Let me start by saying that this title would not have been possible a year ago. When analyzing the Vikings' 90 man roster, holes aren't as glaring as in the past. As Christopher Gates referenced in a recent article, Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Vikings' roster as the eighth best in the league. This is high praise for a roster that has been stacking up talent like dirty dishes over the last few years and really speaks volumes to the way that Rick Spielman has built this team. In this article I will be analyzing the Vikings' roster position by position and assigning a grade to each position for both starter quality and depth quality. I will then give a brief assessment on the position. Players who are long shots to contribute or make the roster may or may not be included, as I tried to keep this article as relevant as possible without being excessive. Enjoy.
NOTE: Grades should not be looked at as "Player Grades" but rather as how well off the team is starter-wise and depth-wise at a given position.
Starter Grade: A (Teddy Bridgewater)
Depth Grade: B+ (Shaun Hill)
While Teddy Bridgewater isn't yet the "A" grade quarterback, a team that possesses a good young quarterback with a high ceiling and a lot of promise deserves a solid "A". Teddy's development is essential to this team, as it is hard to win in the NFL without a stud quarterback in place.
The depth at quarterback is solid as well as Shaun Hill is one of the better backups in the league. Should he be forced to start he has the ability to piece together a solid game and give the team a chance to win.
Starter Grade: A+ (Adrian Peterson)
Depth Grade: A (Jerrick McKinnon, Matt Asiata)
Two words: Adrian Peterson. Despite being 30 years old and now legally old enough to ride a camel (Apparently), Adrian Peterson doesn't appear to have lost a step and should enter the 2015-16 season with his eyes on proving to the world that he is still the NFL's best running back. Vikings' running back coach Kirby Wilson said Adrian Peterson looked "Extremely explosive" in OTAs and that he "Still has electric foot speed." Sounds encouraging.
Behind Peterson, spectacular depth resides in Jerrick Mckinnon, who had a solid rookie season and could be Peterson's eventual replacement. Plodder Matt Asiata also provides solid depth as a guy who has the superpower of transforming into a freight train inside the 5 yard line.
Starter Grade: B (Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson)
Depth Grade: B+ (Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen)
Receiver is a bit of a mystery position on this roster. The likely starters are Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace, both of whom have a lot of proving to do. Johnson is entering his second year with the Vikings, but this will be his first year participating in the offseason program, as he was brought on midseason last year. Wallace will have to re-establish himself as an elite deep threat after struggling in Miami with inaccurate downfield thrower Ryan Tannehill. If these two can make good on their high potential in this offense, watch out.
As for depth, while the the potential is certainly there with guys like Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and even rookie Stefon Diggs, one will need to step up and become a consistent contributor from the slot. Patterson is the player we all hope comes out on top as his upside is beyond that of any other receiver on this roster. Jarius Wright is the "safe" guy who will contribute solid-but-unspectacular play. And Stefon Diggs is the dark horse who may not be viewed as having a realistic chance at earning a huge role but with a spectacular camp could end up with one. There is also Adam Thielen, who despite a big camp last year didn't play that much during the season but did show flashes when he did.
Starter Grade: B- (Kyle Rudolph)
Depth: B+ (Chase Ford, Rhett Ellison, MyCole Pruitt)
As he has been ever since Visanthe Shiancoe left, Kyle Rudolph will enter the 2015-16 season as the Vikings' starting tight end, provided he remains healthy, which has been a huge issue throughout his career. After an injury riddled 2014-15 which followed up an injury riddled 2013-14, questions and doubters have emerged. When healthy, Rudolph possesses an immense amount of talent, potential, and size for the tight end position and is a good fit for a Norv Turner offense. A monster season could be on the horizon.
Behind Rudolph, the depth is actually pretty solid. Chase Ford provides the Vikings with a good pass-catching backup tight end. Behind Ford, Rhett Ellison brings the thunder as a blocker, and MyCole Pruitt fits the mold as a "Project" tight end who may not actually be a project, if that makes sense.
