The 2018 NFL Pre-Season is officially History. It is now time to analyze the Minnesota Vikings final roster going into the 2018 season and evaluate the way the positions turned out. Gambles and strategy games are the name of the game at this point in the season and here we will evaluate how we believe the Vikings did.
Kept: Kirk Cousins; Trevor Siemian; Kyle Sloter;
Cuts: Peter Pujals;
Analysis: No great surprises here. “Captain Kirk” is the man of this offense for the time being. The only surprise was how the lower depth chart shook out. Sloter had a phenomenal pre-season whereas Siemian’s was only adequate. So why didn’t Sloter leap-frog Siemian for the backup slot? Siemian keeping his roster spot made sense (no one wants the ghost of Spergon Wynn of course!) but Siemian keeping his position on the depth chart was mystifying.
Kept: Dalvin Cook; Latavius Murray; Mike Boone; Roc Thomas;
Analysis: The Vikings came into camp with all sorts of questions surrounding the third string runningback spot after the departure of (gulp) Jerick McKinnon and the close monitoring of Dalvin Cook’s recovery from last year’s injury. They probably never dreamed they would pick up two undrafted backs with the talent of Boone and Thomas. Thomas looks like a rawer and younger version of McKinnon in many ways while Boone flashed Marshawn-Lynch-like skills. They played so well that the Vikings had to clear out an extra roster spot to keep both around, which is probably wise as Murray’s contract situation makes his status with the Vikings going into 2019 uncertain. The long-term question is: Are Boone and Thomas the second coming of the Murray-McKinnon duo which worked so well for the Vikings in 2017?
Kept: C.J. Ham;
Cuts: Kobe McCrary; Luke McNitt;
Analysis: When Johnny Stanton went down for the season that probably solidified Ham’s hold on the position. He has played solid, but he must maintain his production at a level which merits him a position on the roster with the Vikings keeping four other runningbacks and roster space at such a premium.
Kept: Adam Thielen; Stefon Diggs; Laquon Treadwell; Stacy Coley; Brandon Zylstra;
Cuts: Jake Wieneke; Kendall Wright; Tavarres King; Korey Robertson; Cayleb Jones;
Analysis: The light is finally seeming to come on for Treadwell, which bodes good things for the Vikings offense. Zylstra making it was not a terribly big surprise after the way he was hyped as a hometown talent and the performances he put on in training camp and the final pre-season game. Coley escaped injured reserve, which means the Vikings must see a role for him in this year’s offense. Wright and King were big disappointments after being signed as free agents, but its probably just as well considering the young talent the Vikings have found. Weineke is a candidate to be brought back to the practice squad if any of the practice squad receivers are promoted to the regular roster during the season.
Kept: Kyle Rudolph; David Morgan II; Tyler Conklin;
Cuts: Blake Bell; Tyler Hoppes;
Analysis: The third-string winner was a surprise. Conklin didn’t show much to separate him from Bell, but the Vikings apparently saw enough to give the rookie a shot. Conklin will need to stay healthy or he could find himself out of a job fairly quickly though.
Kept: Riley Reiff; Mike Remmers; Rashod Hill; Brian O’Neill; Aviante Collins;
Cuts: Dieugot Joseph;
Analysis: The top three were no surprise. O’Neill stuck because he is such a high draft choice but he will need to get on top of his game in a hurry if he wants to have a career with this team beyond this season. Collins probably lasted because of his versatility at playing both tackle and guard. Fans should hope both linemen are restricted to six offensive lineman formations this season. If either have to play, especially at tackle, Kirk Cousins could be in deep trouble.
Kept: Tom Compton; Danny Isidora;
Cuts: Kaleb Johnson; Kareem Are;
Analysis: Very thin. Isidora shows promise but he must make it consistent in order to become a quality player. Compton looked like he was having problems in the pre-season but the lack of other quality options is probably what kept him around for the time being. These two positions remain a HUGE question mark for this season.
