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Monday Morning Mailbag: Competition For Third WR Spot, Punt and Kick Return Jobs

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Are there any shining stars among the new crop of undrafted free agents, sort of like an Adam Thielen several years back? Someone that really stands out and makes you take notice of his abilities on the practice field. Have a great long weekend! And bless our veterans in the armed services.
-- Rey Johnson
Montrose, MN

It’s far too early to put a Thielen comparison on anyone. Remember, other than the rookie minicamp, all we’ve had to observe so far in the way of practices has been three Organized Team Activities. We have three more this week and four the week after before the mandatory minicamp concludes the offseason program in mid June. One receiver who jumped out a bit at the rookie minicamp was Alexander Hollins out of Eastern Illinois. But again, it’s far too early to say anything beyond that. What made Thielen special is not only did he stand out at rookie camp, but he kept impressing all the way through training camp of his rookie season and then he found a way to contribute on special teams consistently before he was given his shot to perform within the offense. Only time will tell if Hollins or any other undrafted player(s) will have that kind of staying power.

Do you think Dillion Mitchell has a good chance of being WR3? He’s looking very good in OTAs!
-- Nick North

Several others, including fellow rookie Bisi Johnson as well as veterans Chad Beebe, Jeff Badet, Jordan Taylor and Laquon Treadwell, also have their sights set on that WR3 spot. This will be a legitimate wide open position battle from now through the end of the preseason. Typically, the Vikings keep five or six receivers on the final 53-man roster, so there won’t be room for all of the aforementioned players, which will make for an entertaining summer of watching wide receivers. Even if he’s not the WR3 coming out of the preseason, I do believe Mitchell has a good shot to make the roster and contribute in some capacity as a rookie.

Do you have any ideas about who will be the regular punt returner and kickoff returner for the Vikings this season?
-- David Borchardt
Rochester, MN

Right now? No. I would include Ameer Abdullah, Beebe, Mike Hughes and Mitchell as candidates for this role, though. Of course others could jump into the mix and perhaps even win the role, but right now that’s the group I would focus on for the return jobs.

What can you tell us about Hercules Mata’afa from OTAs? Position? Size? Health? I don’t think I’ve heard anything about him.
-- Patrick
@iamlankypatrick

Mata’afa is listed as a 6-2, 254 pound defensive end right now. It’s been good to see him back out on the field participating in practice now that he’s recovered from the knee injury that ended his rookie season before it really even began. I was watching OTA No. 2 with Ben Leber last week, and he specifically mentioned Mata’afa as a player he’s excited to observe this summer because he feels Mata’afa has special pass-rushing capabilities and can rush as either an end or on the inside. The Vikings are loaded along the defensive line so competition will be thick, but Mata’afa is a name who bears monitoring because his forte is rushing the passer.

Do you feel that players who are drafted from strong conferences (like the SEC) are more equipped to contribute in their rookie seasons than players drafted from a smaller university?
-- Chris Kulak
Fowler, CA

No, not necessarily. There are just too many examples lately and in history of small-school players making an early impact for me to subscribe to the big-school theory. Khalil Mack (University of Buffalo) and DeMarcus Ware (Troy) were small school guys who impacted right away. Just in last year’s class, we had players such as defensive end Marcus Davenport (UT-San Antonio), linebacker Darius Leonard (South Carolina State) and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State) come in and produce right away. There are far more big-school players selected than there are players from small schools, so the sheer numbers favor this theory. But I wouldn’t disqualify anyone from being a candidate to contribute early just because they come from a small school. It’s all about talent, what’s in a players heart and, sometimes most importantly, the fit for that player with his team and the scheme.

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