Starter Grade: B- (Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, John Sullivan, T.J. Clemmings, Phil Loadholt)
Depth Grade: C (Joe Berger, Mike Harris, Tyrus Thompson, Austin Shepherd, David Yankey, Babatunde Aiyegbusi)
Yes, the Vikings' offensive line was a complete disaster this past season. I chose to give the unit a B- due to the fact that Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt both missed a substantial amount of time and will be returning this year. Matt Kalil is the biggest X-factor on this team other than Bridgewater, as his development in his fourth year will go a long way towards Bridgewater's short and long term success. Fusco will now be manning the left guard position, but despite the position shift there shouldn't be much of a concern here as he has proven to be a very good guard in this league. Sullivan is still a stud, and should continue to be so this upcoming season. Next to him at right guard, the Vikings have been experimenting with rookie fourth round pick T.J. Clemmings(Who most thought would go in the latter parts of the first round). Clemmings will need to catch on fast, but he has a good skill set that should allow him to excel at right guard if he can get down the finer techniques of the position. Book-ending the right side is Phil Loadholt, who struggled a bit this past season when healthy against the pass, but was his usual mauling self in the run game.
Behind the starters, versatile Joe Berger stands above all other backups as the most reliable fill-in man. Mike Harris is a decent back-up as well but you don't want to rely too much on him, as he is certainly not starter quality. David Yankey was looked at as a steal in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, however to this point he has failed to do anything to justify this label. The rest of the bunch are question marks, with rookies Tyrus Thompson, Austin Shepherd and Babatunde Aiyegbusi looking to earn a spot on the 53 man roster.
Starter Grade: A- (Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph)
Depth Grade: B+ (Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen)
Defensive tackle is a position of strength for the Vikings. Stalwart starter Sharrif Floyd provides a dominant force at the 3-technique position and excels versus the run and versus the pass. He is also still developing, which is a scary thought for NFC North offensive coordinators. Next to him, Linval Joseph provides solid play at the nose tackle position. Despite an average season this past year, I expect him to make a bigger impact in 2015-16. After getting shot in the leg by an errant bullet, Joseph missed a large portion of training camp, his first with the Vikings. This likely hurt him in learning the new techniques that Zimmer wanted to infuse into his game.
Behind Floyd and Joseph, pass-rushing specialist Tom Johnson waits for his turn to feast. Shamar Stephen is another player who could have a big role off the bench if he can show progress from last years' decent rookie debut. Scott Crichton is also reportedly getting a chance to play inside in some nickel situations, while Everson Griffen has the ability to do so as well.
Starter Grade: B (Everson Griffen, Brian Robison)
Depth Grade: Unknown (Scott Crichton, Danielle Hunter, Justin Trattou)
Everson Griffen made tremendous strides towards becoming a household name in the NFL notching a career high 12 sacks this past season after signing a massive contract extension that many questioned. Despite Griffen playing excellent football at the right defensive end spot, Brian Robison is coming off a letdown first season in Zimmer's defense. If Robison doesn't show remarkable improvement in camp, it may be best to reduce his role.
Behind Griffen and Robison, things get murky. Scott Crichton, who recently received rave reviews from Spielman has a chance to become a serious contributor this year, but we didn't see enough of him last season to make projections with any legitimate merit. Danielle Hunter is another name to watch. A third round draft pick in April's draft, Hunter will be looking to carve out a spot for himself in the rotation, although his real value resides in the future as he is a "Project" player with elite speed, size, athleticism and arm length who could eventually develop into a very good starter. Justin Trattou has been with the team for a couple years now despite rarely playing in regular season games. While he has has failed to distinguish himself, he hasn't played poorly enough to be released.
