Vikings Quarterbacks Preview: Sorting Out the Three-Man Backup Competition

Will Ragatz

With the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, we're going to take an early look at each position on the Vikings' roster. We'll break down any notable competitions for certain roles or roster spots before making a prediction on who makes the 53-man roster, who winds up on the practice squad, and who will be continuing their football career elsewhere. We begin with the quarterbacks, where the starter is obvious but the competition behind him should offer some intrigue.

There's no question about who the Vikings' starting quarterback will be in 2020. Kirk Cousins signed a two-year extension earlier this offseason that will keep him in Minnesota through 2022, and he'll look to maintain his Pro Bowl-caliber play in year three of his Vikings career. Cousins earned that extension by leading the Vikings to ten regular season wins and an impressive road victory in the playoffs, all while putting up one of the five best single-season performances from a QB in franchise history.

Playing in an offense that highlighted his strengths as a play-action passer, Cousins set career marks in passer rating, adjusted yards per attempt, and touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2019. He was arguably a top-five quarterback in the NFL after a rocky first four games. Even though Cousins will technically have his fifth offensive coordinator in five years, another season in Gary Kubiak's offense should provide some much-needed continuity.

The biggest question facing Cousins is how he'll adjust to life without his favorite deep threat, Stefon Diggs. The Vikings did do him a favor by drafting a talented, versatile receiver in the first round in Justin Jefferson, but it will take time for Cousins and Jefferson to build a rapport. A full season of healthy Adam Thielen would help out quite a bit. Dalvin Cook is still around to take plenty of the load off of Cousins, but there are several uncertainties about who will be on the offensive line in front of him.

Where things get interesting at the quarterback position is with the three guys behind Cousins. 

The Vikings re-signed 2019 backup Sean Mannion this offseason, giving him a one-year deal worth just over $1 million. Mannion is a firmly below-average backup in terms of his on-field talent; in his one start last season (the meaningless Week 17 game against the Bears), he went 12 for 21 for 126 yards and two picks. However, the Vikings don't seem to have any plans for their backup quarterback to ever have to see meaningful snaps. They value Mannion for what he brings to the quarterback room in meetings and film study. He's a smart player who is an important part of helping Cousins prepare every week.

If the Vikings want someone with more upside, there are two younger developmental options who could challenge Mannion for the backup job next season. The Vikings spent big money to sign Jake Browning as an undrafted free agent last year and took Nate Stanley late in the seventh round of this year's draft.

Browning had one incredible year at Washington (2016) and three solid ones. He's not the biggest guy at 6'2", 210, and doesn't have ideal arm strength. Browning also didn't show much in last year's preseason, going 10 for 13 for 64 yards and an interception. But his year on the practice squad gave him experience in the Vikings' system, and he probably offers more upside than Mannion on the field. Browning has good mechanics and his accuracy and touch helped him thrive in college.

The newcomer is Stanley, who the Vikings took with the 244th pick last weekend. They likely would've tried to sign him as a UDFA if they didn't have so many late-round picks to work with. Stanley is bigger than Browning at 6'4", 235, and offers more arm strength. He has the arm talent to make nearly any throw, but his numbers were only decent at Iowa as he struggled with consistency in reading the field and performing against pressure.

Predictions

Starter: Kirk Cousins

Backup: Sean Mannion

Practice squad: Nate Stanley

Cut: Jake Browning

I argued earlier this offseason that the Vikings should not re-sign Mannion, but the fact that they did suggests he's likely to retain the backup job because of his off-the-field impact. I'm going to take a guess that Stanley beats out Browning for the third QB role because of his superior physical traits.

Other position previews:

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