It’s been about two weeks since the start of training camp, a few days since the Vikings came out with their first unofficial depth chart, and now they’re played their first pre-season game at Seattle. But while I don’t read too much into the depth chart as they’re often outdated from the get-go and aren’t always compiled with coaching input, one can gleen a bit of insight from training camp and pre-season game observations regarding the depth chart and potential 53-man roster.
When I did my roster projection back in early May, I thought this was one of the easiest roster projections I’ve done over the years, and that hasn’t really changed. My sense is that around 10% of roster spots are truly up for grabs. There are some questions about how many may be kept in a few position groups this year, which often can come down to special teams ability at the end of the depth chart, but for the most part I don’t expect a lot of surprises when the initial 53-man roster is announced.
With that said, here is my updated 53-man roster projection along with a projected depth chart, rationale, and previous tendencies in terms of position group numbers.
The Vikings have been balanced allocating roster spots between offense and defense in the past, as most teams are, but this year may start with an extra spot given to the defense.
The Vikings have kept two quarterbacks on the roster every year but 2018 when their initial 53-man roster was announced, going back to 2016, and I don’t expect that to change this year.
QB1: Kirk Cousins
Cousins is an obvious roster-lock. His stock has been rising this off-season, despite having a down year statistically last season. But with continuity and more comfortable and supporting relationships with the coaching staff, and perhaps a slightly improved supporting cast and scheme, can Cousins take it to the next level?
QB2: Nick Mullens
The only way Mullens is not QB2 this season is if the Vikings bring in another veteran QB. It wouldn’t appear at this point that doing so is a priority for the Vikings. Still, Mullens will need to show he can come in and get the job done at an acceptable level or the Vikings may consider alternatives. It wasn’t pretty in Seattle, but he managed pretty well- which helps his cause. That’s probably good enough for him to keep his backup job as he’s also good in the QB room. But, should a potential upgrade be released from another team after the cut, that could be a consideration for the Vikings as well.
Practice Squad: Jaren Hall
Hall is getting acclimated to the NFL as a rookie in his first off-season program, but it’s fair to say that the game hasn’t slowed down for him yet. He’s still slow to process in team drills and in the pre-season game so he isn’t ready yet to challenge for the QB2 spot. This is to be expected for a rookie and especially a Day Three rookie draft pick. Barring a spectacular future pre-season performance, I doubt the Vikings will see a lot of risk in getting Hall to the practice squad. Most teams keep only two quarterbacks on the roster and bringing in a rookie still in need of development, not to mention needing to learn a new system, makes it unlikely another team would offer him a roster spot.
Running Back/Fullback (4)
The Vikings kept four running backs last year but are nearly evenly split between keeping three or four going back to 2016. They’ve always kept one fullback during that stretch. I’m projecting them to go back to keeping three running backs this season. It’s interesting to see that the Vikings met today with Kareem Hunt, which would seem as a bit of an indictment of the back-end of the depth chart. Hunt is a versatile power-back who’s had good success in the league as a runner and receiver, but is now 28. Unclear if Hunt would be willing to take a depth role for presumably minimal salary if the Vikings were interested in signing him.
RB1: Alexander Mattison
Alexander Mattison became RB1 after the release of Dalvin Cook. However, I expect the Vikings may choose to go with more of a running-back-by-committee approach, with Mattison getting the lion's share of the reps rather than being the bell-cow like Dalvin Cook was last season.
RB2: Ty Chandler
Chandler is a smaller, speedier back than Mattison, who’s also demonstrated good versatility as a receiver and blocker in college- and he has a lot of experience at the position. With Kene Nwangwu out, Chandler has been getting a lot more reps and has looked good- including against Seattle where he graded very well in all phases according to PFF (high 70s/low 80s). He’s also been fielding kickoffs in training camp. Chandler’s versatility, athleticism and experience combine to earn him the RB2 spot this season for the Vikings and some significant reps on offense.
RB3: DeWayne McBride
The addition of McBride looks like a backup to Mattison as a power back. I expect his receiving and blocking ability to be developed, along with his ball security, while he’s a backup. McBride brings a lot of experience as a bell-cow running back in college- and should be able to contribute on special teams- which will be valued by the coaching staff. Still, the Vikings bringing in Hunt could mean they’re not entirely satisfied with McBride’s progress.
FB1: CJ Ham
The Vikings chose to extend CJ Ham this off-season, despite not having a lot of snaps last season at fullback. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t see him making the roster. It’s clear they like Ham as a leader, positive locker room presence, and captain of special teams, in addition to his role at fullback.
