The Vikings have relied on an extraordinary group of long-shots to round out their roster. Many are familiar with the stories of players like Adam Thielen and Marcus Sherels in broad strokes, but it’s easy to misunderstand the degree of difficulty it took for them to make the roster.
For the Vikings, about 11 percent of undrafted free agents who signed a contract shortly after the draft made the Vikings roster for at least one year, which shoots up to 22 percent when including the practice squad. That’s pretty difficult, and to make the roster multiple years is even more difficult.
But players like Thielen, Sherels and C.J. Ham overcame even larger odds; they had to stand out in a 40-player rookie minicamp – which included drafted players, undrafted players with contracts in hand and some eligible practice squad veterans. All told, there are about 25-30 tryout players to compete with.
The Vikings typically add one or two tryout players – and this year added four – and cut one or two undrafted players to make room for those tryout players. That means they have about a 7 percent chance of joining a group of players who have – in theory – an 11 percent chance of making the roster; they had less than a 1 percent chance of making the roster as soon as they accepted an offer for rookie minicamp.
Those players have to stand out immediately and obviously in an environment not well-suited to displaying a lot of football skills; with no pads, only three days of practice and a limited playbook, Ham somehow proved he could be a starting-quality fullback.
The Vikings have been more aggressive about tryouts than other teams, and it’s paid them back with a top 10 receiver, top-level punt returner and a fairly successful fullback.
Most interesting, however, is the fact that those tryouts don’t have an 11 percent chance of making the roster – tryouts make it at twice the rate of their undrafted peers. A player who stands out in such a difficult environment must therefore have clear upside and might be worth the investment.
This year, the Vikings have four players who initially accepted a tryout offer for rookie minicamp – former Minnesota and Southern Illinois cornerback Craig James, former Western Illinois linebacker Brett Taylor, former Nevada-Las Vegas quarterback and now fullback Johnny Stanton and former Northern Illinois wide receiver Chad Beebe.
And it may be worth investigating the directional Illinois connection.
Regardless, there’s a lot of roster opportunity for many of those players; Kentrell Brothers’ suspension underscores the lack of linebacker depth, while the bottom of the receiver roster seems wide open. Stanton is competing with an established fullback, but Ham’s potential allowed the Vikings to let go of Zach Line not long ago – there’s a lot of roster rotation at that position.
Only Craig James has an enormous roster hurdle to clear, with four first-round cornerbacks and a second-round cornerback ahead of him. Terence Newman might be a surprise cut, but James would still have to compete with another former tryout – Marcus Sherels – in order to make the roster.
Keep an eye on these players, because they’ve proven they can do more than a typical camp body.
Check out the rest of the training camp guide:
Sam Ekstrom’s Position Battles
Sitting Brian O’Neill: Have “Developmental” Day Two Offensive Linemen Succeeded?
How to Watch Training Camp Drills
Can Kirk Cousins Be the Savior? (COMING SOON)