Thank you for submitting questions for this week’s Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or email@example.com, and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let’s get to it.
Q: When Pat Elflein is healthy again, who sits: him, Ezra Cleveland or Dakota Dozier? — @josh_henig
AK: The Vikings likely won’t have to answer that question for another week, at least. Guard Pat Elflein, who is seven weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, is in his second week at practice. But stringing together sessions with his recovering hand has been a work in progress, according to coordinator Gary Kubiak. “It’s like one good day and the next day it may bother him a little bit,” Kubiak said Thursday. “So it’s kind of been a step-by-step process. Each day is a little bit different. Try to get Pat back on the field, get him back available to our football team, but we have to be smart with him, too, because obviously that was a significant injury. Ezra, it’s been impressive.”
Rookie Ezra Cleveland has outplayed Dru Samia, Elflein’s first replacement, by leaps and bounds. Cleveland is expected to remain at right guard Sunday against the Lions, and perhaps has already earned a chance to stay in the lineup regardless of Elflein’s status. Dakota Dozier has been “a rock” at left guard, Kubiak added, indicating Elflein could be a backup upon his return. Dozier and Elflein are in contract years, and coaches have been effusive of Dozier’s progress, setting him up for a potential extension this offseason. If Elflein doesn’t get his job back, that would be telling about his future beyond 2020.
Q: What’s preferable: 7-9 and therefore some promise from the youngsters and decent stuff from Kirk Cousins? Or 3-13 and the high draft pick? — @donraul007
AK: The former at this point, because a 1-8 or 2-7 finish would be required to get a top draft pick, and that would likely mean quarterback Kirk Cousins did not rebound from his rocky start and there wasn’t a whole lot of progress from younger players. Neither are good signs, even if you’re thinking the Vikings should move on from Cousins (a bad year doesn’t foster trade partners). The quiet trade deadline from general manager Rick Spielman, who expected deals to be harder to swing due to COVID restrictions, followed through on claims it’s not a total fire sale. So with veterans like safety Anthony Harris and tight end Kyle Rudolph still in the fold, a complete collapse to achieve a top draft pick would have to mean some ugly football from this young roster. It’d be hard to sell that they’re a pick or two away from being competitive at that point.
Q: I believe Zimmer and Spielman have the George Allen syndrome at certain positions, and quarterback is one. If this is the case, as it seems, why even draft one? What are your thoughts on QB development? I cannot name the last QB the Vikings developed into a starter for a few years. — denollman@____.com
AK: I’d give them more of a C-minus on this than an F, only because of the trade up for Teddy Bridgewater in 2014. Knee injuries have undercut two potential long-term solutions in Daunte Culpepper and Bridgewater during the past two decades, with Bridgewater being the only passer drafted by Rick Spielman who could’ve been a franchise option. Neither would’ve been Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes-level draft success stories, but the Vikings are a far cry from, let’s say, the Browns in the NFL cellar of “homegrown” quarterback despair. Recently, they’re maybe more on par with the Buccaneers or Bears — teams that have struggled to pinpoint a franchise option through the draft while stringing together a veteran or two to stay competitive. Maybe Tampa Bay is having its 2009-Favre-in-Minnesota moment in 2020.
My thoughts on quarterback development is it takes a bevy of factors. You can find a special talent — Deshaun Watson — and mismanage yourself into being the Texans. Or you can find that talent, Mahomes, and elevate him further into being the Chiefs. I’m not saying the Vikings can’t elevate their talent at quarterback through coaching, but they haven’t found that special player who really only exists on a max of maybe 10 teams in a given year to give them a chance to be in that upper stratosphere. From Sam Bradford to Kirk Cousins, they’d hoped in the last five years to be the Ravens with Joe Flacco, the Buccaneers with Trent Dilfer, the Eagles with Nick Foles in having the collective team, not the passer, fuel a championship run.
Q: Why doesn’t Eric Kendricks get his due? It just feels like he’s not talked about like other big time linebackers. Do you think the Vikings poor record this year will continue to hide him? — ny19wessport@_____.com
AK: Watching the Thursday night game between the Packers and 49ers, commentators were giving San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner a lot of praise for plays that, to this distant observer of San Francisco football, looked routine for Kendricks. He’s been playing on the same premier level as his All-Pro campaign in 2019. Chasing Davante Adams down the seam to deflect a pass in last week’s win in Green Bay reminded me of a similar play he made at the Chargers last year downfield on running back Austin Ekeler. He continues to be one of the most versatile linebackers in football, and has still been effective against the run despite losing nose tackle Linval Joseph in front of him. I think this year he’s getting his due, and maybe he’ll even start winning popularity contests like the Pro Bowl.