Released: Kene Nwangwu, Abram Smith
There has been speculation about Nwangwu being at risk of not making the roster this off-season. I was leaning against that back in May, but now I’m leaning toward it. The addition of DeWayne McBride, who like Ty Chandler has a lot more experience in college at running back, which makes the need for him at running back more superfluous. Nwangwu has been a good kick returner but did not contribute much on special teams outside of that. He had a total of 36 kick returns last season, and with the rule changes there may be even fewer kicks returned this season, which makes keeping a roster spot for a kick returner who doesn’t contribute much otherwise kind of a waste. It hasn’t helped that Nwangwu has missed over a week of training camp now with an injury.
Abram Smith is clearly a long-shot to make the roster, but he could land a spot on the practice squad.
Wide Receiver (6)
The Vikings kept five wide receivers on the roster last season but have varied from as many as seven in 2020 to four in 2019. The average going back to 2016 is between five and six. I’m going with six this year.
WR1: Justin Jefferson
JJ is an obvious roster-lock and WR1 after being named OPOY last season and about as likely a future Hall of Famer as you could say of any player after just three seasons.
WR2: Jordan Addison
Addison will have to beat out KJ Osborn for the WR2 spot and he’s on track to doing so. Addison is simply a better route runner with a better ability to separate than Osborn. The main thing for Addison will be to learn the offense and show he can be assignment sound. He’s shown already he’s more talented than Osborn- which is why he was drafted to be WR2 in the first round this year- and looked good in his first pre-season game.
WR3: KJ Osborn
Osborn has had his moments as WR3 the past couple seasons for the Vikings, but the drafting of Addison in the first-round to replace Adam Thielen as WR2 is a good indication of how the Vikings view Osborn’s upside. My sense is that while KOC has praised Osborn for his work ethic and character, he also sees after last season the need for more dynamic receivers to go with Jefferson. As one of the lowest graded receivers for his amount of targets last season according to PFF, Osborn is more likely to move down the depth chart than up.
WR4: Jalen Nailor
Nailor may not be WR3 by week one, but I expect he’ll overtake KJ Osborn as WR3. Nailor has already been getting some mentions in the first week of training camp and before that in earlier phases of the off-season as well. Had he not missed the past week with a leg injury, I would expect he would’ve had more buzz. Nailor is also a more dynamic receiver than Osborn, and a greater deep threat. Part of the reason I have Nailor surpassing Osborn at WR3 is also because I believe the Vikings will use Addison mostly as a slot receiver in 3WR sets, which is where Osborn lined up 60% of the time last season. The Vikings may want a more bona fide deep threat than Osborn lining up outside, which Nailor is. Osborn had 67% of his targets and 82% of his receptions inside of ten yards last season, while his passer rating when targeted on intermediate (10-19 yard) and deep (20+ yard) throws was in the mid-70s - not very good. And Osborn had only two deep receptions last year. Overall, Nailor is just a better compliment to JJ and Addison as a WR3 than Osborn, in addition to being more dynamic.
WR5: Jalen Reagor
Reagor entered the off-season with a lot to prove. Last season was a disappointment on many fronts. He was slow to learn the offense, which limited his reps. He didn’t finish his route on one occasion, leading to an interception and drawing the ire of Kevin O’Connell. And he had a few muffed punts (although none of them lost) which called into question his job as punt returner. The Vikings brought in Brandon Powell as competition at punt returner.
But so far Reagor has had a decent training camp, making a few nice grabs and fighting for a roster spot against some tough competition. He also looked good at Seattle. The key for him will be to play through the whistle each and every play, to show command of the offense, and have a better connection with Kirk Cousins. In that sense, not making mistakes will be as important as the upside he shows and the plays he makes.
I don’t see him as moving higher than WR5 this season and so he’ll need to keep his job as punt returner to make the roster. But again, he’ll need to show improvement by eliminating mistakes- the muffed punts from last season- to keep that job.
WR6: N’Keal Harry
The addition of N’Keal Harry fits some themes for the Vikings offense this off-season. There’s no doubt that Harry was a first-round bust at wide receiver, and I highly doubt the Vikings acquired him with the thought of developing him into a starting receiver. Instead, they may look at Harry as more of a blocking wide receiver that can catch a few balls on occasion. Sort of the Josh Oliver of wide receivers if you will. Harry hasn’t always been a good run blocker, but his last year with the Patriots in 2021 his PFF run blocking grade was 84.7- second-best in the league among WRs with at least 30 run blocking snaps. The Patriots used him like a tight-end at times- asking him to block linebackers and edge rushers.
