The Vikings have 90 players ready to go and training camp is only months away! This may be the most boring time of the year as an NFL fan, so I've decided to take a crack at solving the team puzzle. Over at the Viking Age, they made their own predictions which inspired me to create mine. I had serious disagreements on what they had in mind and thought I could provide a more realistic projection. That is, if projecting this early can even have a remote chance of accuracy.
For this forecast, I heavily considered what the Rams carried into 2021 on offense (see below) and what the Broncos used on defense (also see below). Obviously, this is because HC Kevin O'Connell came from the Rams and DC Ed Donatell's previous stop was with Denver. Since the Broncos had 27 on defense and the Rams had 26 on offense, I did have to make a couple sacrifices in order to stay under the 53 man limit.
Here's a short summary of how many from each position. I bolded the positions I hit the number on in my projection below.
Rams 2021 Offense: QB-3, RB-3, TE-4, WR-6, OL-10
Broncos 2021 Defense: DL-6, ILB-5, OLB-5, CB-6, S-5
Now to get things started...
QB (2): Kirk Cousins, Kellon Mond
Cuts: Sean Mannion, Nate Stanley
Every position for the Vikings is likely going to have some surprise cuts here and there. QB may be no different. The biggest question for this group is whether or not the infallible Sean Mannion survives. It's honestly one of the biggest uncertainties for next season's team overall. It really shouldn't have been as challenging as I found it to cut Mannion as it was, but I did it. I have serious doubts he won't be cut. Ultimately, it just makes way too much sense for the Vikings to do it.
Exhibit A ->Mannion is awful. Exhibit B ->Cousins doesn't miss games. Exhibit C->Depth at other positions could contribute to special teams. Exhibit D ->It makes no financial sense to cut Mond even if he is bad. Exhibit E-> Kevin O'Connell should be able to develop Mond more than the Vikings did in his rookie year as a former QB coach. Exhibit F->All 31 other teams passed on signing Mannion before he returned to Minnesota/If cut, they could easily bring him back if they wanted to. Is that enough to let go of a long-time "friend"? Let's try and plan on it.
RB (4): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangu, Ty Chandler
Cuts: C.J Ham, Jake Bargas, A.J Rose, Bryant Koback
The Rams went notoriously light on running backs to start the season due to some serious injuries that necessitated the Sony Michel trade. They initially rolled with three. However, six different running backs ended up getting carries for them over the course of the season. The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle of those numbers. Cook is a push-in and the recent draftees should be as well. Alexander Mattison had an up and down 2021 and might be the most expendable of these four since it's the last year of his contract. His game is so similar to Sony Michel's, whom the Rams found attractive (or were desperate) enough to trade for, that I think he'll stay and potentially have a role again in the Vikings offense.
Conspicuously absent from the choice group is FB C.J Ham. The Vikings would save 2 million by cutting him. The Rams' offense doesn't really use a FB and they actually began the season without one.
WR (6): Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Jailen Nailor
Cuts: Myron Mitchell, Blake Proehl, Dan Chisena, Thomas Hennigan, Trishton Jackson
One of the least surprising products is here. Six is a good amount for a 3 WR offense, exactly how many the Rams started with, and exactly how many qualified there are on the team. I think it's possible they keep 7 in order to bring along Chisena for special teams, but I'm not counting on it right now. Rookie Thomas Hennigan is also a favorite sleeper pick to make the team from what I've seen elsewhere.
TE (3): Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse
Cuts: Ben Ellefson, Zach Davidson
This is another position I have some confidence in. Nick Muse was a 7th round pick that the Vikings hope can displace Ben Ellefson at TE3. Ellefson graded about 40 per PFF-which translates into terrible. Zach Davidson was not good enough to play ahead of him. The latter may be too raw of a project to make it in the NFL. Perhaps he can surprise us after a redshirt season, but I'm more confident that new management's draft pick will make new management's team.
OL (10): Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Jesse Davis, Brian O'Neill, Chris Reed, Ed Ingram, Oli Udoh, Blake Brandel, Austin Schlottmann
Cuts: Wyatt Davis, Kyle Hinton, Vederian Lowe, Josh Sokol, Timon Parris
This is the last time I'll mention them, but yes, this is how many the Rams kept in 2021. The first 7 you can write in pen. The last three are my best guess at rounding out the trench. Udoh and Brandel both made the team last year, of course, and are the best choices for keeping two backup tackles (Probably a good idea). They could elect to keep just one of them as a swing tackle, but then you run the risk of Jesse Davis revisiting the tackle spot if two get injured in a game. Brandel received quite a bit of time in jumbo packages last season that may be done away with. Udoh hasn't played tackle in over a season. It's an odd situation behind the starters, Darrisaw and O'Neill. On the other hand, Minnesota loaded up on interior offensive lineman to the point I think Wyatt Davis is demoted to the practice squad. Austin Schlottmann appears to be the backup center. He is experienced (good enough to play), but played atrociously (not good enough to play at an acceptable level) the past 2 seasons. I'm thinking they will try to upgrade from him through a minor trade or by going through other team's final cuts. Otherwise you have athletic, but undersized small-school standout Josh Sokol as another option at center. Plus, there's still fan-favorite Kyle Hinton. Center is clearly the weakest link and we'll have to wait and see if changes are coming.
