Monday, July 15, 2019

Undrafted Rookies to Watch During Vikings Training Camp

Photo: Hudl

Undrafted rookies always seem to make an impact on the Vikings' roster. Daniel House identifies two players that can compete for a 53-man roster spot this summer. 

Free agent signings and draft day additions aren’t the only way NFL teams can improve their roster.

Undrafted free agency often leads to the development of future starters and injects talent into the depth chart. Each year, it's clear the Vikings have made this a priority when they construct their final 53-man roster.

In four of Mike Zimmer’s five seasons as head coach, the Vikings have kept at least one undrafted free agent on the 53-man roster. In each of the past two roster cut cycles, Minnesota had three undrafted rookies make the team. Identifying and securing these type of contributors has been very important to the construction of Minnesota’s future roster.

Upon the conclusion of those drafts, the Vikings invested heavy resources into making these signings. It’s clear they value creating competition and finding players they can develop over the course of training camp. If those additions can help on special teams and improve at their position in practice, it helps aid future roster construction.

With training camp beginning next week, many undrafted rookies will be competing for roles on the depth chart. There are several candidates worth keeping an eye on, including a small-school wide receiver. 

Jake Browning

This year, the Vikings continued to invest resources into securing undrafted free agents they coveted. Following the draft, Minnesota quickly signed Washington Huskies undrafted quarterback Jake Browning to a three-year, $1.75 million contract. The specifics of the deal included a whopping $140,000 in guaranteed money and a $15,000 signing bonus. This is presumed to be the largest amount of guaranteed money given to an undrafted free agent in NFL history.

At one point, Jake Browning was in the conversation to be a top quarterback in the 2018 draft cycle. He finished his career with the Washington Huskies as the team’s all-time passing yards (12,296 yards) and career touchdowns (94) leader. When firing up his tape, you'll notice Browning’s strengths come in the intermediate game. He throws with great anticipation, timing and touch on short and mid-to-intermediate routes. Browning also occasionally shows the ability to move in the pocket and extend plays, too. He’s been rather successful off play-action and boots by getting out on the run and moving. Browning completed more than 62 percent of his passes in each of his four seasons at Washington. 

Washington’s offense features a plethora of quick passes and screens, including the slant and mesh concept below. He’ll need to tie up his mechanics to make enough tough throws at the NFL level. 

A regression in 2018 and sloppy appearances in two New Year’s Day bowl games, caused Browning to slide down boards. He also had surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2017, which led to a heavy amount of rehab in early 2017. When watching several of Browning’s games, it’s appears there were a combination of issues at play. His receivers had trouble consistently catching passes and he locked into Aaron Fuller far too often. It led to inaccurate throws, interceptions or forced passes. I think some of the issues associated with Browning can be fixed with a focus on his mechanics. He shows flashes when asked to drive and place the ball up the seam.  

Teams probably shied away from Browning because of his potential arm strength deficiencies. 
When throwing vertically to the hashes, it takes a long time time for him to get the ball out. He uses his entire body when trying to throw deep and it looks like it may be a product of his release point. If he can prevent himself from dropping his elbow, he may improve his vertical arm strength. His feet are also really wide, which drastically impacts his weight transfer. 

Vikings' offensive advisor and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak likely played a role in the evaluation of Browning. Kubiak was evaluating talent for the Broncos and was located in the western part of the United States. He had a chance to closely monitor the Pac-12 and Mountain West Conferences. Browning is a highly productive player with upside and it’s obvious the Vikings believe his talent can be elevated in their system. In a quarterback room with two competitive spots available, Browning will have every chance to show we he can do during training camp and the preseason. He needs time to develop, but he should have the opportunity to do so.

Davion Davis

I’ve been clamoring about the Vikings need for a dynamic spark-plug option in the passing game. Minnesota needs to find a way to get defenses moving sideways by stretching them horizontally. After sifting through all of the options at wide receiver, I was drawn to Sam Houston State undrafted free agent wide receiver Davion Davis.

Davis set the school and Southland Conference record for career receiving touchdowns (40). In 2018, he grabbed 52 passes for 569 yards and ten touchdowns. His production took a small dive due to a leg injury that caused him to miss the final three games of his senior season. In 2017, Davis tallied 78 catches for 1,206 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also averaged 21.61 yards per punt return and posted two touchdowns. In the highlight video below, you’ll notice the impact he can make as a returner.

A shifty 5-foot-11, 180-pound wide receiver with skills in the slot, Davis is sudden out of breaks, which makes him difficult to cover. His ability to maintain body control and haul in acrobatic grabs is on display in his highlight video. There are also several plays where he shows his elusiveness in space. His explosiveness and quick feet out of the slot would be a nice complement to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. With the door wide-open for someone to emerge in the back half of the wide receiver room, Davis will get plenty of opportunities. His skills as a return man may be a key reason why he competes for a roster spot. Veteran Marcus Sherels left for New Orleans in free agency, so the Vikings will be searching for a dynamic kick and punt returner. His shiftiness, field vision and playmaking ability make him a legitimate option to compete for this role. At wide receiver, when he develops a more nuanced route tree, he will have the chance to take advantage of his playmaking skills. For the time being, he could provide major assistance on special teams.

(videos courtesy of: Fox Sports, ESPN and Hudl)

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