The other area where Harry is good is at the catchpoint- which he showed against Seattle. He’s good using his size advantage to make contested catches. And that happens to be the one thing Kirk Cousins said he emphasized with his receivers this off-season: you need to be good at the catchpoint. And so while Harry would likely get limited snaps as a receiver, perhaps in the red zone as both a blocker and contested catch guy, or in other situations- perhaps to create an advantage over a small nickelback or as the point in a bunch set- stuff like that. The Vikings don’t have a big wide receiver on the roster and Harry could fill a niche need in that regard.
Lastly, if Harry can block, he could serve on special teams return units as a vise, or potentially on a punt coverage unit too. He hasn’t done that in the past as a first-round pick, but if he wants to make the team, he’ll need to contribute on special teams.
The question then really becomes whether someone that performs these functions is worth a roster spot. And the answer is probably yes- more so than Nwangwu, for example, who’s only real function is kick returner. Or even CJ Ham, who didn’t play a lot of snaps last season at fullback but was a core special teamer. Harry could make the team as a big, blocking WR who can make contested catches and contribute on special teams. And that’s about all you can expect from a WR6. Bottom line here is I’m giving N’Keal Harry Kene Nwangwu’s spot as a more useful ancillary contributor on offense and special teamer.
Released: Brandon Powell, Blake Proehl, Thayer Thomas, Garrett Maag, Lucky Jackson, Trishton Jackson, Jacob Copeland
Powell was signed with just $275K guaranteed as punt and kick returner, who also has some knowledge of the offense having been with the Rams the last two seasons. He’s a small (5’8” 181 lbs.) slot-type receiver that was of limited value as a receiver for the Rams the past two seasons. I’m not sure Powell is clearly better punt returner than Reagor (his stats don’t suggest so) particularly if Reagor can clean up his muffs.
The rest never really had a chance to make the roster, except for Trishton Jackson, but the shuffling in-and-out of the end of the depth chart of this position group during training camp suggests the Vikings are looking for more viable prospects to evaluate given the injuries to Jalen Nailor and Trishton Jackson. Jackson’s injury also hurt his chances to make the roster.
Tight End (3)
The Vikings have kept three tight ends on the initial 53-man roster every year going back to 2016 except 2016 and 2019, when they kept four. I’m leaning toward them keeping three again this year, but just barely. With the Vikings expected to use more 2TE sets this year, there is a need to have adequate replacements on the roster if one of the starters goes down. Wes Phillips talked about that a bit last year as a reason more teams don’t run a lot of 2TE sets. But, in the Vikings’ case CJ Ham could play TE if need be, thus solving that potential problem. Perhaps even N’Keal Harry if he makes the roster. So, three it is- just like last year.
TE1: TJ Hockenson
The Vikings picked up a premier receiving tight end for their 2023 second-round pick last season and will likely extend his contract at some point in the near future.
TE2: Josh Oliver
The Vikings also picked up a premier run-blocking tight end this off-season in Oliver, demonstrating the importance they place on the position going forward. The Vikings are expected to run more two tight end sets this year, and they need a credible blocking TE to get the defensive looks they want when running this formation. Oliver is credible.
TE3: Johnny Mundt
Mundt seems more likely to retain a roster spot as TE3 based on his experience and familiarity with the system and coaches rather than being a strong performer at the position. I suspect Mundt’s performance as TE2 last season was a big reason behind the Vikings acquiring Josh Oliver this off-season. TE3 is Mundt’s ceiling at this point. Mundt didn’t stand out on special teams last season either.
It would take a really strong camp from Nick Muse- both as a blocker and receiver- to challenge Mundt for his spot on the depth chart, but it could be done. But without having seen enough from Muse of note so far this off-season- he’s had a decent but not head-turning training camp so far- it’s difficult to make such a prediction. Ideally from the Vikings standpoint, Muse would prove an upgrade over Mundt as a blocker and receiver, in addition to being better on special teams, making Mundt’s services redundant.
Released: Nick Muse, Ben Sims, Colin Thompson
I would expect the Vikings to try to sign Muse to the practice squad again. Sims and Thompson seem less likely. There could be another tight end released whom the Vikings add to the practice squad as well.
