Etling filled in for Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond and Nate Stanley, who all missed at least five days after a COVID-19 exposure in the quarterback room. Etling was cut on Monday, Aug. 23, with the Vikings quarterbacks all active participants in practice again.
The move made room for the Vikings to sign former Atlanta Falcons third-string running back Ito Smith.
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Smith, a Satellite Back
A 2018 fourth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi, Smith was an undersized workhorse at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds. He rushed for over 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in his final three seasons of college, rivaling Saquan Barkley’s final three years of college. Smith was the most pass-catching back in the 2018 draft, catching 132 passes for 1,370 yards and seven touchdowns in that same span.
Projected to go in the seventh round or undrafted, Smith impressed the Falcons with his tape and outlived his projections by NFL Network analyst Lance Zierlein.
“Undersized workhorse with 940 career touches and 49 career touchdowns,” Zierlein wrote. “For all of his production on the ground, Smith lacks the explosive qualities of a slasher. Smith’s lack of size and burst could hinder his chances as a running back, but his talents as a pass-catcher could keep him alive in a camp.”
In three seasons in Atlanta, Smith took 175 carries for 689 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per attempt. As a receiver, he caught 55 passes for 314 yards. This offseason, the Falcons cut Smith, spurring the Arizona Cardinals to take a flyer on the Southern Mississippi product earlier in August.
Smith had a one-week stint with the Arizona Cardinals before he was cut on Aug. 16.
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Smith’s Fit in Running Back Room
Smith’s NFL experience could be seen as an advantage over several Vikings running backs who have yet to hit the playing field in the regular season.
However, the Vikings have rarely relied on a third-string back during the regular season and likely aren’t expecting Smith to make any leaps up the depth chart. Current third-stringer Ameer Abdullah offers versatility as a pass-catching back and a return man, which makes him likely indispensable to the Vikings brass despite two intriguing rookie prospects.
Fourth-round rookie Kene Nwangwu impressed throughout the preseason before suffering a knee injury in the first game of the preseason. Despite the injury, Nwangwu is expected to make the roster and be ready for Week 1.
Smith enters practice as a fill-in camp body for Nwangwu and figures to be outside the top-four running backs with undrafted rookie A.J. Rose Jr. Both backs are vying for a spot on the practice squad Rose likely holds an edge after showing he can thrive in the team’s zone-rushing scheme. He showed patience and vision in a 100-yard rushing performance against the Broncos to open the preseason.
Smith’s status as a satellite back may keep him revolving around NFL rosters over the coming weeks, but for the moment, he has a chance to land in Minnesota and at the very least will help keep practices flowing.