Training Camp is only days away! Woo! So, now is the perfect time for a Week One Depth Chart prediction. I put this up on my twitter this afternoon, but I felt that I should expand upon my picks a little more and provide some rationalization. So, here is my attempt at guessing who will make the final 53-man Vikings roster for Week 1 of the 2014 NFL Season.
QB: Cassel, Bridgewater, Ponder
Remember, this is the Week 1 roster. I want Bridgewater to start, but I just have a feeling that it will be Matt Cassel. However, Cassel will likely have a very short leash and if he isn't winning early, we'll see Bridgewater before the end of the year.
RB: Peterson, Asiata, McKinnon, Felton
First off, I've got Matt Asiata in the #2 spot ahead of athletic phenom Jerick McKinnon. Asiata has more experience and is a better "power-running back" clone for the backup spot than McKinnon, which is why I chose him for the backup spot. He showed the ability to run well down the stretch last year. That's not to say that McKinnon won't see playing time, but I see him more as a change-of-pace, 3rd down back. Secondly, I originally didn't have Felton on the team, but as I mentioned on twitter, with a final roster of only 52, there is definitely room to fit him in. So, fit him in I did.
WR: Jennings, Patterson, Wright, Simpson, Thielen
I was tempted to add another WR here, and I like Erik Lora, Rodney Smith and Cain Kolter as practice squad candidates, or maybe bubble guys that could even make the final 53. I think the top 4 guys are easy to project, and Adam Thielen has had an excellent OTA session, and looked good last year in training camp. So, maybe this is finally his year to crack the final roster.
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford
The first two are easy, and I especially like Rhett Ellison's versatility as an H-back. After that I think it's a battle between Chase Ford and AC Leonard. While I really like Leondard's athleticism, I think he has a few downsides as well: maturity, size and experience. Chase Ford has none of those downsides, and showed he could be a good pass-catching backup tight end at the end of last year. I think Ford's play is part of the reason we let John Carlson go this off-season (along with the injury thing). But I think Chase Ford sticks. AC Leonard has a definite shot at the practice squad though.
LT: Matt Kalil, Mike Remmers
LG: Charlie Johnson, David Yankey
C: John Sullivan, Joe Berger
RG: Brandon Fusco
RT: Phil Loadholt, Antonio Richardson
This is 1 more lineman than the team has traditionally had make the final 53, but with a new coaching staff old trends are sort of irrelevant. The only iffy guy I have projected here is Mike Remmers, but he's an undrafted guy that has bounced around from practice squads to active rosters and we got him from the Chargers last year. Perhaps there's a common connection there with Norv Turner and parts of his old staff.
So that brings my total projection of offensive players to 24. I could also see a case to be made for including another wide receiver as I mentioned above, but I'm saving that extra roster spot for a linebacker for use on special teams. Onto the defense!
DE: Robison, Griffen, Wootton, Crichton
I like Robison and Griffen as starters and I think Griffen is poised to dominate this year. Wootton is a guy that flashed a ton of ability in Chicago, but just couldn't stay healthy. With a fresh start here in Minnesota, and starting experience under his belt, he has a very good shot to stick in a backup role. If he can return to his pre-injury potential, he'll provide solid depth in rotation. Scott Crichton is a rookie that is brimming with potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in training camp.
DT: Joseph, Floyd, Evans, Stephen
Joseph and Floyd are the obvious starters, and there could be some shake-up in the 2nd string. Fred Evans has flashed in the past, and with his veteran experience should continue to find a roster spot. I like 7th round pick Shamar Stephen (who had a 3rd-5th round grade) as a backup NT to Linval Joseph. He's a big boy at 6'5" and 310 pounds. With a season of grooming behind Joseph and Evans, he could grow into a solid rotational player. Chase Baker and Tom Johnson should not be overlooked in training camp however as either one could make the roster over Evans or Stephen.
SLB: Barr, Cole, Dean
MLB: Brinkley, Mauti
WLB: Greenway, Hodges
Our linebackers are one of the weaker units on defense, still. Greenway will slide over to the weakside with 1st round pick (9th overall) Anthony Barr taking over the strongside. The middle linebacker job is really up for grabs, but I think Brinkley will work fine as a 2-down run-stuffer with Mauti backing him up. In obvious passing situations and nickel looks, Greenway and Barr will stay on the field, with Greenway on the Mike. Former 6th round pick Audie Cole flashed enough skills last season when forced into a few starts that I think he sticks on the roster and he was starting at SLB this off season while Barr was finishing up school. I'm not sure what to think of Gerald Hodges since he didn't see the field last year during his rookie season. But as a former 4th round pick, I would like to think that he has enough talent and value to make the roster again. Larry Dean shines on special teams and continues to find a way to make the squad.
CB: Rhodes, Munnerlyn, Robinson, Cox, Prater, Sherels
I like our two starters on the outside, but it gets a little dicey after that. Robinson will need to show major improvement, and perhaps a change in scheme will do him some good. Derek Cox's veteran experience cannot be overlooked, and Shaun Prater flashed some skills last year AND has history with Mike Zimmer. Sherels always finds a way to make the roster thanks to his elite punt return skills. I'd love to see some of our recent late-round draft picks make the roster like Jabari Price or Kendall James, but they'll have to unseat Cox and/or Prater in order to do it. Still, this will be one camp battle that should be fun to watch play out.
S: Smith, Sanford, Blanton, Exum, Sendejo
I still think Smith and Sanford are going to be the two starters this season, although Sanford's days might be numbered if Blanton or Exum can take that next step in development. Andrew Sendejo provides a ton of upside on special teams, and looked serviceable last year in replacing Harrison Smith. Mistral Raymond is my odd one out. He was a former starter in 2012 who injured his ankle, and only saw time last year because of injuries to Harrison Smith and JaMarca Sanford. I love his personal story and I root for him, but I think Blanton and Exum have more upside (and also have had more draft capital spent on them).
That brings my defensive total to 26, and my overall team total to 50. That's just enough room to fit in the three players of our special teams unit: kicker Blair Walsh, punter Jeff Locke and long snapper Cullen Loeffler. Last off-season, before I was a front-page writer, I correctly predicted 44 of the final 53-man roster spots (83% accuracy rating), so we'll see how well I do this time around! Love the picks? Hate them? Let me know in the comments section.