Offensive Line (9)
I expect continuity in the offensive line room this season. However, the Vikings choosing to meet with Dalton Risner would indicate they’re looking for a potential upgrade at a guard position. The Vikings have not offered Ezra Cleveland an extension, though he’s in the last year of his rookie contract. Risner has played left guard with the Broncos, but presumably could switch to right guard if necessary, or Cleveland could do so. Apparently, the Vikings discussed position flexibility with Risner during his visit according to Kevin O’Connell, so it’s unclear who Risner would replace if he is acquired. Acquiring Risner would help solidify the interior line depth chart, which undoubtedly is a concern after the pounding Kirk Cousins took last season. But so far the Vikings have not made Risner an offer.
The Vikings have kept nine offensive linemen after the final cut in five of the last seven years, although they kept ten last year. I’m going with nine this year, based on practice squad likelihood for the back-end of this group compared to other groups.
LT1: Christian Darrisaw
Darrisaw is proving to be a younger Trent Williams with All-Pro potential. He’ll undoubtedly be extended when the time comes and could anchor the offensive line at left tackle for the rest of the decade.
LG1: Ezra Cleveland
I expect the Vikings to give Cleveland the opportunity to earn a modest extension in the last year of his rookie contract, as they did with Garrett Bradbury. There have been no extension talks at this point for Cleveland, who has yet to improve as a pass protector since being drafted. The same was true for Bradbury last year as well, but he managed to show enough improvement to earn a modest extension. Perhaps Cleveland can do the same. Or perhaps they’ll replace him with Risner and make him a backup. We’ll see. My guess is that if Risner is acquired, they’ll still keep both Cleveland and Ingram.
C1: Garrett Bradbury
Bradbury is a contractual lock to make the roster after signing his extension this off-season. Although it was a three-year extension, it’s effectively a two-year deal as the Vikings could exit it after 2024 with $1.2MM in deadcap.
RG1: Ed Ingram
Last year’s second-round pick had a rough start (as most rookie linemen do) but showed gradual improvement over the course of his rookie year. However, Ingram could also be downgraded if the Vikings bring in Dalton Risner. Ingram could then sit a season and develop if the Vikings haven’t seen enough progress from him this off-season. My speculation is that if Risner is acquired, Risner could take his spot and Ingram become the backup guard with a chance to regain his starting job next season depending on what happens with Cleveland and Risner. He played right guard last season, and left guard in college, so he has experience playing both spots.
RT1: Brian O’Neill
O’Neill is recovering from the injury he suffered in the Packers game week 17 last year and is expected to start the season. He’s a contractual and performance lock to make the roster.
Swing Tackle: Oli Udoh
Udoh played remarkably well in relief of Brian O’Neill last year, allowing just three quarterback hurries in three games at right tackle while also earning solid grades in run blocking as well. He was extended this off-season on a one-year deal and I expect he’ll be the primary backup at both tackle spots- the swing tackle.
Backup C/G: Austin Schlottmann
I have Schlottmann penciled in here, largely because there’s not much to go on with the others to project them to a roster spot. However, I would not be surprised if Schlottmann did not make the roster, despite his experience in the system and familiarity with the coaching staff. He’s had a sub-50 overall PFF grade the last three seasons.
Backup Guard: Blake Brandel
Brandel has played both tackle and guard, and that’s a plus for him as a third-string lineman. He’s been playing guard mostly in training camp and in pre-season against Seattle, and that may be where he fills in when needed.
Backup Swing Tackle: Vederian Lowe
Lowe may have shown enough improvement over the off-season to earn a roster spot. He played the whole game against Seattle, allowing 4 pressures including a sack and two QB hits, which wasn’t great. But he has ideal size and length and adequate athleticism for the position and seems to be turning a corner in his development from the raw tackle he was last year. He seems likely to improve with more reps and time on task.
Released: Chris Reed, Josh Sokol, Alan Ali, Jacky Chen, Jack Snyder, Christian DiLauro, Jarrid Williams
Chris Reed missing all of training camp hasn’t helped his chances of gaining a roster spot. He was listed as the third-string RG on the initial depth chart, which I thought was odd. Perhaps due to his injury status, but in that case I would’ve thought he wouldn't have been listed at all (he’s on the NFI list). And if it wasn’t I’d expect him to be listed higher on the depth chart as a veteran. Reed took a pay cut to remain on the roster this off-season, but the Vikings could save $1.5 million in cap space if they cut him, with only $250k dead cap, and I think they will.
