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Thoughts on Vikings’ Initial 53-Man Roster

Minnesota Vikings v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

The Vikings made some moves and cuts to get down to the required 53-man roster by 3pm central time today. As usual, most of the cuts were not surprises, but a few were. And there were a couple trades as well- and perhaps more deals will be inked in the coming days.

So what to make of the roster cut down? Where does this leave the Vikings roster now- less than two weeks before the Vikings first regular season game against the Packers?

Let’s take a look.

Roster names are in updated official Vikings’ depth chart order.

Rationale Behind the Trades and Cuts

Quarterback (2)

Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens.

Cutting both Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond after trading for Nick Mullens was simply a decision on allocation of roster spots. Neither Mond or Mannion could come off the bench and deliver if need be, so that doesn’t make them worthy of a roster spot. Carrying a third quarterback on the roster leaves you short elsewhere, and the Vikings, like most teams, are better off allocating that roster spot elsewhere to improve depth.

A third quarterback can be kept on the practice squad, and the reality is that if you’re forced to play your third quarterback, your season is probably lost, so why use a roster spot? The norm in the NFL now is to have only two QBs on the roster, and Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah were good with that.

Running/Full Back (5)

RB: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler. FB: CJ Ham.

The Vikings opted for a total of four running backs and CJ Ham at fullback, which was expected. There are reports that the Vikings are entertaining trade offers for Alexander Mattison, which makes sense given the performance of Ty Chandler, who could become the RB2 if the Vikings trade Mattison- who’s in the last year of his contract and will look for a starting job on another team next year if he’s retained. Trading Mattison could give the Vikings some additional compensation beyond a late Day 3 pick if he signs elsewhere next year. You could also make the argument that Chandler is the better back and a better fit for the Vikings system, but that may be a bit premature at this point. A trade could still be done for Mattison in the coming days- something to keep an eye on.

Wide Receiver (5)

Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Jalen Nailor.

The surprise so far here is that the Vikings only kept five wide receivers. Using more three wide receiver sets, I expected the Vikings to keep six wide receivers, as they have most years in the recent past. There was a rumor that the Vikings may be looking at trading for Jalen Reagor, taken one spot ahead of Justin Jefferson by the Eagles. Reagor also returned punts last year for the Eagles. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings added a wide receiver in the coming days to get back up to six. The Bucs also waived Former Minnesota gopher Tyler Johnson, who could potentially be an upgrade in this group.

Tight End (3)

Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson.

I was surprised the Vikings kept two blocking tight-ends with CJ Ham on the roster as well, but they did. I thought Zach Davidson made a strong case for the last roster spot, but apparently not. Davidson is more dynamic as a receiver than Ellefson, and graded higher as a pass blocker, but Ellefson is the better run blocker, so presumably that got him the last roster spot here.

Offensive Line (10)

LT: Christian Darrisaw, Blake Brandel, Vederian Lowe. LG: Ezra Cleveland, Chris Reed, C: Garrett Bradbury, Austin Schlottmann. RG: Ed Ingram. RT: Brian O’Neill, Oli Udoh.

The Vikings have opted to keep ten offensive linemen, one more than normal, for the moment. They also traded Jesse Davis, which I thought they may do in my last roster forecast. The surprise to me was the Vikings keeping Vederian Lowe instead of Kyle Hinton, who is the better player at this point. Lowe is also the 5th tackle on the roster, and not ready to play yet in spot duty. One consideration with Lowe is if they think he’ll get claimed off the waiver wire, and so perhaps they delayed his release for a day or two until teams have made their initial waiver claims. Should the Vikings bring in another player, and trading Jesse Davis allowed the Vikings to save $1.45 million in cap space to do so, Lowe could be waived at that point. Reed and Schlottmann can both play center and guard, while Hinton is a guard only, so that probably worked against him.

Interior Defensive Line (6)

NT: Harrison Phillips. DE: Dalvin Tomlinson, Jonathan Bullard, Ross Blacklock, James Lynch, Esezi Otomewo.

