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Vikings Projected Cuts and Depth Charts

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp is well under-way now, and although the Vikings have yet to play their first pre-season game, there are some early indications on how players are faring so far in camp.

Cuts May Reflect Future Potential

However, I expect this year’s cuts may be a little different from years past, as I expect some veterans who actually looked better than their younger competitors in camp will be cut in favor of them- with expectations that their skills will eclipse that of the older vets in the near future.

In an interview a couple days ago, Rick Spielman hinted to Paul Allen that this may be the case in some instances. He said that there will be some tough decisions, and that in some cases guys that may not be better than others in August, but may be by October, may be kept for that reason.

In any case, here is my projected 53-man roster, plus 3, accounting for Teddy and both Floyds who will not be on the roster to start the year.

Quarterbacks

  1. Sam Bradford
  2. Taylor Heinike
  3. Teddy Bridgewater (PUP)

Cut: Case Keenum

Notes: Bridgewater will likely come off the PUP after week 7 and become the #2. Keenum has not looked good in camp, and playing with the 3rd string is a reflection of that. I’m guessing the Vikings will roll with only two active QBs until Bridgewater returns, in part to help retain one more young talent they may not otherwise be able to keep/get to practice squad.

Running Backs

  1. Dalvin Cook
  2. Latavius Murray
  3. Jerick McKinnon
  4. CJ Ham (FB)

Cuts: Bishop Sankey, Terrell Newby

Notes: I expect Cook to play the most snaps, followed by Murray and McKinnon. I don’t see Ham getting much playing time, but he will be a key special teams guy- which will help him get a roster spot.

Wide Receivers

  1. Adam Thielen
  2. Stefon Diggs
  3. Laquon Treadwell
  4. Jarius Wright
  5. Stacy Coley
  6. Michael Floyd (suspended)

Practice Squad: Rodney Adams, Moritz Boehringer.

Cuts: Caleb Jones, RJ Shelton, Isaac Fruechte

Notes: Suspended players do not count against the 53-man roster, but I think the Vikings will not keep Adams as Sherels will have the KR & PR duties, and Coley will beat him out for the last WR spot. I’m not 100% sure the Vikings will keep 6 WRs this year, but it’s more likely than not. It’s not entirely out of the question that Boehringer gets the last WR spot instead of Coley if he proves more valuable on special teams- as a gunner- but that remains to be seen.

Tight Ends

  1. Kyle Rudolph
  2. David Morgan
  3. Bucky Hodges

Practice Squad: Nick Truesdell

Cuts: Josiah Price, Kyle Carter.

Notes: I think the Vikings will keep 3 TEs on the roster, although they’d like to keep 4. Morgan will be used more as an in-line blocking TE, while Hodges will be used more as an H-back off the line of scrimmage. Truesdell on the practice squad should suffice for a 4th TE if need be.

Offensive Line

LT: Riley Reiff, Rashod Hill

LG: Alex Boone, TJ Clemmings

C: Nick Easton, Pat Elflein

RG: Joe Berger, Danny Isidora

RT: Mike Remmers, Willie Beavers

Cuts: Austin Shepherd, Zac Kerin, Jeremiah Sirles, Reid Fragel

Practice Squad: Aviante Collins, Freddie Tagaloa

Notes: Right now, there is a relative strength among interior OL players, but weakness at tackle. I’m wondering if trying Isidora at right-tackle makes sense- or having Rashod Hill take reps there when Reiff returns. Both Clemmings and Beavers are bubble players, but I think they make the cut, primarily because of the poor play of Sirles and Shepherd - and Collins.

Defensive Line

RDE: Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly

DT: Datone Jones, Dylan Bradley, Shariff Floyd (IR)

NT: Linval Joseph, Jaleel Johnson

LDE: Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Ifeadi Odenigbo

Practice Squad: Tashawn Bower

Cuts: Will Sutton, Chunky Clements, Sam MacCaskill, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen.

Notes: The cuts here will be probably the most difficult decisions of any position group. The Vikings are not gonna be able to keep all the veterans they may prefer to keep without losing promising young guys for the future. This may lead to some surprising cuts among veterans that perhaps outperformed their younger competitors in camp, but will likely be eclipsed by them in the not too distant future.

It’s gonna be really hard to get guys in this group to the practice squad as well. I’m also assuming Shariff Floyd will not return from his injury.

I expect Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen to be cut possibly when Teddy Bridgewater and Michael Floyd return from PUP and suspension. I’m not sure Brian Robison has a place after this year either. It’s just that strong of a group. Honestly, Robison and/or Tom Johnson and/or Shamar Stephen could be traded for an OT or two.

I admit I have an as yet unproven belief that Dylan Bradley is going to rise in the depth charts, and I’m sticking with that for now. I also think that regardless of camp performance, both Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen have a few years of real game performance that is less than compelling, particularly against the run- where the Vikings are focused on improving. Age in Tom Johnson’s case may be a factor as well, and the relatively high salary cap for both (with basically no dead cap) will give them a higher hurdle to make the roster than simply how they do in camp. But another factor that may determine their fate is simply how well their competition does, and how the coaches project their development.

