Despite all the excitement for the beginning of training camp, the month of August can be mundane for the Minnesota Vikings. Daily practice in the sweltering heat is probably toward the bottom of most NFL players’ wish lists. But one award that adds intrigue to the daily grind.
Since 2014, the Mr. Mankato Award has been presented to the standout young player of camp. The Vikings have to have drafted the player after the third round. He also can’t have established his status in the NFL.
While the award has turned Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Cam Dantzler into household names, it has also made Kyle Sloter and Brandon Dillon into “remember that guy” fodder. When it comes to this year’s award, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on, but the player with the best chance to win may be Jaylen Twyman.
Twyman was Minnesota’ssixth-round pick in last year’s draft, but he didn’t see the field as a rookie. Zimmer was reluctant to play many players from the 2021 class, but this was a different circumstance.
In 2019, Twyman established himself as one of the top interior pass rushers in college football. Twyman racked up 10.5 sacks during his sophomore season at Pitt – the most in the nation among interior defensive linemen. An All-ACC selection, Twyman was preparing for his junior season when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The 2020 season was an unstable environment for a potential NFL prospect, so Twyman opted out to prepare for the draft. The decision backfired when Twyman had a bad workout, sending him tumbling into the sixth round.
The Vikings were never one to pass on a high-upside prospect in the late rounds and took the plunge on Twyman. Everything was set for a redemption story until Twyman was shot four times while visiting his aunt in Washington, D.C.
After spending his entire rookie season recovering, Twyman enters camp as one of the most intriguing prospects. However, he has some areas to work on. Despite a high sack total during his sophomore season, Twyman’s game had plenty of holes. Pro Football Focus gave Twyman an overall grade of 74.3. That ranked 110th among interior defensive linemen who took at least 20% of the snaps.
Twyman also struggled to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. He logged a 9.1% win rate on pass-rushing snaps, which ranked 162nd out of 196 qualifiers. He also earned a 5.6 pass-rusher productivity rating, which ranked 69th among qualifiers.
But he also generated 32 total pressures, which ranked 12th among interior defenders. That number suggests that the Vikings need to find a way to get more quality out of the number of Twyman’s snaps. He should have the opportunity to work on that during training camp.
Minnesota’s depth at defensive tackle is the thinnest it’s been since Dimitrius Underwood left Mankato. While the Vikings have spent a combined $40.5 million the past two offseasons to bring in Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips, the duo has a combined 12 sacks.
Some may downplay this with the Vikings’ switch to a 3-4 scheme. But with the NFL’s preference to use three-receiver sets, Minnesota may spend more time in their dime package, which requires a 3-technique.
Armon Watts figures to be the frontrunner for this position. However, his issues in stopping the run prevent him from being a prominent player. James Lynch has been an afterthought during his past two years in the league, and Jullian Taylor hasn’t played since 2019.
Unless the Vikings sign Ndamukong Suh, who seems more interested in joining the Las Vegas Raiders, Twyman has the kind of opportunity that other Mr. Mankato candidates don’t have.
Jalen Nailor was impressive during OTAs but also has to compete with Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Albert Wilson, and Bisi Johnson just to make the roster. Ty Chandler has the speed to be an impact player, but he is also buried behind Kene Nwangwu.
Even Twyman’s college teammate Patrick Jones III has a shot to be Mr. Mankato. However, he will need to impress the new coaching staff just to make the roster.
Everything seems to be in Twyman’s favor. He’s the best story out of the group. If Twyman were able to return and become Mr. Mankato, it might be the best story since Thielen, who won the award in 2014. It would also be a redemption story within the forgotten 2021 draft class.
If he can capitalize, it will make quite the story for this year’s Mr. Mankato.