Kept: Pat Elflein; Brett Jones;
Cuts: J.P. Quinn;
Analysis: Elflein needs to get back quickly if the Vikings offensive line is going to jell. Getting Jones from the Giants at the price they did was a steal (Thank you Pat Shurmur!) Health is the most important thing though. Elflein and Jones are two of the most solid players they have and the two must stay healthy if the offensive line is to have any hope of putting together a quality performance this season.
Kept: Everson Griffen; Danielle Hunter; Tashawn Bower; Stephen Weatherly;
Cuts: Brian Robison; Ifeadi Odenigbo; Jonathan Wynn;
Analysis: Spielman, Zimmer and D-line coach Andre Patterson have a talent for finding stud defensive linemen. Griffen, Hunter and Bower are going to be terrors on the edge for opposing passers. Letting B-Rob go was hard, but the sun must have set on his time in the NFL. Weatherly looked like he was on his way out with Odenigbo’s steadily improving play, but he suddenly bailed himself back into a roster spot with his performance in the final pre-season game. Odenigbo was originally slated for the practice squad, but ended up being claimed by the Cleveland Browns, which was probably one of the best places he could have gone if the Vikings didn’t have room for him.
Kept: Linval Joseph; Sheldon Richardson; Jaleel Johnson; Jalyn Holmes; David Parry;
Analysis: Who isn’t excited to see the new tandem of Joseph and Richardson collapsing the interior of opposing offensive lines? This should be fun to watch. Johnson seems to be coming into his own and looks to have the track to the main backup job to Joseph, though his versatility makes him an asset at either defensive tackle spot. Holmes flashed quite a bit in pre-season and could prove to be a good draft choice. Parry sticking around over solid, versatile players like Robison and Odenigbo was a bit of a shock though. It makes one wonder if Shamar Stephen’s loss in free agency hurt the team’s depth at the tackle position more than the coaches dared realize at first…
Kept: Anthony Barr; Ben Gedeon; Eric Wilson;
Cuts: Mike Needham; Brett Taylor;
Analysis: The limited numbers at this position does make you wonder a bit. Barr is a stud if he can keep from ‘coasting’. Gedeon is a solid player and Wilson stood out in pre-season, so there were no surprises. But the Vikings better hope health stays whole at this position with how thin it is once you get past the starters.
Kept: Eric Kendricks; Devante Downs; Kentrell Brothers (suspended)
Cuts: Antwione Williams;
Analysis: What was said about the outside linebackers holds true for the middle. Kendricks is a stud but he has to stay healthy for this defense to work. Brothers is suspended for four games and so Downs gets a chance to take his college game (which admittedly was impressive) into the NFL. Will he stick after Brothers comes back though? Thats the question…
Kept: Xavier Rhodes; Trae Waynes; Mike Hughes; Mackensie Alexander; Holton Hill; Marcus Sherels;
Retired: Terence Newman;
Cuts: Trevon Mathis;
Analysis: No position on the team was harder to make cuts for than the secondary positions. And rightfully so. The Vikings defense will be facing elite quarterbacks around ten times this season so secondary depth is critical. Thankfully the Vikings came into training camp loaded and come out still looking loaded. Rhodes is a shutdown corner and Waynes appears to be on the verge of becoming elite. Hughes may be the shutdown player for the nickel corner spot the Vikings have been looking for and if Alexander continues to improve then the Vikings have depth at the nickel spot also. Hill was an undrafted steal and could be a valuable player in a pinch if any of the others suffer injury. Sherels survived another training camp and is fast becoming a Viking legend with his work ethic and roster survivability. (Something tells me he will one day make the Vikings’ Ring of Honor). Newman retiring to join the coaching staff should not be that big a surprise. He has had far more value as a coach than a player during his Vikings tenure and Vikings fans should welcome his presence on the coaching staff.
