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Projecting the Vikings 53-Man Roster

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It’s a little early, but that’s okay.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-OTA Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the draft has been completed, and UDFAs signed, we have a pretty good idea of the players we have to choose from to make the final 53-man roster at the end of training camp. Of course there could still be some additions and subtractions in the meantime, but for now I’ll just consider those currently on the roster.

Quarterback (2)

Starter: Kirk Cousins

Backups: Kyle Sloter

Practice Squad: Jake Browning

Cut: Sean Mannion

The fact that the Vikings let Trevor Siemian go, being outbid by the Jets for his services, and brought in Sean Mannion, who has next to no NFL playing experience, may be a sign the Vikings are more comfortable with Sloter as their #2 quarterback.

They picked up Jake Browning as a UDFA, but neither Browning or Mannion have superior arm talent, confidence or play-making ability to displace Sloter as the backup to Kirk Cousins. Hopefully the Vikings have gained confidence in Sloter to go with the trend in the NFL and have only two QBs on the roster. Vikings QB coach Klint Kubiak worked with Sloter when he was in Denver, and Sloter said “he couldn’t have hand picked a better coach that he’d want to work with” and that they have a good relationship. That familiarity could be beneficial - particularly as Klint is close with both his Dad and Kevin Stefanski - in helping Sloter get the nod for the #2 QB job this season.

The other thing about Kyle Sloter is next year is Cousins’ last under contract. If Cousins continues at his current performance level, his market value could easily be higher for a new contract now that Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson got paid. But at some point it becomes a question of whether extending Cousins is worth it from a salary cap perspective and being able to retain other core players. Whether a guy like Sloter can step into a starting role without much difference in performance is also part of the equation. Elevating Sloter to the primary backup job, and giving him more reps in the pre-season, should help determine that a little more.

Running Back / Fullback (5)

Starter: Dalvin Cook

Backups: Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone

Fullback: C.J. Ham

Practice Squad: Khari Blasingame (FB)

Cut: Roc Thomas

I suspect the Vikings continue with two slashers (Cook and Abdullah) and two bashers (Mattison and Boone) at running back, while continuing to keep a fullback.

I’ll give C.J. Ham the benefit of the doubt for now as he’s done very well as a special teamer and pass blocker. But Khari Blasingame is a big and very athletic fullback that was also a former LB and safety who did very well on special teams in college. He had an off-the-charts pro day for a fullback. The 6’ 233-pound fullback ran a 4.55” 40, with a 38.5” vertical, massive 143” broad jump, 6.94” 3-cone, 4.18” 20-yard short shuttle.

For those of you into sparq and z-scores, Blasingame was second among all running backs in this year’s draft class. Alexander Mattison was 20th. Damien Harris 39th. David Montgomery 48th. And first-round pick Josh Jacobs was 78th. Last year Mike Boone was 2nd. Ameer Abdullah was first in 2015. Jerick McKinnon was first in 2014. Notice a trend?

Oddly, Dalvin Cook ranks by far the lowest by this measure - 125th in the class of 2017.

In any case, if Blasingame can show he can block and play special teams - he could displace Ham. One other consideration in the fullback competition is that Ham is a restricted free agent next year. Which means he’ll be a lot more expensive. It may be that the Vikings would like to keep Blasingame on the practice squad for a year if they’re not entirely sold on him yet, and potentially have him replace Ham next year. But they also run the risk of having him poached.

Meanwhile, I suspect Roc Thomas, facing a suspension, may be cut.

Tight End (4)

Starters: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr.

Backups: David Morgan, Tyler Conklin

Cut: Cole Hikutini

Practice Squad: Brandon Dillon

I expect the Vikings will run more two tight end sets this season, so whether or not they start the game that way, I included both Rudolph and Smith as de facto starters. I expect the Vikings will restructure Rudolph’s contract to lower his cap number this year and extend him for another year or two. Smith and Rudolph are complementary tight-ends, and a good combo for Kubiak’s offense. Keeping Morgan and Conklin makes sense as decent depth players. Dillon could be an eventual replacement for Morgan, if he pans out, who’s on the last year of his rookie deal. For now he could be a practice squad guy.