Josh Sokol, Alan Ali, and Jack Snyder all have a shot to make the roster but practice squad seems more likely. Ali didn’t fare particularly well at right guard against Seattle, but we’ll see how he progresses. He has a lot of experience in college at guard but primarily center.
Sokol was on the practice squad last year and played center against Seattle. He allowed just one hurry according to PFF with a 78.5 run blocking grade. He has a chance of beating out Schlottmann for the backup center job, but likely needs to show more before displacing him.
There may be some turnover in the front seven groups as the Vikings prioritize good fits for Brian Flores’ scheme. There will be a lot of competition within every position group as well.
Edge Rusher/OLB (5)
The Vikings kept five edge rushers/OLBs last season- their first in moving to a 3-4 base- and I expect the same again this year. Marcus Davenport replaces ZDS and Andre Carter II replaces DJ Wonnum in this projection.
LOLB1: Danielle Hunter
Now that Hunter has a new deal, he’s a roster and performance lock as a starting edge rusher.
ROLB1: Marcus Davenport
Davenport was signed to a one-year, $13 million prove-it deal and is a contractual lock to make the roster. The hope is that he makes the most of the opportunity, stays healthy, and is extended after the season.
LOLB2: Patrick Jones II
Jones showed some improvement last year and is looking to be at least a serviceable edge rusher, with flashes of more than that. Continuing his present trajectory should be enough for him to earn a roster spot.
ROLB2: Luigi Vilain
Vilain making the roster is something of an upset pick here, over the more established DJ Wonnum. Vilain showed some improvement from early to late last season in limited reps and has more upside at this point than Wonnum, and may be a better scheme fit. Vilain will need to prove that in practice and in pre-season games- and he had a good game against the Seahawks- but he is being given the opportunity to earn a roster spot and I expect he will do so.
ROLB3: Andre Carter II
The Vikings strong financial commitment to Carter as a UDFA signing, while not at all prohibitive in releasing him, is also a strong measure of interest. The Vikings know Carter needs to add weight and looks to have done so while away from the team with a soft tissue injury. He may not contribute much this season, but I expect he’ll be developed as a possible replacement for either Hunter or Davenport if both are not extended next year. Carter needs to develop his pass rush moves and get acclimated to the NFL, but his ceiling is high.
Released: DJ Wonnum, Curtis Weaver, Benton Whitley, Junior Aho
Wonnum’s chief asset is his experience relative to his competition, but he’s also plateaued at a replacement level of performance and I suspect the Vikings are looking for edge rushers with more upside and better scheme fit as well. He hasn’t been getting many reps in training camp that I’ve noticed- usually splitting his reps with another edge rusher. Wonnum is also a nearly $3 million salary cap hit this year- 3x more than his competition- which is also a factor. The Vikings can move on from him for less than $200K in dead cap, and I think they will. Or trade him if possible.
Curtis Weaver, a 5th round pick in 2020 by Miami, has spent the past couple seasons on the Browns practice squad after getting cut by the Dolphins. He opted for a futures contract with the Vikings this year, but difficult to see him making the final cut.
Whitley was recently added this off-season and has had a good camp so far, but I see Vilain and Carter II edging him out for the last roster spot in the end. Good candidate for the practice squad.
The Vikings recently signed Aho, who doesn’t count against the roster limit or the practice squad limit after the final cutdown, as part of the International Pathway Program. Making the practice squad would be a good result for Aho.
Interior Defensive Line (6)
I could see the Vikings moving on from some veterans on the roster last season as they look to upgrade the depth in the position group. I have the Vikings keeping only five interior defensive linemen in part because Marcus Davenport could slide inside on some pass rushing downs
DT1: Harrison Phillips
Phillips is now the dean and captain of the interior line group with the position versatility to play anywhere from 0 to 4i technique.
DT2: Dean Lowry
Lowry is a recent free-agent acquisition the Vikings picked up to play a defensive end spot in their 3-4 scheme. Lowry is athletic enough to run the stunts and twists common in the Flores scheme and has some ability as a pass rusher. His run defense is suspect, but he’ll likely be used more on passing downs.
NT1: Khyiris Tonga
The emergence of Tonga last season for the Vikings was a pleasant surprise. He didn’t play until week 8 last year but proved to be the solid true nose tackle 3-4 defenses need in the middle. He was the 14th ranked interior defender by PFF last season. His emergence also lessens the need for other veterans in this group last season.
