Vikings

Nick Olson and Luke Braun’s Final 53-Man Roster Predictions

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed since our last 53-man roster prediction a few months ago. More than 10 players have been waived or cut, rookies have started to win starting jobs, and the Minnesota Vikings traded for a new backup quarterback in Nick Mullens. With two preseason games in the rearview mirror and less than a week until the lineup needs to be trimmed down to 53 players by 4 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 30, here are our prognostications of the final roster.


OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

Nick: Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens

The Vikings gave Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond every opportunity to win this backup job, but neither made the most of those opportunities. Mond has flashed with his arm talent but has not yet proven he can play on time and within structure with any kind of consistency. Mannion has at least shown he can play within structure — provided the pocket is perfectly clean, and he isn’t asked to throw downfield too often.

Mullens is not guaranteed the backup job here, as the Vikings’ only paid a conditional 2024 seventh-rounder (which they can recoup if Mullens does not make the final roster), but I doubt Kwesi Adofo-Mensah makes this trade unless he expects Mullens to significantly upgrade the quarterback room. And Mullens should — he’s generally accurate, reads the field quickly and well (some boneheaded mistakes aside), and plays very well within the Mike Shanahan structure. Given his limited arm strength, he won’t challenge Cousins for a starting job, but he’s the perfect kind of backup who won’t single-handedly lose you games.

Luke: Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens

Sorry to any Vikings fans who are still holding out hope, but it’s a new day and a new regime. The best-laid plans of Zimmers and Spielmans often go awry. Mond is not good enough to make a 53-man roster. He misdiagnosed vanilla Cover 1 and threw an interception eight yards short of his aiming point against the San Francisco 49ers. That’s not a quarterback you can put on the field, and it’s not worth the years of development it would take to get him to Mike Glennon‘s level of competence. Put that effort into developing Mullens.

Trading for Mullens all but dooms Mannion. Mullens is not only a better quarterback with more playmaking ability, but he’s also famously good at preparation. So Mannion’s saving grace, his ability on the whiteboard, is no longer an advantage. His playing career might be over, but that means his promising coaching career can start. 

RUNNING BACK

Nick: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham

I was initially skeptical that a McVay-style offense that seems to want to live out of 11 personnel would also roster five backs. Cook is such a complete bellcow, and Mattison a consummate backup, that it would seem hard to find opportunities for a third- or fourth-string running back. And since Chandler is only a fifth-round rookie, he’s probably safe to spend a year incubating on the practice squad.

But after witnessing how O’Connell has used his backs throughout the preseason, I can imagine players like Nwangwu and Chandler seeing the field for jet motion or lining up as receivers. Nwangwu has lined up as a receiver out wide on about 20% of his preseason snaps, and another 5% of snaps in the slot, even setting aside the screen targets. Chandler has also seen snaps lined up as a wide receiver. Not only does lining these players out wide give a solid pre-snap zone-man tell, but it also can be used to set up and exploit matchups. Want to cover Nwangwu or Chandler with a talented outside corner? That could leave Jefferson one-on-one against a linebacker. Want to put a linebacker on Nwangwu or Chandler? Good luck covering guys with 4.3 speed downfield.

Cutting Ham would save $1.95 million against the cap, and it’s a possibility after the team cut backup fullback Jake Bargas early on Aug. 16. But I would still be shocked to see Ham cut given that the team has used him plenty in camp, has rested its starters, and could use him to exploit matchups just as well as it could with its tight ends and scat backs. 

Luke: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham

I admit defeat! My hot take of the offseason was that Nwangwu’s development would render Mattison irrelevant, but Mattison has acquitted himself too well. In particular, his game against the San Francisco 49ers showed improvement in his vision, both in rushing and in pass protection, and that’s what I needed to see to give up the bold prediction.

That’s not to sell Nwangwu short. He has shown improved vision as well. If Cook misses more time with injury, I’d project a split between Mattison and Nwangwu for your fantasy handcuffing purposes. Ty Chandler has also played too well to sneak onto a practice squad. There was some noise about the Vikings cutting Ham, but I’ve seen them install too many lead plays out of 21 personnel in camp. It’s not meaningful to me that Ham sat out with the rest of the starters in the preseason.

WIDE RECEIVER

Nick: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Dan Chisena

Jefferson, Thielen, and Osborn are the clear starters here, and Smith-Marsette has blossomed into a compelling No. 4 option now that he’s more than just a very good vertical route runner. Bisi Johnson is a clear cut above the rest of the receiving room as a well-rounded, mistake-free veteran with surprising blocking chops. And while Chisena made strides as a vertical receiver, he sneaks onto the roster here largely for the same reasons he did for the last two years — by being a special teams difference-maker.