Wide Receiver (6)

Starters: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs

Backups: Chad Beebe, Jeff Badet, Olabisi Johnson, Jordan Taylor

Practice Squad: Dillon Mitchell

Cut: Davion Davis, Alexander Hollins, Brandon Zylstra, Laquon Treadwell

Quite a bit of speculation here beyond Diggs and Thielen.

If the Vikings could manage to trade Treadwell before June 1st it would save them $1.8 million in cap space, but otherwise they might just cut him to give a roster spot to somebody who may be more of a factor in the future. Treadwell hasn’t done much as a receiver, nor on special teams, and even as a blocker he’s declined every year. Hopefully the Vikings can find a team to flip a 7th round pick for him.

Among the backup candidates, beyond a good, reliable receiver, the Vikings appear to be looking for more of an outside, deep threat - and a punt returner and special teamer.

Among the newcomers, Jordan Taylor and Olabisi Johnson may be the most accomplished special teamers - and both have returned punts too - and may be further along in their route running. Taylor is 6’5”, 210 lbs, ran a 4.5” 40 coming out, but is also coming off double hip surgery which caused him to miss last season with the Broncos. If he hasn’t lost anything after hip surgery, he stands a good chance to make the team as a veteran backup.

Johnson is also a 4.5” 40 guy, but not as big - 6’0”, 203 pounds. From the scouting reports, he seems further along with his route running, and has also seen action as a gunner and punt returner on special teams. He has some Adam Thielen similarities. Among the draft picks and UDFAs, I give him the inside track to land a backup spot.

Jeff Badet is the small speedster - 4.3” 40, deep threat, and potential punt/kick returner too. I don’t see any of the other smaller receivers beating him out (Alexander Hollins, Davion Davis).

Chad Beebe emerged last season as a top backup before he was injured, but he’s not a deep threat (4.73” 40) and didn’t do much on special teams either. He may make the team, but could also slide a bit on the depth chart.

Dillon Mitchell has the potential to displace someone on the depth chart. 6’1”, 197 pounds, 4.46” 40. He’s not as far along in his route running or as a special teamer, and there is concern about his work ethic and how well he takes coaching. If he can dispense with the latter two concerns, he could make the practice squad or even the final roster if he’s able to show enough improvement. Right now I have him on the practice squad.

Brandon Zylstra didn’t really show much last year as a receiver - didn’t really see the field much either - nor did he stand out as a special teamer. That puts his status in doubt as he’s not much of a deep threat either with 4.64” speed.

Bottom line, I suspect the Vikings are looking for some guys to step up behind Diggs and Thielen to improve the depth chart. Right now it looks a bit weak right now if either Diggs or Thielen goes down to injury. But a solid training camp/pre-season from bigger/faster guys like Johnson, Taylor, Mitchell and Badet could change that.

Offensive Line (9)

Left Tackle: Riley Reiff, Brian O’Neill

Left Guard: Dru Samia, Aviante Collins

Center: Garrett Bradbury, Brett Jones

Right Guard: Josh Kline, Aviante Collins

Right Tackle: Brian O’Neill, Rashod Hill

Other Backup: Pat Elflein

Cut: Dakota Dozier, Adam Bisnowaty, John Keenoy, Cornelius Edison, Danny Isidora

Practice Squad: Uli Odoh, Storm Norton

Despite the lack of an official announcement, I don’t think there’s any doubt Garrett Bradbury starts at center barring injury. As a first-round pick and one of the better center prospects to come out in recent years, he’s the new starting center for the Vikings.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that Reiff and O’Neill start at the two tackle spots, although there is a possibility they switch spots. I also think if Reiff were to go down, they’d slide O’Neill to the blind side and have Rashod Hill play right tackle. For those reasons, I wouldn’t be surprised to see O’Neill take some snaps at left tackle, even if he ultimately stays on the right side.

I also don’t think there’s any question Josh Kline starts at a guard spot - most likely right guard. He’s being paid to be a starter, and a starter he will be. He had a down year last season in Tennessee- their whole OL did- but prior to that had been an average guard - above average in pass protection.

That leaves the other guard spot - most likely left guard - up for competition. The leading contenders for that spot are Dru Samia, Aviante Collins, Pat Elflein, Brett Jones, Danny Isidora, and Dakota Dozier.