DT3: Jonathan Bullard
Bullard has been a decent run defender and tackler but doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. He’s likely a rotational backup defensive tackle on early downs.
DT4: Jaquelin Roy
Roy was a fourth-round pick for the Vikings and while he needs to develop in a few areas, he’ll likely earn some reps in rotation along the interior line. Roy can also play anywhere from the 0 to 4i technique and that versatility will be valued. He might not be ahead of Bullard week one, but I expect he’ll surpass him during the season and prove to be a more effective pass rusher in time.
NT2: TJ Smith
TJ Smith saw the field a bit during the away game against the Packers last season in mop-up duty, but like Bullard, is a decent run defender that offers little as a pass rusher. It’s conceivable that this last iDL spot goes to a new acquisition as well.
Released: Ross Blacklock, Sheldon Day, Calvin Avery, Esezi Otomewo
Blacklock took a pay-cut to remain on the roster this off-season after a mediocre-at-best performance last year- his third in a row since being drafted. He is unlikely to make the final cut and I doubt he’d be offered a practice squad spot either.
Sheldon Day was a practice squad guy last year after seven seasons in the NFL with four different teams before joining the Vikings. Another long-shot at best to make the roster.
Avery is a 6’1”, 345 pound true nose tackle out of Illinois that the Vikings signed as a UDFA. He’s a run-stuffing, double-team eating early down nose-tackle. He’s a likely candidate for the practice squad that could be developed and called up to replace Tonga if he went down.
Esezi Otomewo was a somewhat raw prospect when he was drafted in the fifith-round last year, and he was mediocre in limited reps during the season. The problem is he’s undersized for a defensive tackle in a 3-4 scheme at 6’5”, 282 pounds and isn’t a good fit there in Flores’ scheme. He played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme for two years with the Gophers in college, and the transition inside may not be the best fit for him. It’s probably not a good sign that they have him standing up as an OLB in training camp lately- and at Seattle- and ultimately I think he doesn’t make the roster. He may be better off signing with a 4-3 defense than accepting a potential offer to join the Vikings practice squad.
Injured Reserve: James Lynch
Lynch suffered a season-ending ACL tear last week and was put on IR.
Inside Linebacker (4)
One of the more competitive groups this off-season may well be the back end of the inside linebacker group. The Vikings kept four inside linebackers last year and I expect the same this year.
LB1: Brian Asamoah
Asamoah will take Eric Kendricks’ place as a three-down linebacker. He flashed some good reps last season, and he’ll likely build upon that this season as a full-time starter.
LB2: Jordan Hicks
Hicks is the veteran presence in the inside linebacker group and still a good run defender, tackler, and blitzer. He’s a liability in coverage however but hopefully will end up with fewer coverage snaps this season. Hicks is a contractual lock to make the roster, but his starting job is being challenged by Ivan Pace Jr.
LB3: Ivan Pace Jr.
Pace was one of the notable UDFAs the Vikings signed and an excellent fit for Flores’ scheme as an effective blitzer. He had a 4th round grade from Dane Brugler as one of the highest graded linebackers in college football last season according to PFF. Pace is a backup to Hicks who could take over as a starter in time. Pace is short for a linebacker at 5’10”, but at 230-235 he’s not that undersized by weight anymore. Kendricks was 235 pounds. Pace is unproven in coverage, but an excellent run defender and blitzer who is likely to be a good scheme fit for the Vikings. He’s been getting a lot of reps with the first-team and has been a play-caller for the defense, so it’s conceivable that he gets a significant amount of reps on game days and could potentially be a starter at some point this season. He had a good game against the Seahawks that showcased his ability.
LB4: William Kwenkeu
Kwenkeu is an under-the-radar guy. He’s a bit undersized for a linebacker but has elite speed and acceleration for the position and could serve as a backup to Asamoah as a more able coverage linebacker. He’s gotten a positive mention or two from the coaching staff and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him gain a roster spot as Asamoah’s backup and core special teamer. He was the highest PFF graded special teamer last season.
Released: Troy Dye, Troy Reeder, Abraham Beauplan, Wilson Huber
Reeder was a recent stop-gap addition to the roster at linebacker. He spent three seasons with the Rams and was a generally poor performer there before being picked up by the Chargers last season and had only 63 snaps. He was a veteran stop-gap pickup before the draft in the event the position wasn’t addressed. But the Vikings did address the position with a top UDFA that likely will eclipse Reeder’s value to the defense.