We'll flip to defense where prediction difficulty increases!
DL (5): Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, Armon Watts, Esezi Otomewo, James Lynch
Cuts: Jaylen Twyman, T.Y McGill, Tyarise Stevenson, Julian Taylor
On the 3-4 front, we'll bring along 5 players. I went 1 short of what Broncos kept for each of DL, ILB, and OLB. Keeping 27 defensive players for an offensive head coach's team seems pretty ridiculous and unlikely to happen here like it did in Denver. I kept 4 players with enough size to play on the line along with fifth round pick, Esezi Otomewo. Twyman is a 2021 6th round pick who is 1 year removed from football and should be an easy stash on the practice squad. I'm not completely counting him out to make the team, but he has a long road ahead to do so.
ILB (4): Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah, Troy Dye
Cuts: Blake Lynch, Chazz Surratt, Ryan Connelly, Tuf Borland
Chazz Surratt is probably a sunk cost from the Spielman era. He couldn't crack the field as a 3rd round pick last year and lost out on playing time to UDFA Blake Lynch. You have 2 starters at ILB, so you may as well take a backup for each. Anything more seems a bit excessive for a unit weak on depth. The first 3 are locks. I chose Dye as the 4th since he has played more than Blake Lynch in the past and also seems to fit the mold of the smaller, quicker linebacker the Vikings want on their defense going forward. Dye also may benefit from the Vikings switching to the 3-4, a defense he was familiar with at Oregon. Although, Lynch could as well.
OLB (5): Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith, D.J. Wonnum, Kenny Willekes, Luiji Vilain
Cut: Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson, Zach McCloud
A few hard decisions have to be made at edge rusher. Robinson is in the same boat as Jaylen Twyman after missing an entire season. He also reportedly needed a lot of coaching coming out of the draft and it's doubtful he was able to advance his game much due to injury. Kenny Willekes played fairly well in limited snaps, but would cost nothing to cut unlike Jones and Robinson. That may leave him a little more vulnerable. Patrick Jones didn't play well, but carries a 676K dead cap hit if cut. Robinson's is 500K and Vilain is at 220K. Willekes and Jones both seem more suited to playing as a 4-3 DE and might not adjust well to a 3-4; whereas, Vilain (experienced) and Robinson (athletic freak) could adapt more easily. I really don't have a clue and keep going back and forth. I'll go with the guy familiar with playing as a 3-4 OLB (Vilain) along with the guy who has a motor and showed some promise when playing last year (Willekes). They might be underdogs, but who's to say?
CB (6): Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler, Andrew Booth Jr, Chandon Sullivan, Nate Hairston, Akayleb Evans
Cut: Kris Boyd, Parry Nickerson, Tye Smith
The secondary will wishfully be improved in 2022. Kris Boyd is entering his 4th season and unfortunately hasn't showed himself to be a reliable CB. Sullivan and Hairston are solid veterans that will likely start at nickel and dime DB if the rookies don't catch on quickly enough or if Booth's injury keeps him out longer than expected. The biggest roster battle will be between Dantzler and Booth for a starting CB role.
S (5): Harrison Smith, Lewis Cine, Camryn Bynum, Harrison Hand, Josh Metellus
Cut: Myles Dorn, Mike Brown
We will see some three safety sets in Minnesota and the result is we may carry an extra. I flipped Hand to safety since he was initially projected to switch over to safety when drafted. I think that may be what's most likely to be asked of him in the new defense, but he'll just have to take whatever opportunity comes to him buried beneath several new additions.
LS: Andrew DePaola: Currently no competition for him
P: Jordan Berry
Cut: Ryan Wright. Wright wasn't graded as a punter. Certainly not top 5 from the rookie class and doubtful he wins the job.
K: Greg Joseph
Cut: Gabe Brkic. Brkic is the 3rd ranked kicker of the 2022 class by most accounts I've seen. It's pretty difficult to win a job as a rookie kicker, however. Last year's model was Riley Patterson who found his home with the Lions and did well. I'm sticking with the incumbent since changes don't seem to happen too frequently at kicker until we witness failure at a colossal level.
Thank you for reading and I invite you to weigh in!