Kept: Harrison Smith; George Iloka; Andrew Sendejo; Anthony Harris; Jayron Kearse;
Analysis: Iloka was a gift that dropped into the Vikings lap. Perhaps Harrison Smith finally has that complementary safety the Vikings have been looking to pair him with for so long. Keeping five safeties was a bit of a surprise but again secondary depth is going to be critical for the Vikings this season and that must have been a factor in that decision. Sendejo will be good for the three safety packages Zimmer is looking to add to the defense this season. Harris has been steadily improving in every season since he joined the team and is now a reliable backup. Kearse must have shown improvement as well to merit one of the precious roster spots. Now its up to him as to what he does with it.
Kept: Daniel Carlson; Kevin McDermott;
Cuts: Kai Forbath; Ryan Quigley;
Acquisitions: Matt Wile;
Analysis: Seriously, who thought the Vikings were going to stick with Forbath after the heart-stopping misses he made last season as well as the fact that they spent a fifth round pick on a cannon-legged kicker? Carlson making the roster seemed a foregone conclusion barring a complete pro implosion or a catastrophic injury. Quigley’s roster spot was shaky after his underwhelming performance in the pre-season and he lost it when Matt Wile was released by the Steelers. What the Vikings see in Wile which made him outrank Quigley is unknown, but Special Teams coach Mike Priefer has always been very particular about what he looks for in his position players. McDermott seems to be back to his old form after recovering from his injury last season. Sherels is probably the best punt-returner in the NFL now that Devin Hester has retired, but who handles the kick return duties is a question mark as Hughes and others seemed underwhelming in those duties in pre-season. This group still misses Cordarrelle Patterson and his electric special teams ability.
Kept: WR Chad Beebe; WR Jeff Badet; OT Storm Norton; G Colby Gossett; C Cornelius Edison; DT Curtis Cothran; LB Garret Dooley; LB Reshard Cliett;
Cuts: S Jack Tocho;
Acquisitions: TE Cole Hikutini; CB Jalen Myrick;
Analysis: Give the son of Don Beebe credit, he is a VERY hard worker and dedicated football player. Despite all of the roadblocks thrown in his path, Chad Beebe played so well in pre-season that it got him a spot on the practice squad. If any of the Vikings current receivers suffer season-ending injuries this season don’t be surprised if Beebe is the first promoted to the regular roster. Badet being kept over Weineke was something of a surprise, but word was that Weineke was in need of polishing his talents a little more first. Gossett and Edison were expected candidates for the practice squad due to the lack of depth on the line and the flashes both showed of some potential to improve down the road. Norton staying was unexpected, but that was probably more a reflection of the coaching staff’s worries concerning the offensive line. Cothran must have shown something to get a chance to factor in through the practice squad, though, again, that may be more a reflection of a concern on the lack of depth at nose tackle thanks to Shamar Stephen’s absence. The thin linebacker depth necessitated saving some prospects on the practice squad. Dooley flashed in pre-season and so was a pretty certain stayover and Cliett must have shown enough to get a shot also (though don’t be surprised if Cliett gets let go to make room for Devante Downs when Kentrell Brothers finishes his four game suspension). Tocho must be showing Zimmer something as he has made the practice squad for the second straight year and will likely be the first promoted to the active roster in the case of any season-ending injuries in the secondary. Though he was released right before the season opener, that was pretty much par the course for him last year in being released and brought back as needs dictated during the season. To replace him for now on the practice squad, the Vikings brought in another home-grown talent in former Golden Gopher defensive back Jalen Myrick. Myrick comes from another defensively sound squad in Jacksonville and could be a good fit in Minnesota if need should arise. The Vikings have a habit of reserving one practice squad spot for players who have been on the roster of their upcoming opponent and that trend appears to be continuing with the signing of tight end Cole Hikutini. However if he shows something special do not be surprised if he ends up sticking. It has happened before.