It’s important to note that while both Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson have looked good so far in practice, Stephen has never had an overall PFF grade above 50.3- which is very much in the ‘poor’ category. Tom Johnson, who is in the last year of his contract and will be turning 33 at the end of the month, has alternated between ‘average’ and ‘poor’ overall PFF rankings since entering the league in 2011. Last year was ‘average’. But against the run, he’s always been rated ‘poor’. In both cases, that track record has to carry a lot of weight, along with the performance of potential replacements, in the decision to keep them another year or not. If Jaleel Johnson in particular looks like he can handle some rotational reps at either DT spot, I suspect the decision to part ways with one or both will become a little easier. And I expect that will be the case.

Linebackers

WLB: Edmond Robinson, Elijah Lee

MLB: Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon

SLB: Anthony Barr, Kentrell Brothers

Cuts: Noor Davis, Emmanuel Lamur, Darnell Sankey, Eric Wilson, Shaan Washington

Notes: Perhaps the only surprise cut here is Lamur, but I don’t see him winning a starting spot, and with a $2.75m salary cap hit, and more promising younger players in the group, his services are too costly to give him a precious roster spot, especially as the other guys play special teams better too.

Cornerbacks

RCB: Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman

LCB: Trae Waynes, Marcus Sherels

SCB: Terence Newman, MacKenzie Alexander, Jabari Price

Notes: Not sure where to put Sherels, but the four main CBs will be Rhodes, Waynes, Newman and Alexander. Newman may start in the slot, or he may be the backup everywhere, or rotated as need be, etc. Sherels is mainly special teams, as is Price.

Safeties

FS: Harrison Smith, Jayron Kearse

SS: Andrew Sendejo, Jack Tocho

Cuts: Antone Exum Jr.

Notes: Kearse may be the backup at both safety spots, and I’m gonna give Tocho the nod over the veteran Anthony Harris, as more promising in the long run, and a good special teams player. Exum has durability concerns, and most recently has been taking snaps at slot CB. Don’t see him making the cut.

Special Teams

K: Kai Forbath

P: Taylor Symmank

LS: Kevin McDermott

KR & PR: Marcus Sherels

Notes: I went with Symmank now because he may have done better at night practice. I think a tie goes to Forbath in the kicker contest, as he was perfect in field goals last season. Sherels looks to have the inside track on KR duties, in addition to his incumbent PR status. The coaching staff has the most confidence in Sherels to field punts and kicks without drama, and secondly to do a decent job on the return. I’m not sure they have the same level of confidence in anyone else, even though they have other guys field kicks in practice.

Timing of Cuts

As there is only one cut after the last pre-season game to go from 90 to 53 players, there are going to be a lot of guys getting not so many reps at one point or another. That being the case, it makes sense to get rid of any deadwood sooner than that. Deadwood meaning players that won’t make the roster, and are also not candidates for practice squad.

QB Wes Lunt, for example, has already been cut.

It makes sense to cut some others, particularly at positions with a lot of players needing reps. One name that leaps to mind right now is Will Sutton, who has not done particularly well so far in camp, and given the wealth of young talent to evaluate along with better performing vets, it doesn’t make sense to keep him.

There are probably a half dozen other players that could be cut under the same criteria, and still be able to run 3rd team, etc.

The other aspect of timing of cuts has to do with players returning during the regular season. Both Teddy Bridgewater and Michael Floyd will not count against the 53-man roster to begin the season, as Floyd will be suspended for four games and Bridgewater will be on the PUP list for 7 games.

That allows the Vikings to carry two “extra” guys on the roster during that time. I don’t think those two guys need to be a QB and a WR. I think the Vikings can roll with Heinike as backup until Bridgewater is ready, and 5 WRs until Floyd returns. Instead, I’d carry an extra lineman on either side of the ball, or perhaps two defensive linemen, depending on who seems toughest to get to practice squad or is otherwise the most needed/deserving.

Lastly, I only have six on the practice squad at the moment- too hard to figure out who the rest may be at this point.

Bottom Line

The pre-season games are going to be crucial, as always, in determining the fate of rookies and vets alike. In some cases the performance of the rookies may be more important in deciding the fate of a few veteran players.

But I suspect more so than in the past, because of the added depth and promise of younger players, and also as salary cap becomes more of an issue, some veteran backups may feel the squeeze when the pink slips are issued on September 3rd. Cutting Emmanuel Lamur, Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen, if they prove not part of the plan for the Vikings going forward, would save about $7m in salary cap this year. That’s enough to help extend another core player this year, such as Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, or Danielle Hunter, which is key as the Vikings salary cap will get tighter and tighter in future years, and the cost to extend those players will likely only go up.