On a flight earlier this year, Nick Mullens reclined in his seat and watched “American Underdog,” the story of hall of fame quarterback Kurt Warner. The film resonated with him.
Warner was undrafted by the NFL coming out of Northern Iowa in 1993. Mullens was an undrafted quarterback in 2017 from Southern Mississippi.
“(Warner is) obviously one of the best undrafted players of all time, so I have a lot of respect for his career,” said Mullens, the Vikings’ backup to Kirk Cousins. “For sure, (the movie was inspiring) because you can connect in different ways that other people might not be able to.”
Not that Mullens will come close to what Warner accomplished in the NFL, but he can identify with some of the things he had to go through to simply make a roster. Mullens, who has been waived twice in his NFL career and has spent two of his six seasons on practice squads, also can identify with quarterback David Blough’s journey.
Blough is on the Vikings’ practice squad. He was undrafted in 2019 out of Purdue.
“I feel like we’ve taken similar paths in our career as far as being undrafted and then getting opportunities to play,” Mullens said. “So it’s cool to share stories. Anytime you go undrafted, you probably have certain challenges that other guys might not face.”
The Vikings acquired Mullens from Las Vegas on Aug. 22 to back up Cousins after neither Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond impressed coaches. Mannion and Mond eventually were waived, and the Vikings signed Blough to the practice squad on Sept. 2, two days after he was waived by Detroit.
“We talk about kind of the journey it is to be an undrafted quarterback,” Blough said of his dealings with Mullens. “You kind of have to kick and scratch and claw every year. That’s just a part of it. It’s fun to be around a guy that you can see has had some success after being undrafted.”
Before joining the Vikings, Mullens was with San Francisco from 2017-20 and Cleveland in 2021, then signed with the Raiders earlier this year. He has a 5-12 record in the 17 NFL games he has started.
Blough originally signed with the Browns before being traded to Detroit, where he spent the past three seasons. He started five games as a rookie in 2019 but lost them all.
Blough has been in an interesting spot this week since the Vikings face the Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. He has played the role of Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, his former teammate, on the scout team and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said Vikings coaches have talked to Blough about things the Lions do on both offense and defense.
Phillips sees similarities between Mullens and Blough.
“You see really the intangibles of kind of what allowed them to be here and still be in this league,” Phillips said. “There’s obviously a talent level that they have to have to be at this level, but the preparation, the way that these guys both came (to Minnesota) at different times. But these guys are grinders. They love ball.”
If either Mullens or Blough ever starts a Vikings game, the list undrafted quarterbacks who have had starts for Minnesota would grow. The list includes hall of famer Warren Moon, Case Keenum, Gary Cuozzo, Sean Salisbury, Shaun Hill, Ron Vander Kelen and Todd Bouman.
Bouman, a native of Ruthton, Minn., who played at St. Cloud State, started seven games during his NFL career from 1997-2010, including three while with the Vikings from 1997-2002. He can identify with Mullens and Blough, and said undrafted quarterbacks have a bond with one another.
“You know what it takes to get there,” said Bouman, a resident of Buffalo, Minn. “You have to do everything everybody else does plus a little bit more to get noticed. When (the Vikings) brought in Shaun Hill (in 2002), we got to be good friends right away. You understand all the obstacles you have that maybe other people don’t.”
Last season, Mullens spent time in Cleveland with Keenum, who is now with Buffalo, and the two discussed their undrafted paths. Blough also has gotten to know Keenum, who went 11-3 as a starter in 2017 and helped lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. The two have met at Christian marriage conferences.
“I’ve been blessed,” Blough said of making the NFL. “You have to have some breaks go your way, some people have to like you, and you have to play good football.”
Mullens has met Warner several times, and played in his charity flag football tournament in 2018. They have talked about being undrafted, and Warner has offered Mullens career advice.
“The biggest thing I remember him telling me is, whether you have a good game or a bad game, never forget the player you are,” Mullens said. “Everybody has a different story, and I’m very thankful for my story and the way everything has panned out.”
Blough hasn’t met Warner or watched “American Underdog.” But he said the movie is on his list of things to do.
“My mom (Luann) told me I need to see it, but I just haven’t gotten around to it,” he said.