The Vikings play preseason football on Aug. 14, one month from the date of this publication.
The time is quickly approaching to get familiar with who’s currently on the roster, who makes the cut, and why you should be irrationally cheering for certain players to make it.
Going position by position, we’ll look at the most interesting character at each position group. Criteria taken into account includes players’ potential roles, interesting backstories, and other intangibles left up to the author’s discretion.
QUARTERBACK: Kellen Mond
In a room with three prototypical pocket passers, one of whom is a former UDFA with a practice squad resumé, another being a seventh-round pick who’s never thrown a pass even in an NFL preseason game, and another who keeps a jar of rocks on his front porch, Mond stands out by simply being a novelty in these parts. Let’s face it, the Vikings don’t usually have fascinating quarterbacks, and neither Kirk Cousins, Jake Browning, nor Nate Stanley have done much to change that.
Vikings’ starters have often been statuesque with vanilla personalities. The backups have been hired to stay quiet and support the starters. The third-stringers have been a revolving door of obscurity.
Mond has charisma, mobility, and a high draft status that threatens the Vikings’ status quo. That’s relatively interesting.
RUNNING BACK: Kene Nwangwu
The last running back drafted by the Vikings, Alexander Mattison, had his own set of interesting traits. He was a workhorse running back from Boise State with a hurdling background but without elite straight-line speed.
The newest draft pick, Kene Nwangwu, also has a track-and-field background. He was a sprinter at his Texas high school with ludicrous 4.29 speed that Mattison lacked. Unlike Mattison, though, he doesn’t have the durability. Nwangwu touched the ball in college almost 500 fewer times than Mattison. In their four-year careers, Mattison got 641 chances; Nwangwu just 150. For that reason, many expected Nwangwu to fall out of the draft completely, but the Vikings took him in the fourth round.
The Vikings clearly see a specific niche for Nwangwu where he can capitalize on his speed. That makes him awfully intriguing.
WIDE RECEIVER: K.j. Osborn
The Vikings didn’t do much to bolster their receiving corps this offseason, opting to focus all their efforts on defense. Minnesota drafted Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the fifth round and added three UDFA pass-catchers to fill out their receiver room — none of whom are guaranteed to contribute this year.
How about the forgotten receiver from last year’s roster, K.J. Osborn? Though he received fans’ wrath for his inability to return punts, he was never given a chance as a pass-catcher. Chalk that up to the lack of offseason or preseason. Osborn looked infinitely more confident in OTAs this year, hauling in big catches daily. The former fifth-round pick has a chance to redeem himself this season by making a run at the WR3 spot. There isn’t a lot of talent standing in his way besides Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson.
TIGHT END: Zach Davidson
He’s 6’6″. He’s from Division II Central Missouri. He was a punter in college. And he was a long snapper in college.
The Vikings continue to find tight ends in obscure places, from UT-San Antonio (David Morgan) to Central Michigan (Tyler Conklin) to NAIA Marian (Brandon Dillon) and now Central Missouri. Zach Davidson‘s fascinating back story makes him the most interesting tight end in a room full of interesting tight ends. He narrowly beats out Shane Zylstra, the Mankato product (and Brandon Zylstra‘s brother) who is converting from wide receiver.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Ezra Cleveland
There aren’t any monster personalities like David Bakhtiari that will light up the Vikings’ offensive line group, but second-year guard Ezra Cleveland might subtly be the biggest wild card of the group. He was drafted as a tackle with a similar profile to Brian O’Neill, then never even got a look at tackle. His work at right guard in half a season seemingly cemented him as a guard for the foreseeable future, which could end up being a compelling what-if. What made the Vikings think Cleveland was a long-term guard, and why wasn’t he given a chance at his original position?
Cleveland’s trajectory should be interesting to all Vikings fans. His ability to protect Kirk Cousins from the left guard spot could dictate whether the Vikings’ offense will improve this season.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Jaylen Twyman
Jaylen Twyman was recently involved in a scary random shooting in June that may jeopardize his ability to perform this preseason. Twyman will reportedly make a 100% recovery, but we aren’t yet aware of his recovery timeline. It’s an unfortunate chapter for one of the most unique Vikings draft picks.
In a feature I wrote at Purple Insider, I spoke with Twyman’s defensive line coach at Pittsburgh to learn more about his rise to become one of the most productive defensive tackles in college football, his odd decision to opt-out as a senior, and his relentless curiosity that has helped him make valuable connections. Of note, Twyman established a friendship with fellow Pittsburgh alum Aaron Donald, whose stats Twyman challenged when he had double-digit sacks as a junior.
When Twyman was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round, he was brought to tears. Football seems to mean everything to him. Minnesota may value his commitment to the game — so long as he’s physically able to perform after his ill-timed encounter last month.
LINEBACKER: Chazz Surratt
Surratt had to fend off many challengers to become the most interesting Vikings linebacker, but his college backstory wins out. Surratt was a fledgling quarterback at North Carolina before reviving his career with a position switch to the defensive side of the ball. He also has a brother, Sage, who signed with the Detroit Lions as a receiver.
As mentioned, though, it’s an interesting group. Cameron Smith is trying to continue his career after heart surgery, Christian Elliss was literally playing FCS football games just weeks before the draft, and Tuf Borland is an awesome name to have for a linebacker.
CORNERBACK: Bashaud Breeland
Bashaud Breeland, who has played in two Super Bowls, earned this distinction when he introduced himself as “Breezy” during his introductory press conference and signed off with a strong 30 seconds comparing himself to Scottie Pippen, whose high school basketball jersey he was wearing.
“He’s one of the greats. A Hall of Fame player. He got just as many rings as Michael Jordan,” Breeland said. “He just don’t have the statue. But Scottie was a big part of that team. And I really feel like me and Scottie are similar in a sense. We come in and do what we do. We don’t fight for the credit. We just work.”
SAFETY: Camryn Bynum
Yes, Xavier Woods was brought in as a one-year stopgap beside Harrison Smith, but Camryn Bynum may be the future at the position. The Vikings quickly switched Bynum from corner to safety and appeared to fast-track him during OTAs. While most rookies were stuck with third-stringers, Bynum quickly received second-team reps, even above last year’s sixth-round pick Josh Metellus. He’s already been billed as one of the smartest young players in the Vikings secondary.
To top it off, here’s how he celebrated getting drafted:
SPECIALIST: Greg Joseph
As the projected starting placekicker on the Vikings, you are automatically on the interesting list. Sorry, Greg Joseph, but something eventful will happen to you at some point, and if Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson, and Dan Bailey are evidence, that something may not be good.
Still, that’s awfully interesting.
Sam Ekstrom covers the Vikings with colleague Matthew Coller at Purple Insider. Check out the Purple Insider Podcast here and consider subscribing to the Purple Insider newsletter for daily Vikings news from credentialed reporters.