Over the next few days, we’ll write about the Minnesota Vikings roster, their most intriguing position battles and players with something to prove before camp begins on July 23.
We kick off our Zone Coverage training camp content with an updated 53-man roster prediction to set a baseline for our camp expectations.
For reference, last year’s pre-training camp 53-man prognostication pegged 46 out of 53, and two of the misses, Brett Jones and George Iloka, joined the team later in the summer. It’s not hard to figure out the bulk of the team, knowing what the Vikings’ tendencies have been with roster construction, but nailing down each position battle without the benefit of watching preseason games is tricky.
Nonetheless, let’s take a stab.
Since our last Zone Coverage roster projection, the Minnesota Vikings have completed rookie camp, OTAs and mini-camp, giving us a much clearer picture of injury statuses, new sub-packages and coaches’ preferred rotations — not to mention a small sample size of players’ talent levels.
In today’s piece, I’ll point out where the projections differ from the May 1 story and give rationale for the change. Changes will be indicated by asterisks.
Previous Projection (3): Kirk Cousins, Kyle Sloter, Sean Mannion
Current Projection (2): Kirk Cousins, Kyle Sloter
Cut: Jake Browning, Sean Mannion*
This may already be the most controversial prediction in this story, and it somewhat flies in the face of what we observed during OTAs and mini-camp, but bear with me. From a reps standpoint, Kyle Sloter was hardly given an opportunity in the spring as the Vikings gave second- and third-team work to Sean Mannion and Jake Browning, respectively.
While Mannion getting preference isn’t all that shocking, seeing Browning above Sloter is, which indicates there could be more at play here. The Vikings have seen Sloter in practice for two seasons now and have a good idea of what he provides. They don’t know as much about Mannion — who’s put little on film thus far in his NFL career — or the rookie Browning. Perhaps they used OTAs/mini-camp as an observation period for the two new passers.
Additionally, neither Mannion nor Browning were particularly good in the open practices — particularly Mannion, who threw a number of interceptions in mini-camp. Sloter has a far better preseason track record than Mannion, and it’s not as if Mannion has any kind of meaningful experience in NFL games or a prohibitive contract. If Sloter performs better in the preseason, he can win the job, and the team can use Mannion’s roster spot elsewhere. Browning should make the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Previous Projection (3): Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein, Brett Jones
Current Projection (2): Garrett Bradbury, Brett Jones
Cut: Cornelius Edison, John Keenoy
Pat Elflein is, officially, no longer a center, so we’ve changed his classification, though he can certainly still play the position. Brett Jones’ center flexibility makes him a likely candidate for a depth spot. And even though Cornelius Edison had a strong preseason last year, neither he nor analytics darling John Keenoy got many looks in the spring.
Previous Projection (3): Josh Kline, Dru Samia, Dakota Dozier
Current Projection (3): Josh Kline, Pat Elflein*, Dru Samia
Cut: Danny Isidora, Dakota Dozier*
Took Dakota Dozier off the roster despite his connection to offensive line coach Rick Dennison because of the emergence of Aviante Collins, who could probably play tackle or guard. Josh Kline will start, and fourth-round pick Dru Samia should make the roster whether he plays this year or not. Both Dozier and Danny Isidora may be next in line to stick around if there is an injury elsewhere, but the Vikings rarely keep more than nine O-linemen.
Previous Projection (3): Brian O’Neill, Riley Reiff, Rashod Hill
Current Projection (4): Brian O’Neill, Riley Reiff, Rashod Hill, Aviante Collins*
Cut: Storm Norton, Oli Udoh
Collins got a lot of consistent second-team reps in spring practices after being the forgotten man this offseason following a season-ending injury in 2018. He’ll join stalwarts Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill, as well as the trusty backup Rashod Hill.
