The Minnesota Vikings’ selection of Kellen Mond with the 66th pick in the 2021 draft was a controversial decision within the organization. In a vacuum, Mond was a value pick early in the third round. Following Day 2 of the draft, Rick Spielman spoke highly of him:
We did a lot of work on Kellen through this pre-draft process. … He was one of the top players on our board, and you see him right in the area of where those top three quarterbacks went. So it gave us an opportunity to get a young quarterback to come in here, to add competition and depth behind Kirk, and Kellen is going to come in here and compete with the other young guys that we have on the roster.
Mike Zimmer wasn’t nearly as fond of Mond. The Vikings were coming off a season where they made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. He likely would’ve preferred a player who could help the team win now rather than a developmental quarterback who would take two or three years before emerging as a threat to unseat Cousins.
The expectation was that Mond would get a chance to compete for the backup quarterback job against the likes of UDFA Jake Browning and 2020 seventh-round pick Nate Stanley. However, Spielman’s promise never came to pass. The Vikings hardly gave Mond any snaps throughout training camp. When he did get them, it was with the third team. Each practice, Mond got two snaps for every drill the team ran. There were five team drills, and each consisted of a handoff to the running back. All in all, Mond only threw half a dozen passes during 11 v. 11s – less than ideal for a quarterback drafted in the third round.
I think this was a big reason for Mond’s struggles during the preseason. In his first preseason game against the Denver Broncos, he completed 6/16 of his passes for 53 yards. It was his worst performance of the preseason. Although Mond continued to experience growing pains throughout the next two preseason games, he showed incremental improvements after each game. Mond finished his second game against the Indianapolis Colts, going 6/12 for 61 yards. His best game was in the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he posted a stat line of 16/23 for 196 yards and one interception while rushing for 40 yards.
By the end of preseason, the Vikings weren’t satisfied with any of their options at backup quarterback, so they brought back Sean Mannion. Considered the safe option, Mannion had already earned Mike Zimmer’s trust years before. Although Mannion was a great study partner for Cousins, he was a net negative on the field.
Making a big deal about who the backup quarterback is might seem inconsequential given that Cousins rarely misses games. But the Vikings had a 7-8 record when they faced the Green Bay Packers without Cousins in Week 17 and started Mannion. The result was a blowout loss that officially ended the team’s chances of making the playoffs.
After the game, a reporter asked Zimmer if he “wanted to get a look at Mond” in the season finale against the Chicago Bears. Zimmer’s response? “Not particularly.”
When pressed further as to why he didn’t want to see Mond, he coldly replied, “I see him every day.” It gets worse. Just like how Zimmer hardly spoke to Cousins, Zim didn’t really reach out to Mond during his rookie year either. Kellen’s father, Kevin Mond, thinks that his son was in Zimmer’s doghouse from Day 1:
Zimmer wasn’t mad at the person, he was mad at the selection of the quarterback, so whoever was going to get his venom thrown at him, it just happened to be [him]…. Kellen was in the doghouse from the start because of the draft and then, number two, the COVID. So he was in Zimmer’s doghouse and wasn’t getting out. They weren’t going to give him the time and Zimmer not playing him at the end of the year was, personally to me, Zimmer just sticking his thumb at Spielman.
Thankfully, Kevin O’Connell seems more interested in Mond’s development than Zimmer was. Not only has Mond received praise from the new coaching staff, but as of Aug. 1, Mond got most of the second-team reps while the coaches relegated Mannion to the third team. This comes after Mond initially split second-team reps with Mannion earlier in camp.
Last season, Zimmer’s ongoing feud with Spielman ultimately prevented Mond from getting an opportunity to compete for meaningful reps. While there’s no guarantee that Mond will win the backup QB spot this year, it’s refreshing to see a coaching staff that doesn’t hold grudges and prioritizes player development.