After more than a week of open practices, the Minnesota Vikings roster plans are coming into focus.
Veterans seem to be preferred at most positions, while rookies are getting left behind on the depth chart due to a dearth of reps this offseason. With the league expanding practice squad sizes to 16 due to COVID-19, there’s a strong possibility that many rookies can stay within the organization and continue to develop throughout the season. Rick Spielman has indicated that the Vikings will give extra attention to their practice squad construction this season.
Here’s the latest look at how the Vikings’ 53-man roster and 16-man practice squad are shaping up.
In case of a COVID-19 outbreak, teams may have to tap into their practice squad at any moment. Therefore, practice squad spots in all likelihood will be given to players that have a greater chance to develop faster and contribute if needed. It’s tough to imagine a situation where the Vikings would use their fourth quarterback, so Nate Stanley gets the short straw here. The practice squad spot goes to Jake Browning, and if he gets claimed on waivers, the Vikings can always revert back to Stanley.
Fullback is a critical position in the Vikings offense. If C.J. Ham went down, it might be hard to replace him with a free agent who would likely have to go through a round of COVID-19 testing before he could join the team. That’s why Jake Bargas gets a practice squad spot. Ameer Abdullah appears to be clearly behind Mike Boone in the pecking order, which could put him on the chopping block. Tony Brooks-James is a practice squad candidate because the team waived him early in camp only to bring him back, so they apparently like something about the former Oregon Duck.
Chalk this up to one of the biggest surprises in camp, but Alexander Hollins might be gunning for a roster spot. He’s made as many splash as any receiver, seems to be running crisper routes and has been mentioned unsolicited by Kirk Cousins and the coaching staff. If K.J. Osborn doesn’t make the roster, he’ll surely stick around on the practice squad, but they’d need to turn Bisi Johnson, Chad Beebe or someone else into their punt returner. Tajae Sharpe could be in trouble with the emergence of Hollins, who currently has more momentum.
It seems like Brandon Dillon still needs a bit more time to refine his game, while Tyler Conklin has turned in a strong camp thus far. Nakia Griffin-Stewart gets cut since the Vikings are unlikely to keep two tight ends on the practice squad.
The Vikings tackle depth dried a bit when they determined Ezra Cleveland and Aviante Collins would be playing guard. That leaves a pretty easy decision to keep the expected four veterans and stick Blake Brandel on the practice squad. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings add another tackle to the practice squad off the waiver wire.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
May as well load up on the interior since it is one of the team’s weakest positions. Dakota Dozier looks primed to be team’s Week 1 starter, but it would be foolish not to have a couple understudies behind him. The team clearly likes Aviante Collins if they’re willing to consider him for the starting gig, and Ezra Cleveland will be lurking, too, as he develops. Quitting on Dru Samia wouldn’t make sense, considering he may take over Pat Elflein‘s job next year. Bradbury is obviously a lock. The only question mark here would be Brett Jones, but the team seems to prefer him as Bradbury’s backup instead of Elflein.
TOTAL OFFENSE: 25
PRACTICE SQUAD OFFENSE: 8
Amazingly, it looks Jalyn Holmes and Eddie Yarbrough are the biggest guarantees of any depth options at defensive end. Holmes was moved to end in the offseason but also retains some inside flexibility, while Yarbrough has been a constant with the second team. The fifth end spot has been in flux throughout camp, but D.J. Wonnum would seemingly have the edge based on his fourth-round draft status. It doesn’t appear like the team is high on Anthony Zettel, who has spent more time with the 3s than you’d expect from someone of his experience.
It doesn’t seem like James Lynch is going to make the impact many had hoped. The fourth-round pick has been overshadowed in camp, making the decision at defensive tackle a bit easier. David Moa on the practice squad provides some extra nose tackle depth with Michael Pierce opting out.
There’s been plenty of movement at linebacker this camp, and not all of it good for the Vikings. Cameron Smith discovered he would need heart surgery after a positive COVID-19 test, while Ben Gedeon was moved to the PUP list and hasn’t shown any sign of returning. While the starters are entrenched, the second unit was all rookies at one point. That’s why the team brought in veteran Hardy Nickerson to work with the 2s. Jordan Fehr profiles as a possible special teams contributor right away, and Troy Dye may be a starter in waiting. That leaves Blake Lynch to hit the practice squad.
In a previous edition I had the Vikings keeping seven corners. Thanks to the progress of Holton Hill and Cameron Dantzler, they may be able to get by with six. UDFA Nevelle Clarke has made more plays in camp than fifth-round pick Harrison Hand, who will find his way to the practice squad with Mark Fields.
It’s tough to peg what the Vikings are thinking at safety. Newly-acquired Steven Parker has gotten ample time with the 2s, but so have Josh Metellus and Nate Meadors. Because it’s Meadors’ year in the system, he may ultimately prove to be a better option than Parker, but reportedly the Vikings have worked out George Iloka at safety as well. Translation: They’re not in love with their current options.
TOTAL DEFENSE: 25
PRACTICE SQUAD DEFENSE: 8
Britton Colquitt has appeared to be limited with a lower-body injury of some kind the last handful of practices, but it doesn’t seem like anything to be alarmed about at the moment.