CCNorseman took the time to put together his 53-man roster projection prior to the start of Minnesota Vikings' Training Camp. Now that we're nearly a week into the proceedings, I'm going to take a shot at this myself.
I'll give myself an easy one to start off with.
Special Teams (3)
I'm going to go way out on a limb and predict that kicker Blair Walsh, punter Jeff Locke, and long snapper Cullen Loeffler all make the roster. BAM! So there are your first three names.
In all seriousness, let's move on to the roster spots that might actually have a little competition.
Players in Camp: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder
Backups: Bridgewater, Ponder
I would love nothing more than to see Bridgewater blow Cassel's doors off here in the next couple of weeks and be leading the offense on to the field against the St. Louis Rams in Week 1. But, if Ted's Stock Market Report is any indication, Cassel is in the driver's seat until someone definitively says otherwise. The team has said that, going forward, that Cassel and Bridgewater would be splitting the first-team snaps in practice, so we'll see how that goes. Ponder stays around. . .I mean, I guess the team could trade him for a pick if a team suffers an injury or shows other interest, but I don't see the point.
Running Back (4)
Players in Camp: Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerome Felton (FB), Zach Line (FB), Jerick McKinnon, Adrian Peterson, Domonique Williams
Starter: Who do you think?
Backups: Asiata, McKinnon, Felton
The debate will rage over whether or not the NFL's best running back should even suit up this pre-season. I really don't think he needs it, but AD's gonna AD, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him out there a couple of times. All of the reports from camp thus far have talked about how much better Asiata looks than last year, when he looked like the second coming of Leroy Hoard. (That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. . .we're probably just spoiled by Peterson's presence.) McKinnon is going to get touches in this offense just because of his crazy athletic ability. Felton will stay around because NORV~! said that he wants a "physical presence" at the fullback position, and that's what Felton provides. I'd love to see the team make room for Zach Line somehow, but I'm not sure I could justify keeping him over Asiata.
Wide Receiver (5)
Players in Camp: Kain Colter, Andy Cruse, Donte Foster, Greg Jennings, Kamar Jorden, Erik Lora, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen, Ty Walker, Jarius Wright
Starters: Jennings, Patterson
Backups: Wright, Thielen, Colter
Starts season under suspension: Simpson
I'm still anticipating that the league will come down sooner rather than later on the results from Simpson's latest. . .shall we say, "misadventures." Jennings, Patterson, and Wright are locks, and it's sounding like it's going to be awfully hard to justify cutting Thielen at this point. That leaves one more spot for a guy that may or may not get cut when Simpson returns. Colter, from all accounts, has shown a lot of versatility thus far, and could potentially be used as a return guy if the team wants to give Patterson a break. If Simpson isn't suspended, though, I don't think Colter makes it.
Tight End (3)
Players in Camp: Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford (PUP), Mike Higgins, A.C. Leonard, Allen Reisner, Kyle Rudolph
Backups: Ellison, Leonard
Starts season on PUP List: Ford
Rudolph is leaner, faster, and stronger. . .presumably from trying to lift his new paycheck. The dollar figures of Rudolph's new deal might look a little large, but here's a fun little comparison between a couple of tight ends after their first three NFL seasons.
Tight End A - 39 games (32 starts), 109 catches, 1055 yards, 15 TD
Tight End B - 40 games (38 starts), 103 catches, 1132 yards, 9 TD
"A" is Kyle Rudolph. "B" is Vernon Davis. And I expect Rudolph to benefit from a change in offensive scheme every bit as much as Davis did.
Ellison will continue to be a guy the Vikings can bounce between in-line tight end and fullback duties, and A.C. Leonard will get a chance to show his athletic ability in camp thanks to the injury to Chase Ford. Ford might wind up going on IR for the rest of the year. . .if he starts the regular season on the PUP list, the Vikings don't have to make a decision on him for a while and can see if anything happens to the top three guys.
Offensive Line (9)
Players in Camp: Jeff Baca (G), Joe Berger (G), Pierce Burton (T), Vladimir Ducasse (G), Brandon Fusco (G), Matt Kalik (T), Zac Kerin (C), Phil Loadholt (T), Mike Remmers (T), Antonio Richardson (T), John Sullivan (C), Austin Wentworth (G), David Yankey (G)
Starters: Kalil, Yankey, Sullivan, Fusco, Loadholt
Backups: Baca, Berger, Johnson, Richardson
Four of the five starters are set in stone, and I still think that Yankey has more than enough ability to unseat Charlie Johnson at the left guard spot. Frankly, I went back and forth on whether or not Johnson would even make the squad, but ultimately left him on there. Baca and Berger have the sort of versatility that would allow them to play any of the three interior spots in a pinch, and Richardson has the famed "size you can't coach." Jeff Davidson could probably get a lot of mileage out of a guy that, at one time, was projected to be an early second-round draft pick and could potentially back up both tackle positions.
