Now that the Fourth of July holiday has passed, the Women’s World Cup has concluded with the United States lifting the trophy for the second straight time, and the NBA has finished most of its crazy round of musical chairs, the American sports world is slowly turning its full attention back to its crown jewel: NFL football. Training camps will be getting underway this month across the country as hope springs eternal for all 32 NFL teams. (Yes, even the Raiders.)
However, we’re still two and a half agonizing weeks away from getting real, live football practices at TCO Performance Center back in our life. We’re exactly one month from the Vikings taking on the Saints in the first preseason game. So while we anxiously wait for the last stretch of the offseason to finally conclude, let’s do what football fans do best in our downtime: make wild predictions that are sure to be proven wrong in the near future!
A couple weeks ago, I received a tweet from reader Anthony Nelson in my notifications regarding roster projections. Instead of giving me a complete breakdown of who he thought was in and out, he provided a template for choosing who was in and out based on different tiers. It was created using TierMaker. Regular Twitter users may have seen TierMaker used for a variety of subjects, most notably for NFL quarterbacks. TierMaker is an online tool that allows you to create a ranking system for just about anything you can think of; all you need to do is upload a group of images and label the tiers. From there, you simply drag and drop each image to the tier where you think it belongs, and then you can share your results on social media. It’s an easy, visually appealing way to instantly start a debate on your favorite subject.
Since my favorite subject of debate just so happens to be the Minnesota Vikings, I decided to use Anthony’s idea for an article. I created my own template for two main reasons:
- The player images in his template were pulled from Vikings.com, but they weren’t labeled. Although I cover Training Camp and pride myself on being able to recognize most of the faces on the roster, I still don’t know most of the new guys just by their team mugshot. So I went through all 90 pictures and labeled them with their corresponding names to make the exercise easier.
- I wanted to tweak and simplify the tiers a bit. I renamed most of them and reduced the total number from nine to six. The tiers I ended up with were:
- Absolute lock
- Yes, but not 100% guaranteed
- Important rotational/special teams player
- Practice Squad candidate
- Surprise Cut/cap casualty
So after getting everything set up, I had the daunting task of whittling the current 90-man roster down to 64. (The 53 roster spots, ten Practice Squad spots, and one extra since Holton Hill is suspended the first four games of the season.) After much deliberation, this is how everything shook out:
I’m sure all of my choices will be universally agreed upon by every Vikings fan. But just in case there are a couple random naysayers, I’ll go through each position to explain my picks.
Kirk Cousins is a lock for a lot of reasons—84 million of them to be exact. The Vikings have traditionally kept three quarterbacks on the roster for the past several years, so I’m assuming both Sean Mannion and Kyle Sloter are safe. If the team goes with only two, obviously one of those will be the odd man out. I put Jake Browning on the Practice Squad. The Vikings paid a good chunk of money as far as undrafted free agents go for Browning, so I’m guessing they’ll want to keep him around.
Dalvin Cook is the incumbent starter and Alexander Mattison is a third round pick—they’re in for sure. I put C.J. Ham in the second tier because he has performed well and is still pretty cheap, but Khari Blasingame (who I have cut) could give him a run at the fullback spot. I have Ameer Abdullah making the team, but only because he’s a proven commodity at kick returner. If someone else steps up in that department, I could see Abdullah on the chopping block. I like Mike Boone, but I don’t see the team keeping five running backs on the roster again. Hopefully he’ll sneak through to the Practice Squad. I have Roc Thomas in the “suprise cut” tier because he made the roster last year but he could be the odd man out due to his felony marijuana possession charge earlier this year.
My one-word analysis for Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen: duh. After that, the wide receiver depth chart gets a bit murky. I put Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Brandon Zylstra, and Dillon Mitchell on the roster. I have Jeff Badet and Bisi Johnson taking Practice Squad spots, but if either has a particularly strong camp, I could see them being bumped up to the final 53. I think Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins are long shots at this point. Which leaves us with one Laquon Treadwell. As recently as Week 2 of the 2018 season, I was pleading with Vikings fans to be patient with him. Now? I’m 100% ready to move on. However, I had to put him in the surprise cut tier for two reasons:
- The guy was a first round pick just over three years ago. There’s still an outside chance he can finally put it together.