Starter Grade: B+ (Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Chad Greenway)
Depth Grade: A- (Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole, Michael Mauti, Casey Matthews)
Despite a great young core in Barr and Kendricks, Greenway holds the grade back from what could have been a solid "A". Barr and Kendricks provide the Vikings' linebacker unit with youth, speed, athleticism, and all-around good play, which will hopefully be enough to make up for Greenway's deficiencies in all phases of the game (Except leadership).
Behind the starters, a couple players worthy of starting sit and wait for a chance to seize the starting job from Greenway. These players are Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole, both of whom have shined when given the chance. Michael Mauti is another player to watch, as he has the fire, athleticism and leadership skills that help get a player noticed by coaches. Casey Matthew's situation is a curious case to me. Even though he stunk it up in Philly and consistently showed he does not belong in the NFL as a linebacker, I have seen a lot of Vikings fans excited about this addition. He is not Clay, Vikings fans.
Starter Grade: B+ (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes/Terrance Newman)
Depth Grade: A- (Trae Waynes/Terrance Newman, Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Robinson, Jabari Price)
Xavier Rhodes is growing into quite the cover corner, and he now will have a new partner in crime across the field whether it be Trae Waynes or Terrance Newman. In an ideal world, Waynes will win the starting spot and form one of the best young cornerback tandems in the NFL with Rhodes. But if Waynes' development doesn't come as fast as we'd like, Terrance Newman should be able to start opposite Rhodes and play solid football.
Regardless of who wins the starting job, the loser will fall under the "depth" category, and will still get playing time. Captain Munnerlyn will likely be the nickel corner, and was almost listed as a starter but I chose not to because I listed three linebacker starters. Josh Robinson enjoyed something of a rebound performance last season, but was still abused by larger receivers far too often. He is, however, a serviceable backup. Jabari Price will look to earn a role after playing just 47 snaps last season according to Pro Football Focus.
Starter Grade: A- (Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton)
Depth Grade: B+ (Antone Exum, Taylor Mays, Andrew Sendejo, Anthony Harris)
Despite being one of the most under-appreciated players by the NFL's national media, Harrison Smith is a top three safety in the NFL and is elite versus the run and pass. Across from him is another underrated player in Robert Blanton, who despite not being a flashy player is solid in all areas.
While Blanton was the starter last season, there are no guarantees he will hold onto that job through training camp. Antone Exum is a player to watch this offseason as a potential replacement for Blanton, whom Zimmer doesn't appear to be very big on. Taylor Mays is on the outside looking in as far as competing for a starting job, but he is a good bet to get a few snaps a game as a dime linebacker. Andrew Sendejo will likely be on the roster bubble, but he has shown in the past he can be a solid safety in this league. Anthony Harris, an undrafted free agent addition out of Virginia, will be looking to earn a spot on the 53-man roster and is a dark horse candidate to win a starting safety job.
Starter Grade: A- (Blair Walsh)
Yes, Walsh had a bit of a down season, but he is still one of the better kickers in the league. He routinely kicks kickoffs out of the end zone and anytime a kicker can hit from 55 yards it gives the team more options. Hopefully Walsh will get back to routinely hitting 30-45 yard field goals this season.
Starter Grade: D (Jeff Locke)
Locke failed to make improvements in his second year, as he continued to botch punts and failed to consistently get good hang-time. Locke will face competition in training camp, and if he fails to show significant improvement he will likely be replaced.
Overall Roster Grade: B+
With a revamped roster stacked with young talent and former first round picks, the Vikings are finally entering a season where if all goes right, a deep playoff run isn't out of the question. Whether or not the Vikings will succeed this upcoming season will hinge on how well the offensive line plays. Offensive line is the unit with the most question marks on this roster other than punter.
Coaching will play a huge role towards the Vikings succeeding in 2015 as well, and the Vikings are set up to succeed in this department with the likes of Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner heading an experienced coaching staff.
Thank you all for reading. Leave your thoughts below and don't forget to follow me on twitter @JMcIntireNFL. Skol!