It’s that time of year again where fan bases across the NFL are overreacting about the state of their favorite team due to a few snaps they saw in Week 1 of the preseason. The Vikings may have lost their debut to the Las Vegas Raiders 26-20, but there were still plenty of takeaways from Kevin O’Connell’s first game as a head coach.
Players like Kellen Mond, Patrick Jones II and Brian Asamoah all stood throughout the course of the game, but there was an even bigger storyline that’s circulated throughout camp and became closer to confirmed Sunday afternoon.
The state of the Vikings offensive skilled positions is in a much better place than what we’ve seen over the last handful of years. Again, it’s important to not get too caught up in the preseason noise, but both the depth at running back and wide receiver were on full display in Sin City.
If it were only one of the groups that stole the headlines, I’d have to lean towards the performance of the running backs. Alexander Mattison got the start on Sunday, but only carried the ball three times for eight yards. The 4th year running back out of Boise State has been a nice compliment to Dalvin Cook, so it made sense that he had an early exit.
What followed Mattison is what should have Vikings fans excited heading into the regular season. Both Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler were given the opportunity to show off their electrifying skill sets, and neither of them disappointed.
Nwangwu is remembered from his rookie campaign where he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, but his rare blend of speed and vision flashed out of the backfield against the Raiders. He totaled seven carries for 41 yards, while plucking two catches for an additional 18 yards. The 4.37 40-yard dash speed was on display, and he proved that he can be an asset in the passing game in the new high-powered O’Connell offense.
We already knew about the athleticism of Nwangwu, but Chandler got his chance to show off his speed, in which he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine in 2022. The rookie out of North Carolina took five carries for 50 yards, while displaying his speed and balance on a nice 56-yard kickoff return as well.
Throw in a top-five running back into the mix in Dalvin Cook and I’d say it’s fair to call the Vikings running back room one of the deepest in the NFL. The room is littered with talent and different skill sets, giving O’Connell plenty of weapons to utilize out of the backfield.
The wide receivers weren’t as explosive as the running backs on Sunday, but the argument can be made that the pass catchers have just as much potential. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen were both held out of Sunday’s contest, giving some of the younger players a chance to flash their talents.
Personally, I think it’s safe to say the order of the depth chart will look something like this to start the season: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. This is exactly how the Vikings had their first “unofficial” depth chart of the season and it should be a safe bet that the team will keep at least six receivers on the roster.
That would mean there’s currently two open roster spots left, unless the team decides to go light with five receivers or heavy with seven receivers. On Sunday we saw Myron Mitchell and Trishton Jackson make plays, with Albert Wilson finding the end zone on two nicely thrown passes from Mond.
All the aforementioned players may have had stronger performances, but I’d still give the inside track to Bisi Johnson and Jalen Nailor in terms of making the 53-man roster.
Nevertheless, the receiving group is much stronger than what the Vikings have rolled out in recent memory. It’s still safe to say the position is slightly top-heavy with a top tandem in the league with Jefferson and Thielen, but the depth is starting to round itself out nicely.
Osborn has solidified his role as WR3 with a good 2021 season and an even stronger training camp under the new regime. Both Smith-Marsette and Nailor are young, top-end athletes that came from Big Ten schools with lackluster QB play. And I’ve said this on “The State of Purple” already, but having Johnson on the roster as the fifth or sixth receiving option only proves how far the depth has come since the Vikings drafted him in 2019.
There were certainly some areas of concern from the Vikings first preseason game, but the depth at running back and wide receiver was not one of them. We knew that O’Connell was taking over an offense with a ton of top-end talent, but the depth is already shaping up to be better than expected in year one.
For more Vikings related news tune into KFAN 100.3 and stay up to date on KFAN.com. Make sure to tune into “The State of Purple” podcast this week as I dive into this topic and more with AJ Mansour.