Players to watch at Minnesota Vikings 2019 training camp
FOX Sports North
Minnesota Vikings training camp is here. Check out a few of the players you should keep an eye on during practice and the preseason.
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WR Jeff Badet
Minnesota has the NFL’s top receiver duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but the Vikings’ third receiver is still a bit of a question mark heading into camp. Meet Badet. Signed by Minnesota as an undrafted free agent last year, Badet spent all of the 2018 season on the practice squad -- and the Vikings kept him away from the New York Jets in free agency (yep, another one) by offering him an extra $75,000 as a signing bonus. That means general manager Rick Spielman likes this kid. Badet caught just 26 passes for 400 yards from Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield as a senior at Oklahoma in 2017, but his ability goes way beyond his stats. Badet ran a 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds during his Pro Day at Oklahoma in 2018 and is likely the fastest guy on the roster. In fact, he was one of 16 players to be invited to the “40 Yards of Gold” in late June, a pay-per-view event hosted by Chad Johnson to determine the fastest man in football. Badet didn’t win — well, neither did teammate Trae Waynes -- but his speed will help him compete for that No. 3 receiver spot, or some sort of special teams role at the very least.
DT Hercules Mata’afa
Another undrafted free agent signee back in 2018, Mata’afa’s NFL career was interrupted before it began when he tore his ACL during OTAs last year. Now healthy, he enters his first training camp with a chance to win a roster spot. Mata’afa came out of college weighing 250 pounds, which is far too small for an NFL defensive lineman. The Vikings tried him out at linebacker before his injury, but they’re giving him a chance to play the three-technique defensive tackle -- his natural position -- now that he’s listed at 275. Mata’afa was named the 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year while starring at DT for Washington State, setting a single-season program record as a junior with 22.5 tackles for loss. Although the traditional NFL frame might not be ideal, the skill set and statistics are there. Mata’afa wouldn’t be the first undersized defensive tackle to thrive in purple.
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CB Mike Hughes
Vikings fans saw what Hughes could do last season for six games before he tore his ACL during a 27-17 win over Arizona on Oct. 14. There’s no official word on when Hughes will return. It's rumored he might not be ready to play Week 1 against Atlanta. But with second-year cornerback Holton Hill now suspended for the first eight games of the season, Minnesota needs Hughes back on the field as soon as possible. His status from practice to practice will be a storyline every day in camp. Hughes was placed on the PUP list Friday.
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TE Irv Smith Jr.
Perhaps no player will be more intriguing to watch this summer than Smith Jr., Minnesota’s second-round pick in April (50th overall). At 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds, Smith Jr. is athletic enough to catch the ball anywhere on the field -- he racked up 44 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns last season at Alabama. It’ll be exciting to keep an eye on how offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski uses both Smith Jr. and veteran Kyle Rudolph on the field at the same time, as the Vikings showed they’re committed to the tight-end duo by signing Rudolph to a four-year extension in the offseason. Let’s just say quarterback Kirk Cousins can’t complain about his options in the passing game.
RB Alexander Mattison
Fresh off solid second season that saw him gain 920 total yards in 11 games, Dalvin Cook is the Vikings’ starter at running back. But behind him it’s a bit unclear. Mattison, Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah will fight for the backup roles in the Vikings’ offense now that Roc Thomas, who saw 10 touches for 51 yards last season, was waived Monday. At 5-11 and 221 pounds, the rookie Mattison is a natural pick for Minnesota to rely on in short-yardage situations, while Abdullah is the best pass-catcher in the group and could be the Vikings’ answer for a situational third-down back. Boone, on the other hand, earned a roster spot last year after impressing in the preseason and logged 11 carries for 47 yards (4.3 average) in the regular season. You’ll really want to watch all three of those backs in training camp, but Mattison’s status as a third-round pick makes him the biggest unknown.
Minnesota Vikings via Twitter
G Dru Samia
All eyes will be on the Vikings’ offensive line in training camp, the franchise’s Achilles heel for what seems like the past decade. A fourth-round pick selected out of Oklahoma, Samia could compete for the starting right guard position. Samia didn’t allow a single sack on 410 pass-blocking snaps last season at right guard for the Sooners, as he played a key role in the team earning the Joe Moore Award, distributed to college football’s top offensive line. For now, free-agent signee Josh Kline -- who signed a three-year deal worth $15.75 million in the offseason -- is slotted to start at right guard, but Samia and veteran Dakota Dozier have their eyes on the same spot.
Minnesota Vikings via Twitter
WR Chad Beebe
Beebe was the 2018 preseason sweetheart, an undrafted free agent who led all receivers in receptions (9), yards (95) and touchdowns (2) in four exhibition games. He made his NFL debut in Week 9 against Detroit and finished the season with four catches for 39 yards. This year, he enters camp as a legitimate contender for the Vikings’ third receiver position. If he can display the same steady hands that earned Zimmer’s trust last season, Beebe could fend off Badet, Jordan Taylor and rookies Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson for significant playing time in 2019.
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LS Austin Cutting
Kevin McDermott will have some company in training camp this year. Cutting, selected in the seventh round by Minnesota out of the Air Force, signed his NFL contract Monday afternoon and will compete for the long snapping position against McDermott, who’s served as the Vikings’ long snapper since 2015. Obviously, there is only one roster spot available for a long snapper, so someone will be sent home before final cuts are made. Would Rick Spielman waste a seventh-round pick by, well, cutting Cutting? The competition is on.