Brandon Zylstra: Should Vikings fans know his name?

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

A native of Minnesota, the young wide receiver is attempting to land a spot on the Minnesota Vikings final regular season 2018 roster.

Before the Minnesota Vikings and other NFL teams make their top picks in the draft each year, pro scouts and general managers want to see stats, tape, and blue chips on the table.

Not many prospects enter the NFL Draft with too high of a profile and it results in hundreds of players falling into the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds. If they shine at OTAs, they might get the “sleeper” label, especially at the skill positions.

And then there are the guys who come to camp who are not drafted, players that are signed to things like futures/reserve contracts. If those guys shine at OTAs, they are called “underdogs”.

Everybody loves the underdog. NFL history is full of them, so is the Hall of Fame.  But the truth is, there are not going to be a whole bunch of starting tandems in the league from the sleeper/underdog squad.  

Unless, of course, someone is talking about the Vikings, whose top two receivers are Second-Team All-Pro Adam Thielen (undrafted) and Stefon Diggs (drafted in the 5th round).

Saints can spring from every soil

Brandon Zylstra is an underdog. The names of his football teams sound like a parody. New London-Spicer Wildcats, Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers, Edmonton Eskimos.

The chances that a kid could go from a rural Minnesota town to a Division III school to the Canadian Football League aren’t too much to consider possible at all. But becoming a success in the NFL after all that coach travel seems even more unlikely.

Is that because he can’t play or doesn’t get the chance?

The day after last season ended, the Vikings gave Zylstra the chance, signing him to a futures contract after the receiver spent two years in Canada.  

All he did there was tear up the league. In 2017, he lead the CFL with 100 receptions for 1,687 receiving yards (225 more than second-best) and added 12 catches for 221 yards for Edmonton in the playoffs.

Not bad work at all.

During the Vikings’ OTAs this spring, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo noticed the 6-foot-3, 220 pound Minnesota native making several high-point and contested catches during scrimmages.

When asked about Zlystra by the Pioneer Press, DeFilippo said, “That guy continues to impress. We’re very fortunate to have him on our team.”

Could that be a little sunshine being spread around the practice field by a new coach? Or could it be a true investigation into Zylstra’s potential as a receiver in the Vikings’ rotation for 2018?

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings /

Minnesota Vikings

Growing up as a pro

Looking over Zylstra’s college tape and his Pro Day, there is very little there to remind someone of Randy Moss, who the new Minnesota pass catcher idolized growing up.

However, there is quite a bit that resembles Adam Thielen, who is only a couple years older than the 25-year-old receiver. Both players hardly dazzled at the national level, but each brought their games to new levels in the pro ranks.

Thielen got his chance as a Vikings practice squad player, standing out as a special teamer until his chance came to contribute. While Zylstra, without such an opportunity, decided to light up the CFL with his skills.

During his 2017 season, he ate up CFL zone coverage, ran tight routes, and caught everything thrown his way.

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So far, Mike Zimmer has been impressed with Zylstra. That may not mean much, but as training camp begins, it gives a the young pass catcher an honest chance to challenge numerous Vikings receivers with the pedigree he lacks.