So, that gives me 27 spots full on the 53 man roster. . .29 players total, but we're not counting Jerome Simpson (suspension) or Chase Ford (PUP) because they won't count against the Opening Day roster in this scenario. That leaves 26 guys for defense.
Defensive Line (8)
Players in Camp: Chase Baker (DT), Rakim Cox (DE), Scott Crichton (DE), Fred Evans (DT), Isame Faciane (DT), Shariff Floyd (DT), Everson Griffen (DE), Tom Johnson (DT), Linval Joseph (DT), Kheeston Randall (DT), Brian Robison (DE), Tyler Scott (DE), Jake Snyder (DE), Shamar Stephen (DT), Justin Trattou (DE), Corey Wootton (DE)
Starters: Robison, Floyd, Joseph, Griffen
Backups: Crichton, Evans, Johnson, Wootton
The four starters are locks, obviously, and I think that Crichton and Wootton are as well. I had some issues with the defensive tackle backups. . .Fred Evans isn't getting any younger, and Tom Johnson is the classic "journeyman." I think that Stephen could make a run at a spot, and could make it depending on how the Vikings decide to construct their roster. Chase Baker could get some looks, too, if only because he's been with the team for a while. Otherwise, there really isn't a whole lot to see here.
Players in Camp: Anthony Barr, Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole, Larry Dean, Dom DeCicco, Chad Greenway, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Brandon Watts, Mike Zimmer
Starters: Barr, Brinkley, Greenway
Backups: Cole, Mauti, Hodges, Watts
There have been rumblings that Greenway could wind up at the middle linebacker spot. I'm not sure how much I buy into that at this point, so we'll keep him at his normal outside linebacker position and put Brinkley in the middle. Barr and Cole will battle for the other spot, and even though he's raw, that's a battle I'd expect Barr to win. I think the team would be a bit disappointed if Barr was a part-time sort of guy his first season. Mauti is finally healthy for the first time in a long time, and Hodges has been impressive (from accounts from Training Camp) now that he's actually gotten a chance to. . .you know. . .do something other than stand around. Watts has enough athletic ability to, at the very least, fit into that Heath Farwell/Larry Dean role as "designated special teams guy," but with the way I've constructed the roster in this scenario, he might be the 53rd guy.
Players in Camp: Derek Cox, Kendall James, Captain Munnerlyn (PUP), Julian Posey, Shaun Prater, Jabari Price, Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Robert Steeples
Starters: Rhodes, Munnerlyn
Backups: Cox (nickel, Munnerlyn moving inside), Prater, Robinson, Sherels
Things are really iffy with this group once you get past Rhodes and Munnerlyn, and it will be interesting to see who nails down the nickel role for this team. Cox is, from what we've been told, more of a "press" type of corner (much like Rhodes), who should benefit from playing in a more aggressive defense, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him take the job, though he'll have a heck of a time holding off Robinson and Prater. Then there's Marcus Sherels. If there's ever an nuclear apocalypse, three things will survive. . .cockroaches, Twinkies, and Marcus Sherels. I am not saying that Sherels is a cockroach. . .or a Twinkie, for that matter. . .I'm just saying that no matter how hard this team tries to replace him, he just keeps holding on, and I think he'll do so again, largely because of his punt return skills. Of the guys that I don't think will make it, I think that Jabari Price has the best shot, as it sounds like he's been getting plenty of work in the slot in sub-packages thus far.
Players in Camp: Branden Bishop, Robert Blanton, Kurt Coleman, Antone Exum, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo (PUP), Harrison Smith
Starters: Smith, Blanton
Backups: Exum, Sanford, Sendejo
It sounds like Blanton has been getting a lot of the first-team snaps next to Harrison Smith, and that's what makes me lean toward saying we're going to get an all-Golden Dome safety tandem starting this season. Blanton probably should have been a safety all along. Sanford is the incumbent, and Sendejo did some decent work last season after the injuries at the position. The last spot is going to come down to a three-way battle between Coleman, Exum, and Raymond. . .and given the choice between two slightly older players or a younger one, I think the Vikings will lean toward youth and keep Exum on the team. His flexibility to potentially play corner will help his case as well.
And that's what I have for an early stab at the Minnesota Vikings' 53-man roster. Agreements? Disagreements? Have at it, folks!