The Vikings waived Armon Watts in a somewhat surprising move, and traded for Ross Blacklock to replace him behind Bullard. Watts has not done well as a run defender in the past and didn’t look good in run defense in the preseason either, so his getting waived was understandable in that respect. Another reason (reportedly) for his getting waived was to clear some cap space. Waiving Watts cleared $2.5 million in cap space, while acquiring Blacklock took up just $1.3 million- saving $1.2 million overall. Combined with the Davis trade, the Vikings have an additional $2.65 million in cap space to work with. And they may need that space to add another defensive tackle here. Beyond Phillips and Tomlinson, the run defense performance of this group is not exactly stellar, so picking up another stout run defending defensive tackle would make a lot of sense.

Beyond that, the Vikings put T.Y McGill on IR, which as far as I understand when a player is on IR as of the 53-man cutdown date, he’s done for the season. That opened it up for James Lynch to make the roster. Otomewo may be another guy the Vikings didn’t think would clear waivers, so they opted to keep him on the roster. He’s a bit light for a DT in a 3-4 scheme at 6’6”, 282 pounds, but could develop into a good DE in time. He could also be a potential roster casualty if the Vikings bring in another defensive tackle.

Edge Rusher (5)

Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Luigi Vilian.

I had Janarius Robinson getting the last spot here, but Luigi Vilian was competitive here as well, and the coaches opted for him as having the more potential. Waiving Robinson also cleared $700k in cap space, while Vilain’s salary may not count as I don’t believe it’s in the top 51 salaries that constitute the salary cap. That may have been more than an incidental consideration given the other moves the Vikings made to clear cap space.

But no big surprises here.

Inside Linebacker (4)

MLB: Eric Kendricks, Troy Dye. WLB: Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah,

I had five spots allocated here, but the Vikings allocated one more to the defensive interior- not a big surprise. That left Blake Lynch off the roster. Troy Dye was an elite graded special teamer last year, so that helped secure his spot.

Cornerback (6)

Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler, Andrew Booth Jr., Chandon Sullivan, Akayleb Evans, Kris Boyd.

No surprises here after Harrison Hand was waived earlier this week. Kris Boyd got the last spot based on his preseason performance, although he may actually be ahead of Evans on the depth chart.

Safety (4)

Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, Lewis Cine, Josh Mettelus.

I had Myles Dorn beating Mettelus for the last spot in a close competition, but the coaches favored Mettelus. No big surprises here either.

Specialists (3)

Greg Joseph (K), Ryan Wright (P), Andrew De Paola (LS).

No surprises here as Wright had already won the punter competition and the other two were unopposed.

Where Does This Leave the Vikings Roster Now?

Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the Vikings roster as it stands now, I’d say the defensive interior line may be the weakest group overall, although both Phillips and Tomlinson are good players. But after those two, it drops off quite a bit. My guess is the Vikings will look to bring in another nose tackle-type interior defensive lineman. Rumor is the Vikings have been in talks with Ndamukong Suh, who is rumored to have an asking price of $9 million. Another available free agent who could fit and may come cheaper is Linval Joseph, assuming he’s open to returning to the Vikings. Joseph had the better PFF grades last year among the two and was in a Fangio-scheme under Brandon Staley last season. Neither graded particularly well, and Suh is 35 and Joseph soon to be 34, but Joseph could be more effective in a lesser, rotational role.

The other weak spot is the offensive interior line, particularly center, but also a question mark at right guard starting rookie Ed Ingram. Hopefully Ingram will take the O’Neill/Darrisaw path of development and prove to be a solid addition to the starting lineup, leaving only center as a weak spot. If Garrett Bradbury falters, the Vikings have both Austin Schlottmann and Chris Reed as potential backups, and hopefully one of those three can prove to be a solid starter.

Beyond that, however, the Vikings’ starting roster looks pretty solid. There a depth issues at several position groups, but running back and the defensive secondary look to have good depth, and QB depth is improved as well. What remains to be seen is how many potentially great players on the Vikings defense are able to play great on the field this year. There are at least a half-dozen capable of great seasons, but we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.


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