That leaves some NFL-caliber receivers on the outside looking in. Jalen Nailor has intriguing long-term upside but has been outplayed by the rest of the depth. Myron Mitchell and Trishton Jackson both made some great plays this preseason, but there’s still a large gap between what they’ve shown on the field and what Bisi Johnson has shown. And a lot of this quality depth can be safely carried on the practice squad for break-in-case-of-emergency situations.

Luke: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Jalen Nailor

The top four receivers have been pretty much cemented since the first day of camp. Smith-Marsette has only solidified himself as the fourth-best receiver on the team. Bisi Johnson weathered a lot of challenges from youngsters like Trishton Jackson and Myron Mitchell, but both of those players had inconsistencies. Bisi has been reliable. I’m also holding out hope that Nailor will win the punt-return job in the upcoming Denver Broncos game.

I want to quickly mourn Dan Chisena, who I’ve had penciled in as a special teams ace. He’s my next favorite guy and has even taken a step toward viability at receiver. I want to keep him in the organization if I can, but I’d understand if someone else wants the most explosive punt gunner in football.

TIGHT END

Nick: Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson

The Vikings desperately need Smith Jr. to get healthy and stay healthy because this tight end depth is… uninspiring. Mundt and Ellefson are both solid blocking tight ends but will not stretch defenses up the seam. I would have loved to roster Zach Davidson this year, but unfortunately, he still hasn’t yet learned how to block… or how to catch.

Keep your eyes on the NFL waiver wire after roster cut-downs because I would not be surprised in the slightest if the Vikings’ next tight end is currently on another team.

Luke: Irv Smith, Jr., Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson

It doesn’t sound like Irv will hit PUP or anything, which is Davidson’s only hope at this point. The drops and missed blocks on offense hurt, but blowing a kickoff return rep against the Niners probably seals the deal. Mundt has quietly played well, but Ellefson has been a sensation as a blocker. I couldn’t imagine cutting him. Nick Muse is closer than I thought he’d be, and I like his odds next summer.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Nick: Brian O’Neill, Christian Darrisaw, Blake Brandel

It’s a good thing that O’Neill is a Pro Bowler, and Darrisaw is apparently the next Trent Williams because the depth behind those two players is pretty uninspiring. At least Brandel has been a pleasant surprise this preseason, tag-teaming with Ed Ingram on the right side of the offensive line to bully bodies on combo blocks and generally holding up on the edge one-on-one against preseason edge rushers.

Unfortunately, Oli Udoh has seriously struggled this preseason. Now in his fourth year, I’m not sure he’s earned a roster spot after failing to find a home at either guard or tackle. Vederian Lowe has not stood out, but as a late-round rookie, he should be safe to develop on the practice squad.

Luke: Christian Darrisaw, Brian O’Neill, Blake Brandel, Oli Udoh

While Darrisaw and O’Neill have been the stories of camp, I think Brandel has outplayed Udoh. It’s something of a surprise. Udoh was on the wrong end of a lot of Drake Jackson highlights this week, and the former starter might have lost his swing backup job. Udoh’s guard flexibility keeps him on the team here, as well as a lack of roster pressure from other groups.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE

Nick: Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Ed Ingram, Jesse Davis, Chris Reed, Austin Schlottmann

Per Arif Hasan of The Athletic, Cleveland “has quietly been having a stellar camp,” which is encouraging news to go alongside Ed Ingram earning first-team snaps. Ingram has had a standout preseason, with the fifth-best grade out of over 100 rookie offensive linemen this preseason. Hopefully having more stout guard play beside Bradbury will help the presumptive starting center.

Davis has not impressed in camp or preseason, but he’s a versatile backup who gives a relatively high floor at either guard or tackle. Reed provides solid depth at guard as well (if not at center, given his troubles snapping the ball). And Schottmann has been a surprise standout this preseason, particularly in the run game.

Luke: Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Ed Ingram, Chris Reed, Austin Schlottmann, Jesse Davis

If you prefer to replace Garrett Bradbury with a trade target like Lloyd Cushenberry, I won’t stop you. But any “competition” at that position has been mightily disappointing. Reed traded second-team center reps with Schlottmann, and only Schlottmann has been healthy enough to play. I like Schlottmann’s game enough to change my mind about keeping him as the primary backup center, but not enough to start him despite being the same listed weight as Bradbury.

I’m also tempted to trade away Davis, who is guaranteed too much of his contract to cut. (Perhaps the Cleveland Browns or Las Vegas Raiders could use some interior depth?) But, for now, I’ll default toward keeping him. If you’re wondering about Wyatt Davis, don’t. He has been unable to overtake Kyle Hinton and earn second-team reps, even with injuries throughout the group.