- The Vikings usually avoid dead cap space at all costs, and the $2.5 million hit that would be caused by cutting Treadwell is not insignificant.
When I first posted my tiers, the most common response was that Treadwell simply belongs in the final tier because his release wouldn’t surprise anyone. While that be the case among the fan base, I don’t think we should just assume that Treadwell will be off the team come September.
This position seems pretty cut and dry to me. Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., and David Morgan should all be pretty involved in the new-look Kevin Stefanski/Gary Kubiak offense. Tyler Conklin should beat out Brandon Dillon and Cole Hikutini for the final tight end spot.
The team’s most maligned unit over the past several years will hopefully take a step in the right direction this season. Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill should be the starting tackles again while Pat Elflein moves to guard, which might be his best position. First round pick Garrett Bradbury and newcomer Josh Kline look to be the prohibitive favorites to round out the starting lineup. They’re all locks. I threw Dru Samia in the locks as well because I don’t see the Vikings cutting a promising fourth round pick. (Please hold your requisite Willie Beavers and T.J. Clemmings jokes until the end of the program.) Rashod Hill and Aviante Collins should make the team but I placed them in the second tier just in case. Brett Jones is right on the border for me, but I have him taking the final OL spot. A case could be made for Dakota Dozier there, who I have getting cut. I put Oli Udoh on the Practice Squad to give the sixth round pick a year of development. I put Danny Isidora on the surprise cut tier just because he’s had a couple cracks at starting in the past. But since he hasn’t done much with his opportunities yet, I guess his release wouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Cornelius Edison and Storm Norton are returning camp players but I still view them as long shots along with John Keenoy.
This was by far the toughest unit on the team for me to choose, but not at the top of the depth chart. For Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, and Stephen Weatherly, please see the explanation I previously gave Diggs and Thielen. Jaleel Johnson and Shamar Stephen should be in as well. After that? Your guess is as good as mine. I put three players on the borderline tier: Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, and Hercules Mata’afa. As of right now, I have Tashawn Bower as a surprise cut. It’s mostly due to his health, which has been a problem for the past year and caused him to miss a lot of time during OTAs. I like how Odenigbo has developed since losing out to Bower last year, so I gave him the nod. I put sixth rounder Armon Watts, Odenigbo’s brother Tito, and Ade Aruna on the Practice Squad as developmental projects. I could definitely see Watt make the roster if he has a good camp though. After that, it’s simply a numbers game. Curtis Cothran, Stacy Keely, Anree Saint-Amour, and Karter Schult will all be fighting an uphill battle in Eagan.
Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks aren’t going anywhere. Ben Gedeon and Eric Wilson shouldn’t be fretting too much about their spots. I currently have both Kentrell Brothers and rookie Cameron Smith making the team. However, if the team decides to keep an extra player at another position, one of those two might not make it. Devante Downs showed some promise last year; he has the best chance of the linebackers I have getting cut. Reshard Cliett and Greer Martini? Not so much.
I have six locks here: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Mike Hughes, and Mackensie Alexander. Holton Hill doesn’t take up a roster spot until Week 5 so he’ll be there, and I assume he’ll bump someone off when he does return. Jayron Kearse is too valuable on both defense and special teams to be at too much risk. That leaves two spots for the remaining scrum of players. I gave Derron Smith and Marcus Epps the nod while stashing Kris Boyd on the Practice Squad. Cases could be made for Craig James and Duke Thomas, but I have them out for now along with Micah Abernathy, Terrence Alexander, Nate Meadors, and Isaiah Wharton.
Dan Bailey and Matt Wile are currently running unopposed for their kicker and punter spots. If that changes in Training Camp, so could their chances of making the team. I put Austin Cutting in over incumbent long snapper Kevin McDermott. I mean, if you’re going to spend a seventh round pick on a long snapper and endure a lengthy approval process with the Air Force just to make sure he can play in the NFL, you better keep him, right?
If you disagree with some of my choices, you’re free to air your grievances in the comments. Better yet: use the template and create a roster of your own on TierMaker!