Roster Cut-down day is tomorrow folks! The roster will be trimmed down from 90 players to 75 players, and after my faithful following of training camp, off-season research into the Longshot Vikings and watching 2 of the past 3 Preseason games, this is my prediction/expectation of who will make the final 53-man roster.
Offense - 25
Quarterbacks - 3
Not much has to be said here. At this point, I'd be surprised if James Vandenburg makes the practice squad, but this is fairly cut and dry
Running Backs - 4
This is one of the most intriguing positions on the Vikings squad IMO. Matt Asiata played his way onto the team last Preseason, after missing all of football in 2011. He has looked serviceable, but nothing special. Zach Line is like a smaller version of Asiata, but continues to find ways to make plays, and has found the endzone twice in the past 2 Preseason games and has been filling in very well for Jerome Felton. Just like Asiata played his way onto the roster in 2012, I feel like Zach Line is playing his way onto the roster this year. I can't imagine the team keeping Line and Asiata, so their performance next week could determine who makes the final cut. Also, don't count out Bradley Randle who has looked like a poor man's version of Darren Sproles. I fully expect Randle to make the practice squad. Joe Banyard has looked good too, so there is no shortage of quality running backs behind Adrian Peterson, but I'm not sure he's shown enough to make the roster. Call this the MOAR FB prediction.
Wide Receivers - 6
If the team only keeps five wide receivers, then I think Burton is the odd-man out, based on his poor showing last night. The top 4 receivers are easy to flesh out, but I haven't seen enough out of any of the undrafted rookies to make a case for them over Burton or Webb. Rodney Smith has flashed some in the Preseason, and hometown favorite Adam Thielen has flashed some in training camp, but neither has had an exceptionally good game...at least not enough to warrant keeping over established incumbents Burton or Webb. I think Smith and Thielen both have a good chance to see a practice squad invite though.
Tight Ends - 3
Not much more to say here. Chase Ford has looked respectable, but won't unseat John Carlson or Rhett Ellison. And speaking of John Carlson, he has looked like a totally different player to me so far in the Preseason compared to last year. He's caught 5 out of 6 targets so far this preseason, and looks like at least a league average option at TE, which is great for a #2 TE. Maybe Chase Ford gets a practice squad invite?
Offensive Line - 9
There has been a lot of talk about how great it is that we are returning all of our starters along the offensive line, but so far in the Preseason, they have looked sloppy and undisciplined. 7th round draft pick Travis Bond has reportedly looked dreadful in training camp and in the Preseason, but as an invested draft pick he is a candidate for the practice squad. Veterans DeMarcus Love and Troy Kropog look like they will miss the roster due to improved competition. I still worry about our depth along the O-line, but Joe Berger, Brandon Keith and Seth Olsen are all veterans with starting experience under their belts. So, it could be worse I suppose.
I think the first 23-24 guys on offense are all very easy picks to make for the final roster. I think it will come down to the last 25th spot. Will they keep a 2nd backup guard like Seth Olsen, or do they keep an extra runningback or wide receiver like Matt Asiata or Rodney Smith. My money is on the extra lineman.
Defense - 25
Defensive End - 4
The front office has some tough decisions ahead of them, but so far Jared Allen doesn't look like he's slowing down at all. I like Lawrence Jackson marginally better than D'Aundre Reed. IMO, flip a coin for the backup to Robison. Technically, Everson Griffen is listed as the backup end at both positions...so there is that.
Defensive Tackle - 5
I'm not sure what is going on with Christian Ballard, but assuming his personal issue is resolved and reports back to the team, I expect his roster spot to be there for him. In the meantime, I've given that roster spot to 7th round pick Everett Dawkins. Kevin Williams is likely done after this season, with Floyd stepping in as the new starter next year. I expect Ballard to continue to back up the 3-tech position, and in lieu of Ballard, Dawkins. Fred Evans looked great last night, and as I've pointed out frequently, he was a significantly better option at DT than Guion last year according to Pro Football Focus. And I will be shocked if he's not named the starter to open the season. Guion's experience and knowledge of the system will allow him to stick over the rookies, but his time in Minnesota may be coming to an end if he can't step it up.
Linebacker - 7
This was probably the most difficult position group to get a read on. For example, when Gerald Hodges was drafted, I think most expected him to compete for the WLB starting job, but he has played as the 3rd team backup at the SLB behind Greenway and Larry Dean. As a 4th round draft pick, I fully expect Hodges to make the team backing up Chad Greenway. Michael Mauti has looked very good in limited action in the Preseason, and think the hype of him becoming a starter one day is legit. He'll backup Erin Henderson this year in the Middle. As it stands now, Marvin Mitchell is the starting WLB, but Bishop was out there with the 1st team for his audition last night, and I think he did just enough to lock down a starting spot. But don't rule Mitchell out completely. I'd be surprised if Mitchell were actually cut from the team as he excels on special teams, and has gone through most of the off-season program as the starter (valuable experience should he be needed to fill in). The Vikings kept 7 linebackers last year, and it could be either Audie Cole or Larry Dean, but the Vikings have a bias towards draft picks, so Cole is my pick.
Cornerback - 5
I was tempted to try to keep Marcus Sherels here, and it's possible he makes the team over Brandon Burton, but the Vikings were auditioning AJ Jefferson last night for punt returner, and he looks serviceable. Cordarrelle Patterson will be the primary kickoff returner, which limits Sherels value. That 5th CB spot will be a tough one to predict, but I don't think that Bobby Felder has shown enough competence in coverage to unseat Brandon Burton. That said, CB looks to be one of the weakest units on defense, still.
Safety - 4
I really like our safety duo. I expect Smith to light it up in his 2nd year, and Jamarca Sanford has taken the reins of his starters role and has outplayed Mistral Raymond. I think the safeties will be the one bright spot in an otherwise dreadful secondary.
Like the offense, the first 24 guys are pretty easy picks. It's that last spot that is a tough one. It will likely go to the best special teams player on defense, and for me it came down to: Marcus Sherels, Audie Cole and Andrew Sendejo. Only one of those guys is likely to make the final roster, and I just like Audie Cole a little better. I think they are all equally valuable on special teams, but I think Cole has demonstrated more competence in the base defense. Sherels can't cover, and the only thing Sendejo is good for is torpedoing the pile at the end of a play. But, it's still a tough call on those three guys.
Special Teams - 3
K: Blair Walsh
P: Jeff Locke
LS: Cullen Loeffler
Nothing more really needs to be said here...there is no competition for any of these players, and the trio has looked great in training camp and in the Preseason. Special Teams will continue to be a strength in 2013.
Practice Squad - 8
1. RB Bradley Randle
2. WR Rodney Smith
3. WR Adam Thielen
4. TE Chase Ford
5. OT Travis Bond
6. C Camden Wentz
7. DT Anthony McCloud
8. FS Brandan Bishop
IR/PUP/LEFT TEAM - 2
1. Greg Childs
2. Christian Ballard
And there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.