Dye has made the roster for the last couple years on the strength of his special teams ability, rather than that at linebacker. He’s been one of the best core special teamers for the Vikings the last couple seasons but has never distinguished himself at linebacker. His ability as a special teamer is replaceable, and with a player more likely to contribute at linebacker as well.
Abraham Beauplan is another UDFA signing but one I don’t see eclipsing Pace Jr. to gain a roster spot. He played his college football at Marshall.
Wilson Huber is another UDFA signing and was Pace Jr.’s teammate at Cincinnati. Huber is less distinguished, however, and unlikely to jump his Bearcat alum for a roster spot.
This may be the most competitive group in training camp, particularly the competition for starting jobs. I expect Flores to prioritize more well-rounded corners to be starters- those that can cover and tackle well. The reason is because common counters to his blitz-heavy scheme are screens and sweeps which call on corners to be able to tackle backs and receivers one-on-one in space. A missed tackle in that situation can result in a big gain.
The Vikings have kept ten defensive backs in four of the past seven years (typically 6 CBs and 4 safeties) and I expect the same this year.
CB1: Byron Murphy Jr.
Murphy was one of the more significant free-agent signings for the Vikings this off-season, and likely to play mostly as the slot cornerback for the Vikings this season, although he could also play outside in base defense if nobody else steps up sufficiently. Murphy should be a clear upgrade from Chandon Sullivan, and MacKensie Alexander before him, both being the last ranked cornerbacks in the league in their recent season with the Vikings, but he’s not a shut-down corner by any means. His career passer rating when targeted is 103. But he can play good run defense, which is important for the position in Flores’ scheme and has looked good in training camp so far.
CB2: Akayleb Evans
Evans is currently CB2, but the competition between here and CB5 will be fierce and on-going, I expect. In base defense, the Vikings have Murphy on the left and Evans on the right. In nickel, Murphy moves inside to slot corner and Blackmon takes the left outside corner spot, with Evans remaining on the right.
CB3: Mekhi Blackmon
Blackmon was a largely overlooked cornerback in college even after having a great season at USC. He started with the second-team but has since moved up to take primarily first-team reps at left outside cornerback, replacing JoeJuan Williams. The competition isn’t over yet, but Blackmon has coverage, tackling, and run defense skills that Brian Flores will value.
CB4: JoeJuan Williams
Williams was another of the pre-draft stop-gap additions in the event the Vikings were not able to address the cornerback position effectively, which they did. Williams was a second-round bust for the Patriots and didn’t play last season due to injury. But he is familiar with Flores’ scheme, has good tackling ability, and has looked okay so far in training camp and against Seattle. The issue with Williams is that while he has great size for the position, his speed is mediocre (4.64” 40 time) and has led to issues in coverage.
CB5: Andrew Booth Jr.
Booth is a first-round talent the Vikings got in the second-round last year due to his injury history, which came up again last season. He was not a good fit as a soft zone corner in Ed Donatell’s scheme last season. But when healthy, Booth can be a good press-man corner with shut-down potential. But he’s also more suspect as a run defender and has been injury prone. He also struggled at Seattle and just isn’t there yet with his confidence. My guess is he’s slow to learn the system and route patterns at the league level and until he does, he’ll be a backup.
CB6: Kalon Barnes
Barnes was a cornerback the Vikings met with prior to last year’s draft and later poached from Miami’s practice squad after he was cut by Carolina, who had drafted him in the 7th round. He’s the fastest man on the Vikings roster with 4.23” speed and has the makeup speed where he’s not likely to be out of phase on deep routes. That speed is also an asset as a blitzer. And he graded well as a run defender at Baylor. He has some technique issues to clean up but looks like the best of the rest in this group so far, despite getting beat for a TD against the Seahawks in a weird play that may have been a bit of a push-off. But with the durability of Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth more of an issue, the Vikings will need a CB6 that can function at an acceptable level at cornerback, rather than strictly a special teamer. Barnes has a lot of improvement needed but has the uncoachables to gain him the last roster spot.
Released: John Reid, Tay Gowen, CJ Colden, Najee Thompson, Jaylin Williams
Reid was just acquired and has bounced around three teams in three years since being drafted in the fourth-round in 2020. The Vikings will be his fourth team. He’s proven to be a replacement-level cornerback more distinguished as a run defender than as a cover corner. Run defense is important for corners in Flores’ scheme, so my guess is that both Williams and Reid are there for now as options if that skillset proves lacking in other corners.