TIGHT END (4)
Previous Projection (3): Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., David Morgan II
Current Projection (4): Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., David Morgan II, Tyler Conklin*
Cut: Tyler Hikutini, Brandon Dillon
With only two quarterbacks kept, there is a room to keep a fourth tight end in Tyler Conklin, the second-year man. Plus, with David Morgan coming off a knee procedure and entering a contract year, Conklin could be a valuable third tight end. Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr., will be the 1-2 punch.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Previous Projection (6): Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Dillon Mitchell, Davion Davis
Current Projection (6): Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Dillon Mitchell, Davion Davis
Cut: Jeff Badet, Laquon Treadwell, Olabisi Johnson, Brandon Zylstra, Alexander Hollins
Not touching this position group, which I still like after watching over half a dozen practices and hearing from the coaches this spring. Chad Beebe actually stayed the healthiest of the WR3 candidates and received high praise from Gary Kubiak. Jordan Taylor got a bunch of run early on with the 1s during Stefon Diggs’ absence, making him a likely rosteree. And seventh-rounder Dillon Mitchell and UDFA Davion Davis looked the best of the young receivers.
Laquon Treadwell could throw a wrench is this if the coaches insist on giving him a final chance, but he scarcely got utilized with the 1s in spring scrimmages. Brandon Zylstra will also compete after making the team last year, but I’d opt for the upside of Mitchell and Davis.
RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK (4)
Previous Projection (4): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham (FB)
Current Projection (4): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham (FB)
Cut: Ameer Abdullah, Khari Blasingame
Suspended: Roc Thomas
No changes here either. Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone look the part so far, but Ameer Abdullah could be a dark horse considering his special teams prowess. If retained, Roc Thomas could snag a roster spot in Week 4 following his three-game suspension if somebody gets hurt.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: 25
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
Previous Projection (5): Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly, Anree Saint-Amour
Current Projection (5): Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly, Tashawn Bower*
Cut: Ade Aruna, Karter Schult, Anree Saint-Amour, Stacy Keely
Ten defensive linemen is a lot, but I think the Vikings can — and should — make it happen. Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly are locks, while the Vikings’ infatuation with Ifeadi Odenigbo seems justified after watching him this spring. Tashawn Bower is the wild card as he enters a contract year having not participated in any practices yet due to offseason surgery. We’ll see if he can stick around for a third year.
The previous prediction with Anree Saint-Amour fell flat, as he failed to splash with the 3s during May and June.
Previous Projection (5): Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Armon Watts
Current Projection (5): Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata’afa*
Cut: Curtis Cothran, Tito Odenigbo, Armon Watts*
The Vikings took the square-peg-round-hole approach with Hercules Mata’afa last year, trying him at linebacker and defensive end instead of defensive tackle because of his undersized frame. After an arduous ACL rehab and a lot of bulking up, Mata’afa is now better equipped to fit in his natural home on the inside, and his work earned many compliments during OTAs as he ran frequently with the 2s. It’s possible he could oust sixth-round pick Armon Watts, who may have to settle for the practice squad.
Previous Projection (6): Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Cameron Smith, Eric Wilson, Devante Downs
Current Projection (6): Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Cameron Smith, Eric Wilson, Devante Downs
Cut: Greer Martini, Kentrell Brothers, Reshard Cliett
We’ll keep things the same here, assuming the end is near for Kentrell Brothers. Rookie Cameron Smith and a healthier Devante Downs offer more upside and, maybe more importantly, multiple years of cheap team control.
Previous Projection (5): Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd
Current Projection (5): Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd
Cut: Craig James, Nate Meadors, Duke Thomas, Terrence Alexander
Suspended: Holton Hill
The four-game suspension to Holton Hill is the caveat that opens up the 10th defensive lineman spot. The Vikings could feel comfortable fielding five corners for the first quarter of the season, especially after Kris Boyd showed promise this spring while Jayron Kearse has displayed skills as a sub in the nickel. Honestly not sure who the sixth corner would be if the Vikings wanted to bring six into the season sans Hill.
Previous Projection (4): Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Derron Smith
Current Projection (4): Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Marcus Epps*
Cut: Micah Abernathy, Derron Smith*, Isaiah Wharton
Not only does Marcus Epps provide more long-term upside than the 27-year-old Smith, he may have exceeded expectations more than any rookie in spring workouts. Epps also got singled out by a complimentary Mike Zimmer during a radio interview and saw first-team reps in some red-zone subpackages. He could join Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse at safety.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: 25
Keep: Dan Bailey (K), Matt Wile (P), Austin Cutting (LS)
Cut: Kevin McDermott (LS)
Rookie Austin Cutting is reportedly eligible to sign with the Vikings and pursue his NFL career, making it even likelier he replaces veteran Kevin McDermott at longsnapper.