NICK’S TOTAL OFFENSE: 25
LUKE’S TOTAL OFFENSE: 26


DEFENSE

EDGE DEFENDERS

Nick: Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones, Zach McCloud

If Hunter and Smith stay healthy all season — and that’s a huge if — watch out: This could easily be one of the NFL’s elite pass-rushing duos. At joint practices last week, Smith was every bit as dominant as San Francisco’s star pass rusher Nick Bosa, recording five or six sacks despite frequently going up against Trent Williams. Meanwhile, Hunter continues to look like an elite pass rusher in practice.

Wonnum may never have the edge-setting stoutness to earn a starting role, but he has flashed as a pass rusher this preseason with some quality moves. Wonnum has so far posted the 13th-best pass-rush grade out of over 100 edge rushers with over 25 pass-defense snaps this preseason. Jones looks capable as a run defender, and while he’s still learning how best to put his burst and power to use as a pass rusher, he’s a natural on stunts. McCloud sneaks onto the roster as the annual UDFA surprise. He has impressed me slightly more than Janarius Robinson and Luiji Vilain, and I think the team will want to carry five edge rushers.

Luke: Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Patrick Jones, D.J. Wonnum

I’m sure a lot of you have McCloud as a dark horse to make the team, but I haven’t seen it. I wish there were a fifth player worth keeping, but only these four have played like they belong on an NFL team. Further, Smith is the only one who isn’t learning how to drop back into quarter flat zones for the first time.

At the outset, I cut Wonnum, but he’s taken enough of a step forward to sneak onto the roster. On the other hand, Jones has genuinely excelled. I’m excited for the depth he provides, but he’s only one player. If Smith or Hunter go down, this is a concerning group.

INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Nick: Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, Armon Watts, James Lynch, Jonathan Bullard, T.Y. McGill

Six interior defensive linemen might seem like a lot, but keep in mind that Ed Donatell has rostered at least six iDL each of the last three years with the Denver Broncos. Phillips and Tomlinson have both had outstanding preseasons and should provide a wall of run defense between the tackles that will enable Donatell to take players out of the box and prioritize coverage, which is the key that unlocks the Fangio/Donatell scheme.

Watts will be the other DE in base-down odd fronts. I really like his pass-rush technique. He’s exceptional clubbing or swatting with his hands and penetrating gaps easily while also being effective looping around on stunts. But he still struggles when asked to maintain his gap on run plays. Lynch is the opposite in some ways. He can’t effectively shoot gaps, but he’s stout holding his gap and has the balance, pad level, and strength to control blockers and drive them backward. He’s a good backup.

Bullard and McGill have fought tooth and claw for roster spots in camp and in the preseason, and I personally think they have more than earned them. McGill is the highest-graded interior defensive lineman this preseason, with four sacks, nine pressures, and six run stops in just two games. A lot of that is due to preseason matchups against third- and fourth-stringers. But the quick first step, lateral mobility, and ability to stack and shed should all translate, even against tougher competition. Bullard himself has posted the eighth-best grade out of nearly 200 qualifying iDL despite largely facing up against first- and second-team offensive linemen.

Luke: Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts, T.Y. McGill, James Lynch, Jonathan Bullard

To make up for the lack of depth on the edge, I kept some more on the interior. All six of these players have played too well to justify cutting them. McGill may be pushing Watts for a starting gig, Lynch has entrenched himself as the backup nose tackle and has had a quietly solid preseason, and Bullard is firmly set into the second team. If you’re going to cut one, it’s probably Bullard, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut Bullard just so I could roster someone like Janarius Robinson to have five-and-five symmetry.

OFFBALL LINEBACKER

Nick: Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah, Troy Dye

Kendricks and Hicks are the two clear starters here. Personally, I was not particularly impressed after watching Hicks’ 2021 tape with the Arizona Cardinals, but I have been pleasantly surprised by his play so far with the Vikings. He knows what he is doing, and the new scheme suits his style of play very well.

By contrast, the backups are uninspiring. Asamoah has his fair share of both highlights and lowlights, with a quick downhill trigger and great sideline-to-sideline range in coverage and against stretch runs. But he’s also prone to rookie mistakes in coverage and his run fits. If I had my druthers, I would keep Blake Lynch over Dye here, but Dye seems to be ahead on the depth chart, and his range and functional athleticism help to explain why the team may value him more despite Lynch’s special teams prowess.