Kept: RB Mack Brown; FB Johnny Stanton; TE Josiah Price; T Cedrick Lang; G Nick Easton; C Josh Andrews; DE Ade Aruna; DE/LB Hercules Mata’afa; CB Horace Richardson; CB Craig James; S Tray Matthews;
Analysis: Injuries are a tough part of the game of football. That was especially the case for Easton, Aruna and Mata’afa. Easton’s loss leaves depth at the offensive guard spot at a critically low level when thrown in with Joe Berger’s retirement. Aruna had flashed some raw but big time pass rushing skills but he should get a chance to contribute next year. Behind Easton, Mata’afa was probably the most devastating loss to the Vikings roster to date. His explosion off the line and other talents had made him a versatile DE/LB hybrid in the NFL that it would have been great fun to watch Zimmer insert into his defensive packages. Alas, we must wait for 2019 to see it. The slew of injuries which unfolded over the later pre-season and affected players was astounding. Brown, Stanton, Price, Lang, Andrews, Richardson, James and Matthews were all hit by some pretty nasty injuries and made it through waivers to injured reserve. That makes this easily one of the largest lists of injured reserve players the Vikings have had on opening day in recent memory. The bright side is that if these players attack their rehab and show the team their heart is in making a go of it in the NFL, they may indeed get invited to the Vikings 2019 training camp and from there anything can happen.
Overall Analysis: There are few rosters in Vikings history that are as loaded as this one. The 1969, 1975, 1998, 2009 and 2016 rosters come to mind but that is pretty much it. The greatest advantage the Vikings have this season is that they are built to take on the most glaring advantage their opponents will be throwing at them, namely that of great passing quarterbacks. The Vikings will play Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford twice each as well as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz and Ryan Tannehill. That is ten games of the schedule. Throw in that the remaining opponents, the Rams, Cardinals, Bills, Jets and Bears, also have promising young passers of their own and this schedule looks like it will definitely be no cakewalk. Clearly the Vikings have to be built to take on that kind of a challenge if they want any chance of winning the Division much less advancing to the NFC Championship Game and beyond. Thankfully Zimmer and Spielman have built this team for that kind of a challenge. The defensive line and secondary are the strongest and deepest positions on the team and so will be ready and waiting. If properly prepared each week, this defense facing those great passers will be an incredible chess match to watch unfold week after week.
The questions which arise on this roster will be on offense mainly, closely followed by depth at a few key positions. The biggest question which faces this team, however, is not on the roster but concerning after-effects. Will tragedy psychologically unwind the Vikings’ season? The unexpected passing of offensive line coach Tony Sparano coupled with the passing of legendary Vikings trainer Fred Zamberletti brings a troubling precedent to mind. Vikings history shows that psychological shocks such as the ones dealt them this season usually leave bad after-effects. The unexpected passing of offensive coordinator Chip Myers in 1999 helped derail momentum from the legendary 1998 season and undercut Vikings efforts at another Super Bowl run in 1999. Korey Stringer’s tragic death in 2001 derailed the 2001 season and probably, more than anything, helped hasten the departure of Coach Dennis Green. Most recently in 2016, Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating knee injury left a Vikings team in a state of shock which finally caught up with them later in the year and helped wreck the 2016 season. If the Vikings wish to build off the momentum of their deep playoff run in 2017, they must get over this psychological hurdle first and foremost. There are promising signs that they may be doing so, but that will undoubtedly be their biggest question/hurdle to overcome.
Moving to roster questions, will offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and Quarterback Kirk Cousins mesh into this team fast enough to produce and give the Vikings a high-powered offensive attack? The pre-season left that all-important question unanswered as they looked great at certain periods and suspect at others. If this team is going to succeed this season, a lot of that responsibility rests on the shoulders of DeFilippo and Cousins.
Will the offensive line hold up and give Vikings quarterbacks enough time to run a productive passing game? That question is a huge factor. Losing two starters from last season and losing out on drafting any immediate offensive line contributors left depth at the guard position extremely shaky. As of right now, players from other offensive line positions are slated to start at the two guard positions and that, more than anything, is a reflection on the confused and suspect state of the offensive line. Those positions are the ones to watch and hope for success as the season unfolds.