Gowen and Jackson were on the practice squad last year for the Vikings, but when they needed another cornerback on the active roster, they poached Kalon Barnes rather than elevate either of these two. The rest are wild cards and likely long shots to make the roster.
Najee Thompson and Jaylin Williams have made some plays on special teams and defense- Colden too- and even Gowen has done alright too. But Thompson’s RAS is 1.59, and Williams’ is 5.54, and Colden’s is 3.92. Gowen’s is 7.65- which is okay- but he hasn’t looked as good as the others either.
I would expect all four safeties to get reps on most game days this season. How well Lewis Cine is able to develop will determine how many he gets.
SS1: Harrison Smith
Smith restructured his contract, taking a pay-cut in the process, to continue his career in Minnesota. He remains the quarterback of the Vikings defense. He’s probably more of an exclusive strong safety now than free safety.
FS1: Cam Bynum
I expect Bynum to start the season as the starting free safety and then see how it goes from there. Cine could replace him in time, but Bynum has versatility as a safety and converted corner who could play any defensive back position if necessary.
SS2: Josh Metellus
Metellus has been Harrison Smith’s backup when he wasn’t able to go and did a good job in relief of Smith last season. He also contributes as a core special teamer. He’s been used in training camp as a third safety in sub-packages, and I expect that’ll be how he sees the field most often this season on defense if Harrison Smith remains healthy.
FS2: Lewis Cine
Cine has had an incredibly good recovery from his gruesome ankle/foot injury last season and looks to be on track to be full-go for training camp. It does remain to be seen whether Cine will beat-out Cam Bynum for a starting job, and my expectation is that he may not initially, but he’ll continue to get reps and will eventually take over as a starting safety. Cine also has some versatility to play in the slot or even a hybrid linebacker type defender.
Released: Jay Ward, Theo Jackson
Safety is a tough group for Ward to make the roster for the Vikings, but I imagine he’d be offered a practice squad spot. He has versatility as a safety and cornerback with a lot of high-level college experience at LSU, so probably someone the Vikings would want to have available to call up if necessary.
Only one spot here with competition, and I expect continuity with Joseph winning that competition.
Joseph made 86.8% of his field goals last season, which overall is good not great. He was 43 of 49 on extra points- 87.8% - which is below average of around 95%. His field goal percentage was 79.4%- also below average- but he only missed one inside of 50 yards so the issue is really with the 50+ yard attempts. Joseph was also the highest PFF graded kicker on kickoffs, with the lowest percentage of returned kicks in the league last year. Overall, room for improvement, but not terrible either. Joesph was given a one-year extension on his contract this off-season. Joseph made one from 53 yards against Seattle, and made all his kicks, which helps his cause. His rival Jack Podlesny did not play, which didn’t help his cause. Overall, Joseph appears to have the greater range and ultimately that should help give him the nod over Podlesny.
Wright had 35 punts inside the 20-yard line last season (tied for 5th most) with only one touchback. You can talk about hangtime and net yards per punt, but a certain amount of that is affected by the situation. But having just under half his punts inside the 20-yard line with only one touchback is impressive and highly effective in giving opponents poor field position. Wright has no competition at this point for his job as punter.
DePaola received his first All-Pro award as long-snapper for the Vikings last season. He was given a 3-year extension on his contract this off-season as well.
Released: Jack Podlesny
Podlesny was the kicker for the Georgia Bulldogs but wasn’t that great on kickoffs and only just above 50% on field goals over 50 yards. He’s competing well with Joseph in training camp so far but doesn’t appear to have as long a range as Joseph.
Kick Returner: Ty Chandler
With my projection that Kene Nwangwu is released, I have Ty Chandler taking on kick return duties- although at this point it’s tough to project who would be Nwangwu’s replacement.
Punt Returner: Jalen Reagor
I have Reagor retaining his roster spot, and for that to happen he’ll need to hold on to his punter return duties. Reagor’s main competition may be Brandon Powell, and both looked good at Seattle, but Powell offers even less than Reagor as a blocker or as an outside receiver at 5’10”, 182 pounds, so I have Reagor getting the nod over Powell.
The main positions up for grabs are at the bottom end of both offensive and defensive line, the last cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker, and tight end spot. Kicker is also a competition. But beyond that, I’m not sure there is a lot of real competition for roster spots. However, there is a lot of competition within most position groups for depth chart rankings. How all those battles play out will be interesting over the coming weeks.
Who wins the Kicker competition?
This poll is closed