What’s that? It’s too early to project NFL rosters, you say?
You’re correct, but we’re going to do it anyway.
The Minnesota Vikings just finished rounding out their roster with a 12-man draft class and 10-man undrafted free agent class, giving us a complete picture of who will be attended OTAs, mini-camp and training camp.
And that means we can go through the exercise we do every year: setting a reasonable baseline for the Vikings’ Week 1 roster.
Injuries, performance and contractual situations will influence decisions along the way, but here is Zone Coverage’s first crack at predicting the 2019 53-man roster — only four months in advance.
Keep: Kirk Cousins, Kyle Sloter, Sean Mannion
Cut: Jake Browning
Would not be outlandish for UDFA Jake Browning to hop over either Kyle Sloter or Sean Mannion, but we’ll stick with the vets for now.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Keep: Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein, Brett Jones
Cut: Cornelius Edison, John Keenoy
The Vikings are fairly squared away at center with three capable bodies, including their first-round pick. Shame, because UDFA John Keenoy had terrific analytics. Might be a practice-squad candidate.
Keep: Josh Kline, Dru Samia, Dakota Dozier
Cut: Danny Isidora
Danny Isidora will push Dakota Dozier, a free agent acquisition from the Jets, but Dozier was brought in largely because of his familiarity with offensive line coach Rick Dennison, giving him an advantage.
Keep: Brian O’Neill, Riley Reiff, Rashod Hill
Cut: Adam Bisnowaty, Storm Norton, Aviante Collins, Oli Udoh
Hard to imagine any upsets here unless the Vikings steal a center spot from Jones and give it to a developmental tackle like Oli Udoh. More than any other position, the Vikings have been consistent in going into the season with nine offensive linemen, so we’re trying to hit that number.
TIGHT END (3)
Keep: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., David Morgan II
Cut: Tyler Conklin, Tyler Hikutini, Brandon Dillon
We’ll take Rick Spielman’s word, for now, that Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. will co-exist. Tyler Conklin could force his way through as well, but that spot may be better used elsewhere.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Keep: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Dillon Mitchell, Davion Davis
Cut: Jeff Badet, Laquon Treadwell, Olabisi Johnson, Brandon Zylstra
I think this position should be viewed as eight players jockeying for four spots. That’s how wide open it is. Laquon Treadwell in a contract year may be released if the Vikings can’t find a trade partner, and Brandon Zylstra got hopped a little too easily by Chad Beebe last year to be considered a lock. Beebe, when healthy, showed enough to warrant another look. Then you’ve got Jordan Taylor, who has the Gary Kubiak connection from his Denver days (and pre-season chemistry with Kyle Sloter).
Finally, the Vikings have two seventh-round picks and two UDFAs with legitimate opportunities to make some noise. First gut instinct says Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell and Sam Houston State’s Davion Davis make it through after showing explosive potential in college, but again, we haven’t even seen these guys at rookie camp.
RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK (4)
Keep: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham (FB)
Cut: Ameer Abdullah, Khari Blasingame, Roc Thomas
Ameer Abdullah may be the odd one out now that third-round pick Alexander Mattison is in the fold. Roc Thomas could be facing suspension or jail time after being pinned with felony drug possession. Mike Boone still possesses a lot of upside after flashing throughout training camp a year ago.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: 25
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
Keep: Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly, Anree Saint-Armour
Cut: Ade Aruna, Hercules Mata’afa, Tashawn Bower, Karter Schult
This is where the projections get messy. The Vikings usually keep eight or nine on the defensive line, but there’s a case to be made for 10 this season when you look at the potential of finding another roster spot further down the list. Rick Spielman mentioned Ifeadi Odenigbo by name during the draft as a competitive piece of the rotation. And with a bevy of names still on the bubble, the Vikings may want to take a flier on somebody new at the expense of Tashawn Bower in order to get more years of team control since Bower is in a contract season. Why not replace one former UDFA with another in Anree Saint-Armour?
Keep: Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes
Cut: Curtis Cothran, Tito Odenigbo
This would be a hard room to cut down to four if everybody stays healthy — another reason to consider retaining 10 defensive linemen. Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes are still promising fourth-round picks, Shamar Stephen signed a three-year contract, and Linval Joseph remains the anchor of the group. Armon Watts is a versatile sixth-round pick out of Arkansas and profiles as somebody who could contribute early on. And don’t forget about Tito Odenigbo, Ifeadi Odenigbo’s younger brother who was great at Miami last year.
Keep: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Cameron Smith, Eric Wilson, Devante Downs
Cut: Greer Martini, Kentrell Brothers, Reshard Cliett
With Kentrell Brothers entering his contract season, the drafting of Cameron Smith feels very much like a way to get another young linebacker with a cheap four-year contract on the roster. Devante Downs also fits the bill with three years remaining.
Keep: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd
Cut: Craig James, Nate Meadors, Duke Thomas, Jordan Martin
Suspended: Holton Hill
The Vikings prefer keeping six corners, but they’ve also shown in the past with Jabari Price (2015) and Kentrell Brothers (2018) that they are OK holding roster spots open for players on suspension. That would apply in this case to Holton Hill, who could slide back into the rotation in Week 5. For the first quarter of the season the Vikings can enjoy that 10th defensive lineman with his roster spot.
Keep: Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Derron Smith
Cut: Micah Abernathy, Marcus Epps
Some speculation started Tuesday that the Vikings could experiment with Jayron Kearse — their big-nickel package specialist — as a linebacker. Until that pans out, however, we’ll keep him at safety, where he could be joined by AAF standout Derron Smith. Marcus Epps should also challenge for that final spot.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: 25
Keep: Dan Bailey (K), Matt Wile (P), Austin Cutting (LS)
Cut: Kevin McDermott (LS)
Usually when the Vikings draft specialists, they give them the job. Provided Austin Cutting can work something out with the Air Force to fulfill his two-year service commitment on the side, he could be the front-runner to replace Kevin McDermott at long-snapper.