Can Dalvin Cook stay healthy? Will he and Murray pick up where the Murray-McKinnon duo left off last year? Can Boone and Thomas step up against NFL starting defenses if either of the top backs suffer injury? So far this position looks okay, but the Vikings offensive coaching staff are no doubt crossing their fingers on those questions. If everyone stays healthy, the Vikings running attack should be good, but if significant-enough injuries hit, then they better hope they get as lucky as they did after Cook went down last season.
Can the linebacking corps stay healthy and is there enough depth at nose tackle? Those are the only real questions on the defensive side of the ball. Barr, Kendricks and Gedeon are as solid a group of starting linebackers as there is in the league, but if any get hurt (especially Barr or Kendricks), then the limited depth could become a problem. Wilson and Brothers are good special teamers but no one knows if they can translate that to playing solid against some of the league’s best offenses. Downs has playmaking ability, but he is a rookie and may not be able to step up sufficiently if thrust into a starting position this year. The same goes at nose tackle. Linval Joseph is one of the best nose tackles in the league but behind him are questions. If Joseph goes down, can Jaleel Johnson and David Parry hold down the position as well as Shamar Stephen did?
Finally, on special teams, will Daniel Carlson become the stud kicker the Vikings have been seeking for so long? Will Matt Wile finally put an end to the musical chairs run of punters the Vikings have had since Jeff Locke left? Will someone finally prove to be a worthy successor to Cordarrelle Patterson on kick returns? We all know Mike Priefer is a great coach and it shows in the quality of work he gets out of his special teams units, but they still need to nail the key positions with long-term solutions.
There is much to be excited about with this team, but the ultimate harbinger of how well this season turns out rests with how these questions are resolved. If any team has a significant enough weakness, opponents will attack that weakness in hopes of derailing their season. That is the big question the Vikings face as they march into the 2018 regular season.
My Minnesota Vikings Opening Depth Chart:
QB: Kirk Cousins; Kyle Sloter; Trevor Siemian;
RB: Dalvin Cook; Latavius Murray; Mike Boone; Roc Thomas;
FB: C.J. Ham; Mike Boone;
H-B: David Morgan II;
WR: Stefon Diggs; Adam Thielen; Laquon Treadwell; Stacy Coley; Brandon Zylstra;
TE: Kyle Rudolph; David Morgan II; Tyler Conklin;
LT: Riley Reiff; Rashod Hill; Aviante Collins;
LG: Brett Jones; Tom Compton;
C: Pat Elflien; Brett Jones;
RG: Mike Remmers; Danny Isidora;
RT: Rashod Hill; Brian O’Neill; Aviante Collins;
X-OL: Brian O’Neill; Aviante Collins;
LDE: Everson Griffen; Tashawn Bower;
UT: Sheldon Richardson; Jaleel Johnson; Jalyn Holmes;
NT: Linval Joseph; Jaleel Johnson; David Parry;
RDE: Danielle Hunter; Stephen Weatherly;
WLB: Ben Gedeon; Eric Wilson;
MLB: Eric Kendricks; Kentrell Brothers; Devante Downs;
SLB: Anthony Barr; Devante Downs;
LCB: Trae Waynes; Mike Hughes; Marcus Sherels;
RCB: Xavier Rhodes; Mackensie Alexander; Holton Hill;
NCB: Mike Hughes; Mackensie Alexander;
SS: George Iloka; Andrew Sendejo; Jayron Kearse;
FS: Harrison Smith; Anthony Harris;
K: Daniel Carlson;
P: Matt Wile;
LS: Kevin McDermott;
KR: Marcus Sherels; Holton Hill;
PR: Marcus Sherels; Mike Hughes;
ST: Marcus Sherels; Eric Wilson; Jayron Kearse;
© 2018 Grant Dahl & On This Terrestrial Ball. All rights reserved. This material may not be re-published, re-broadcast, re-written or re-distributed without permission from the author of this piece.