At this point, Danny Isidora needs to show some real improvement this training camp or he won’t make the final cut. He didn’t move up at all in his sophomore season, so it’s hard to see him doing so this year. Would not be surprised to see him cut.

Similarly, after watching Dakota Dozier on tape, it’s clear he’s a backup level talent at best, and may likely end up on the outside looking in come September.

Among the remaining four contenders, many assume Pat Elflein will slide over to start at guard, where he played four years ago at Ohio State. The rationale is that he played better four years ago at guard in college, so he’ll be a better guard now than he was a center the past two years in the NFL. I don’t buy it.

I don’t buy it because Elflein trailed off as a run-blocker in 2017 and got even worse in 2018, and run-blocking as a guard isn’t so much different than run blocking as a center. I also don’t buy it because he fared poorly as a pass blocker last season as a center, and pass blocking as a guard is more demanding because you’re not uncovered as much.

It’s also worth noting that between Elflein, Collins and Samia (all roughly equal in size), Elflein is the least athletic based on his draft measureables. He was below average across the board except his 20-yard short shuttle, where he was roughly average. Add to that the preference, based on free agent and draft additions, for more physical, competitive toughness by the coaching staff, and it’s very difficult to see Elflein winning the starting job. Even a backup spot could be difficult to secure if he doesn’t show a lot more this off-season.

Brett Jones is another veteran option, but maybe not the most athletic option either. He’s a decent interior backup but I suspect he’ll fall to 2nd best at the end of the day when it comes to a starting guard spot.

That leaves Samia and Collins. These are the two most athletic options at guard, and I expect solid competition for a starting spot. But I think Collins may be a little behind Samia in his technique at guard (he played right tackle in college), and it remains to be seen how his build and core strength have improved this year after breaking his elbow at the end of training camp last year. As a rookie, he didn’t have much of an anchor and that hurt his chances. He’s added some weight since then, but he’ll need a strong anchor to play inside, and solid technique as well. I’m not sure he’ll eclipse Samia in either facet in training camp, which leads me to give Samia the remaining guard spot.

Samia has started at guard for the past three years at Oklahoma, in a zone blocking scheme, so he’s got those advantages. He’s also got good technique most of the time, and really just needs to improve his consistency and continue to improve his core strength. If he can make the strides that Brian O’Neil did last year, and Samia is not seen as raw as O’Neil was last year based on his 4-years of starting experience at Oklahoma, then he could win the other starting guard spot.

I expect Aviante Collins to secure a roster spot as a backup based on his versatility. He could play either guard or tackle spot if need be, and has the athletic traits desired.

I also expect Rashad Hill to make the roster as a swing tackle- hopefully improved - and also Brett Jones as a backup center/interior linemen.

That leaves Pat Elflein in a difficult spot. Probably as an interior line backup.

Oli Udoh, the ultimate traits-based pick, Udoh is a big and athletic tackle out of Elon that if he takes well to coaching, could become a backup tackle in a year or so, and maybe a starter eventually. Really a practice squad guy with big upside - the MoBo of tackles.

Defensive Line

RDE: Everson Griffen

DT: Jaleel Johnson

NT: Linval Joseph

LDE: Danielle Hunter

Backups: Stephen Weatherly, Shamar Stephen, Jalyn Holmes, Ifeadi Odenigbo

Practice Squad: Armon Watts, Ade Aruna

Cut: Curtis Cothran, Karter Schult, Tito Odenigbo, Anree St Amour, Tashawn Bower

Griffen, Hunter and Joseph are pretty clear starters, and I think the Vikings brought back Stephen in part so Jaleel Johnson could play 3-tech, for which he’s better suited. Holmes will rotate there. Stephen Weatherly has established himself as the primary DE backup. The coaching staff appears to be high on Ifeadi Odenigbo after convincing him to stay with the Vikings rather than get poached by the Eagles, so he’ll get a roster spot too. The rest compete for practice squad spots, which only Watts among the newcomers is able to crack.

