The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, which means that NFL rosters are starting to come into focus. A lot can change between now and September, including free agent signings, injuries, camp competitions, and more, but now is the first time we have a really good idea of what the Vikings’ 2021 roster will look like. The snapshot below from Pro Football Focus (which includes 2020 season grades where applicable) gives a good initial sense of what the starting roster might look like:
But let’s dive into the full roster and practice squad predictions to get a better sense of how that picture above might change by September for this Vikings 53-Man Roster Projection:
The Vikings made quite a splash by drafting Mond with their second pick of this year’s draft — a clear signal that they were excited about his arm, athleticism, and upside. That said, when Rick Spielman was asked about a potential quarterback competition in a recent draft presser, Spielman laughed and said “Kirk’s our starting quarterback. There’s no competition there.” Expect Mond to redshirt his rookie year while stashed on the active roster.
Since Mond is a pure developmental prospect, there is still room for Stanley and/or Browning on the practice squad as injury insurance for Cousins. I give Stanley the nod as he was drafted and has had less time to develop, but this could be a tight camp competition to watch out for.
The Vikings found their Mike Boone replacement in Nwangwu, who is an elite athlete with the second-highest relative athlete score among all running backs drafted since 2013 behind only Saquon Barkley. He should provide immediate value on special teams, including as a kick returner and possibly a punt returner. That leaves Abdullah with quite an uphill battle to make the roster.
As exciting as Smith-Marsette’s speed and vertical route-running is, it’s unlikely that the fifth-round rookie will be able to beat out Beebe for the WR3 position. Beebe may be much slower, but he can uncover easily underneath, knows the playbook, and offers value as a punt returner. Chisena and Osborn are both on the chopping block given poor performances last year, although I think Chisena’s speed might give him a leg up if the team wants to keep him as a special teams coverage ace.
Proehl and Philyor are two undrafted free agents to keep an eye on — Proehl was given a significant signing bonus to lure him to the Vikings, while Philyor was ranked 267th on The Athletic’s Consensus Board. Both could sneak onto the roster given their college special teams experience.
And don’t be surprised if the Vikings end up adding another veteran free agent to this mix, as they could still use more firepower in the receiving room with someone like Dede Westbrook.
With Kyle Rudolph’s release, this group seems pretty set in stone. Dane Brugler described Davidson as “raw as sushi” so Davidson seems destined to the practice squad as the Vikings see if they can help him realize his upside given his size and athleticism.
Pro Football Focus ranked Minnesota’s offensive line as the most-improved team unit in the NFL after the Vikings added Darrisaw and Davis in the draft, and for the first time in what feels like forever, their offensive line seems pretty set. O’Neill will start at right tackle, and it’s likely only a matter of time before Darrisaw overtakes swing tackle Rashod Hill at left tackle.
The Vikings’ interior offensive line looks much improved after last year. Bradbury and Cleveland are virtual locks to start and are both poised for breakout years given their youth and athleticism — Bradbury in particular should benefit from having two solid guards around him. Davis should be the heavy favorite to win the other guard spot, as the Consensus Board had him ranked as the third-best guard in the class and 53rd-best prospect in the class.
That said, the Vikings didn’t trade one of Spielman’s precious sixth-round picks for nothing, so keep an eye out to see if Cole can win a starting spot, as we have written about before. Hinton is another guy to watch, as the developmental player with incredible athleticism could sneak onto the roster if he starts to live up to his upside.
Active (6): Danielle Hunter, Patrick Jones II, Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Janarius Robinson, Hercules Mata’afa
Practice squad (2): Jordan Brailford, Kenny Willekes
Off roster: Jalyn Holmes, Zeandae Johnson
This group might be the hardest to project. Hunter is the only obvious lock, with Jones, Weatherly, and Wonnum each vying for the starting role opposite Hunter. Weatherly boasts familiarity and Wonnum has the upside (despite a rocky rookie season), but Jones might be the odds-on favorite to start given his third-round draft status. Robinson is a raw, developmental prospect but seems likely to earn a roster spot as a rotational rusher to avoid being poached off the practice squad. Mata’afa sneaks on given his versatility to kick inside on pass-rushing downs. Brailford flashed last year on the Vikings and has the explosiveness and athleticism to believe in his upside more than Holmes or Willekes.
The two starting defensive tackles are set in Tomlinson and Pierce, with Watts as a solid backup. The real competition is between Lynch, the 2020 fourth-round rookie, and Twyman, the 2021 sixth-round rookie. Being cut just one year after being taken in the fourth round would be pretty disappointing for Lynch, but he performed poorly both in camp and in limited snaps last year despite little competition. Meanwhile, Twyman himself is coming off a disappointing year in college with disappointing athletic testing after gaining weight last year. I suspect the Vikings won’t want to give up on Lynch this early while giving Twyman a shot on the practice squad to find the right play weight and earn rotational snaps on pass-rushing downs, but would not be surprised if Lynch were cut and Twyman sneaked onto the roster.
This is another hard-to-predict group. Pro Bowlers Kendricks and Barr are locks, and undersized youngsters Dye and Surratt seem locks based on draft status and upside, but the rest should be very competitive at camp. Vigil is probably the betting favorite given his experience and the guaranteed money in his contract, and 2019 fifth-rounder Smith showed a lot of promise before missing last season following open-heart surgery.
Active (6): Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand
Practice squad: N/A
Off roster: Dylan Mabin
Commissioner’s Exempt List: Jeff Gladney
The three starters in Peterson, Dantzler, and Alexander seem pretty set, but big questions remain after that. Gladney likely starts the season with at least a six-game suspension following his arrest on domestic violence charges, as we wrote about before, though if he can return midseason he may see significant snaps after starting last year. Hughes would be set to play significant snaps as well but cannot seem to stay healthy, and may even be waived by the team after they decline to exercise his fifth-year option. Hand is a solid depth option and Boyd brings special teams value.
Smith is locked in to start and Woods is the presumptive favorite for the other spot, but with only a $1.7 million salary-cap charge, it’s possible Metellus or Bynum show enough to win the job over the veteran. Dorn is still young and has some upside for the practice squad.
Newly-promoted special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken gets the unenviable task of upgrading the Vikings’ special teams coming off a year in which they recorded the third-worst special teams DVOA over the last decade. The kicking competition looks like a true competition: Joseph has the advantage in terms of both kicking power and NFL experience but Patterson put together an impressive 2019 season and has a real shot to win the starting job.
TOTAL OFFENSE: 24
TOTAL DEFENSE: 26
SPECIAL TEAMS: 3
PRACTICE SQUAD OFFENSE: 7
PRACTICE SQUAD DEFENSE: 5
*An earlier version of this article listed Cameron Smith on the practice squad and Ryan Connelly off the roster.