After watching the Vikings' two backup quarterbacks play in their preseason-opening loss to the Raiders, it's clear that Kellen Mond is better than Sean Mannion, both in terms of current ability and future upside. I don't think that's an overreaction to one game. The question is no longer which one should be the backup, it's whether or not Mond is ready to fill that role or if the Vikings ought to look outside their building for a No. 2 option.
The veteran Mannion is a known commodity; he's a sub-replacement level QB with a low floor and a low ceiling. He's a smart guy who has value in the meeting rooms and might become a great coach one day, but he doesn't appear to be an NFL-caliber passer. Mannion went 8 for 12 for 79 yards in Las Vegas, had an average depth of target below five yards, took two sacks, and very nearly threw a bad interception to a linebacker.
Mond didn't get off to a good start either, completing just two of his first seven passing attempts. Early on, the issues we've seen from him throughout training camp — decisiveness and accuracy — reared their ugly head. Mond made some poor decisions and missed several open receivers. (For an in-depth breakdown of Mond's performance, this video from The QB School is excellent).
Then, as the game went along, he got into a rhythm and started to play well. Mond completed his final two throws on a third-quarter drive that resulted in the Vikings' first touchdown, hitting Dan Chisena on a corner route for a big gain on fourth down and then delivering a quick strike to Wilson for the score.
His final drive was even better. Mond showed awesome touch on another corner route, this time to Myron Mitchell, for a 21-yard gain. After finding Mitchell on a crosser, he made a great pass to Jalen Nailor over the middle of the field despite having pressure in his face. And to cap it off, he delivered a dime on an out-and-up route to Wilson for another touchdown. So after starting 2 of 7, Mond completed his final seven attempts to finish with a solid line: 9 of 14 for 114 yards, 2 TDs, and no turnovers.
Encouragingly, most of those late-game throws weren't to his first read. Mond was able to go through his progressions, make the right decision, and deliver an accurate, on-time ball.
"The one thing I told him is really after what you saw on that fourth down completion to Dan [Chisena], that was the decisiveness," head coach Kevin O'Connell said. "His first progression was taken away, quiet in the pocket, just progressed in rhythm and threw an absolute beautiful ball to Dan for a huge conversion. And then you saw him getting to his third and fourth progressions every single time late there to Jalen Nailor or Myron [Mitchell] on the backside. Those were his secondary, and in some cases, third or fourth progressions. And you see him getting back to that, that's growth."
I think this game proved two things when it comes to the Vikings' quarterback position. One is that Mond is better than Mannion, meaning the latter can be cut. The other is that Mond has enough long-term potential to, at the very least, stick around on the roster for the rest of this season and into next year's training camp.
What O'Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have to decide is whether or not they think Mond is ready to be their No. 2 quarterback right now. Kirk Cousins has been incredibly durable throughout his career, but the Vikings need someone who can give them a chance in a single game or a stretch of a few games if Cousins has to miss time for whatever reason. That has nothing to do with Mond's long-term upside. It's about what he is right now and how effectively the Vikings think he could run their offense if thrust into action.
Again, Mond showed some really positive signs late in Sunday's game. There's no disputing that. But he was doing it against a Raiders team playing a lot of third-stringers at that point. Finishing strong in this game also doesn't erase his poor start or the struggles I've seen watching him up close at practice throughout training camp.
Mond should make the Vikings' roster because of what he can become with continued development. And over the next few weeks, with more practices — including two joint sessions with the 49ers — and two more preseason games, it's entirely possible he'll prove himself ready to be Cousins' backup this season, removing the need for the Vikings to roster three quarterbacks.
It's also possible he'll remain inconsistent and the Vikings will explore signing or trading for a different quarterback. That player would be replacing Mannion as the theoretical "higher floor" option who could play in a pinch while Mond continues his growth behind the scenes.
Mond surged firmly ahead of Mannion on Sunday, but he has more work to do to lock down the Vikings' backup job.
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