Luke: Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah, Blake Lynch

I’m not giving up on Lynch, who filled in well for Anthony Barr last year. Troy Dye is still ahead of Lynch on the depth chart, but he’s been a huge mess in all phases of camp. I can’t justify keeping Dye, so I go to whoever played best in the lower ranks. To me, that’s Lynch, although Chazz Surratt turned my head some against the 49ers. Still, it’s a new regime, and cutdown day figures to be a bad one for Rick Spielman draft picks.

CORNERBACK

Nick: Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan, Andrew Booth Jr., Akayleb Evans, Parry Nickerson

A lot of the intrigue in this cornerback room has already played out. Peterson is the team’s best corner despite declining long speed and lateral agility. Dantzler seems to have taken a big step forward and earned the starting job opposite Peterson. Sullivan is penciled in as the starting nickel defender, though Donatell’s defense will throw plenty of unique looks that wind up assigning the slot or overhang role to an outside linebacker or safety.

Booth and Evans have both played well but with enough rookie inconsistencies to not unseat the veterans just yet. Nickerson ekes onto the roster as the clear backup to Sullivan and one of the only corners on the current roster capable of true nickel responsibilities.

Luke: Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan, Andrew Booth Jr., Kris Boyd, Akayleb Evans

This is pretty chalk. Boyd had a solid camp for a backup corner. While neither Booth nor Evans looks Day 1 ready, that’s common enough for cornerbacks, and Dantzler has cruised into a starting role. The concern here is depth in the slot. If Chandon Sullivan goes down, the Vikings don’t really have a backup slot corner. Neither Nate Hairston nor Parry Nickerson has played well enough to make the team.

So how do we solve this? A waiver claim or trade? The thing is, the Vikings have experimented with different nickel packages, utilizing three and sometimes even four safeties. So I’ll pencil in Bynum as the backup nickel, or even Lewis Cine, and keep this roster built on merit and not smooth positional symmetry.

SAFETY

Nick: Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine, Josh Metellus

Bynum flashed in limited opportunities last year as a fifth-round rookie, and in his second year, he seems to have made the leap as a starting-caliber safety. Cine has flashed his range, quick trigger, and ability to fit the run from depth, but his processing this preseason has been just a tick slow, and some of the errors from his college tape (like tackling high) persist. He’ll be a good player in the long term. Metellus has earned a roster spot with some great coverage play this preseason and with his special teams value.

Luke: Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, Lewis Cine, Josh Metellus

Pretty chalk here. It’s not like Mike Brown or Myles Dorn were going to overtake anyone. If you wanted to keep Dorn over, say, one of the luxury offensive keeps like Chandler or Udoh, and have some more depth for those four-safety packages, I wouldn’t blame you. But I don’t think either of them has played well enough to make us think that hard.

NICK’S TOTAL DEFENSE: 25
LUKE’S TOTAL DEFENSE: 24

SPECIAL TEAMS

Nick: Greg Joseph (K), Jordan Berry (P), Andrew DePaola (LS)

Joseph has had an outstanding camp, and while there’s still an open competition at punter, Berry has the edge, with the third-best punter grade this preseason (out of 44 qualifying punters), the sixth-best average hang time, and zero touchbacks.

Luke: Greg Joseph (K), Ryan Wright (P), Andrew DePaola (LS)

Ryan Wright had some nifty punting against the 49ers, and it’s enough to give me a hot take here. Do I actually think this will happen? Eh, I give it 30%. Is that enough for me to put it in this article just to see if people will freak out? Absolutely. No regrets.

NICK’S TOTAL SPECIAL TEAMS: 3
LUKE’S TOTAL SPECIAL TEAMS: 3

PRACTICE SQUADS

Nick: Kellen Mond, Bryant Koback, Jalen Nailor, Myron Mitchell, Zach Davidson, Nick Muse, Vederian Lowe, Kyle Hinton, Janarius Robinson, Luiji Vilain, Esezi Otomweo, Jaylen Twyman, Blake Lynch, Chazz Surratt, Kris Boyd, Myles Dorn

Luke: Kellen Mond, Myron Mitchell, Trishton Jackson, Kyle Hinton, Nick Muse, Vederian Lowe, Josh Sokol, Zach McCloud, Janarius Robinson, Esezi Otomewo, Jaylen Twyman, T.J. Smith, Chazz Surratt, Nate Hairston, Parry Nickerson, Myles Dorn

Vikings
Vikings Fans’ Pre-Draft Stress Has Never Been More Real
By Nelson Thielen - Apr 19, 2024
Vikings
Drake Maye’s Arm Talent Is Worth A King’s Ransom
By Kaleb Medhanie - Apr 19, 2024
Vikings

T.J. Hockenson Has Found That the Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Hockenson doesn’t think Kerby Joseph is a dirty player. He’s just upset that the knee injury he sustained on Joseph’s low hit has forced him to […]

Continue Reading