and move Mond above Browning on the depth chart (or possibly cutting Browning altogether). Mond had more production in the second half of the final preseason game than Browning had in all three preseason games combined. Browning only completed 39.4% of his passes for only 4.7 yards per attempt. Mond’s ability to run also separated him, as he scrambled nine times for 68 yards, picking up five first downs.
Mond’s draft status also projects a higher potential than the previously undrafted Browning. Even if the Vikings’ coaching staff could somehow convince themselves that Browning is the better quarterback right now (which would be a mistake), Mond is sure to surpass him by a clear margin sooner than later.
Minnesota may still need to add a veteran quarterback as Mond could still be too raw at this point to be counted on to be the emergency quarterback. But the rookie showed improvement from his first preseason snap to his last. This should give the Vikings hope that their third-round investment in him can one day pay the dividends they envision