Linebackers

Starters: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks

Backups: Ben Gedeon, Jayron Kearse, Cameron Smith, Hercules Mata’afa

Practice Squad: Devante Downs

Cut: Greer Martini, Eric Wilson, Richard Cliett, Kentrell Brothers

I'm projecting more turnover in the linebacker group this year as the Vikings look to improve coverage ability among the backups. Kentrell Brothers and Eric Wilson have been top special teamers, but they’ve struggled as backup linebackers when called up. Wilson struggled with tackling and coverage last season, and may have reached his ceiling.

In the case of Brothers, I see the Vikings making way for the more athletic Hercules Mata’afa, who could excel in special teams while also being a very effective base linebacker who could eclipse Gedeon in that role at some point.

In the case of Wilson, I see the Vikings making a place for Jayron Kearse on the roster as a linebacker who can cover. Kearse has played both safety and slot corner, and has graded very well the last two years in tackling and run defense, so he should be able to handle traditional linebacker duties in addition to coverage. Kearse is experienced in Zimmer’s system, and has been a solid special teamer. I think the Vikings want to find a place for him and extend him after his rookie deal is up this year. Moving him to linebacker now that Anthony Harris appears to have won the second safety job makes sense. And Kearse can still be a backup DB if need be as well. His versatility has outsized value, as does his experience in Zimmer’s defense.

Wilson and Brothers may have minimal trade value.

Beyond that, there is some competition for a practice squad spot which I have Downs winning at the moment.

Also, I could see Zimmer experimenting with a hybrid front in certain situations, in order to give Anthony Barr more reps as a pass rusher. He’s got enough bigger linemen this year, but he’ll need a full compliment of versatile linebackers too.

Cornerbacks

Starters: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander.

Backups: Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Craig James

Cut: Nate Meadors

Now that the draft is over, I doubt Trae Waynes gets traded unless some desperate team is willing to substantially overpay for his services. Undoubtedly the Vikings will get a compensatory pick for Waynes if he signs elsewhere after this year, which could be as high as a 3rd round pick. So as it stands now, the Vikings have a year of Waynes’ service, plus a compensatory pick if he’s signed away. With Mike Hughes recovering from an ACL, and Holton Hill suspended for the first four games of the season, the Vikings may decide they’re better off with Waynes and let the year play out.

This is a pretty easy group to figure out otherwise, without much doubt about five of the six spots. There will be competition between Hill and Hughes for the primary outside backup spot (Hughes is primary slot backup), and between James and Meadors for the final spot, but I have James holding that.

Safeties

Starters: Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris

Backups: Derron Smith, Kris Boyd

Practice Squad: Micah Abernathy

Cut: Duke Thomas, Jordan Martin, Marcus Epps

No question on the starters, but more competition for backup spots. I moved Kris Boyd into the safeties group as perhaps a better fit for his skill set, even though he played cornerback in college. I also removed Jayron Kearse and included him with the linebackers.

Special Teams

Kicker: Dan Bailey

Punter: Matt Wile

Long-Snapper: Austin Cutting

Cut: Kevin McDermott

I’m going with the assumption that Cutting is able to work out a deal with the Air Force to serve his two-year commitment and also play for the Vikings. He’s an acquisitions officer, so that may be an element in the final arrangement. Perhaps he’ll be allowed to serve his commitment during the off-season in 6-month chunks over four years. I don’t know how willing/able the Air Force will be in accommodating the Vikings, but if he’s to play anytime soon, it would have to something along those lines, if they don’t waive it. The Navy accommodated the Patriots with the service commitment of a long-snapper they drafted in the 5th round a few years ago.

Beyond that, I expect a full competition for kick and punt returner now that Marcus Sherels is gone. I’m wondering with Mike Hughes’ ACL injury, if they’ll remove him from that competition going forward. Most of the backup wide receivers have experience as punt or kick returners, so perhaps those duties may fall on one or two of them. Excelling as a returner would be a much surer path to a roster spot.

Poll

Which of the following players is most likely to be cut before the start of the regular season?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    CJ Ham
    (103 votes)
  • 36%
    Sean Mannion
    (1508 votes)
  • 0%
    Pat Elflein
    (25 votes)
  • 6%
    Eric Wilson
    (262 votes)
  • 54%
    Laquon Treadwell
    (2234 votes)
4132 votes total Vote Now