With the 2018 NFL Draft in the history books, it is now time to analyze the Minnesota Vikings roster going into the 2018 season and make roster projections for the regular season. There are many uncertainties involved, but each position is critical to the team’s success and so is having the right players manning the starting and backup jobs at those respective positions when the regular season opens.
Locks: Kirk Cousins; Trevor Siemian;
Likely Safe: Kyle Sloter;
Long Shot: Peter Pujals;
Analysis: What is the most obvious secret no one is talking about? The shadow which “Captain” Kirk Cousins must get out from underneath. Whether the Vikings coaching staff and the NFL guru world admits it or not, Case Keenum left huge shoes to fill as did Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater resurrected a Vikings offense which was falling apart and lead them back to the playoffs in 2015 and Keenum took a well-oiled attack deep into the playoffs in 2017. The pressure will be on Cousins from the beginning. His salary makes him unlikely to be cut loose at a moment’s notice, but he must succeed or the Vikings will be in major salary cap trouble. Siemian was a good acquisition as a backup as he fits the mold Keenum did last year when the Vikings signed Keenum and he has starting experience from his time in Denver. Sloter looks like the Vikings QB of the future, a kind of Brad-Johnson-type project. He certainly has the talent to step up and produce if needed. Pujals had a good collegiate career, but looks like a training camp arm mainly. He could stick on the practice squad though if any of the Vikings QBs sustain injury in the pre-season.
Locks: Dalvin Cook; Latavius Murray;
On the Bubble: Roc Thomas; Mack Brown; Mike Boone;
Analysis: Big question: Will Cook rebound from that nasty ACL tear which ended his rookie season? Will he stay healthy this season? He has to because the Vikings lost Jerick McKinnon and so have no experienced Plan B to complement Murray’s hard-running style. The Vikings are really thin at the third runningback spot and should be crossing their fingers that either one of the undrafted free agents (Thomas or Boone) or last year’s waiver-wire pickup (Brown) can step up and play good football in a run-heavy offense. If they can’t and either Cook or Murray suffer injury, the Vikings running attack could be in trouble. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings are actively scanning the waiver wire at the end of the pre-season to find a third runningback if none of the three competitors really step up to take the job.
On the Bubble: C.J. Ham; Johnny Stanton;
Analysis: C.J. Ham was the starter last year and should have this job nailed right? Thats what was thought last year about Zach Line who was an excellent young fullback and short-yardage runner. Yet the Vikings gave up on Line for Ham and now Ham will have to work to hold his job off from the undrafted rookie Johnny Stanton. Stanton, oddly enough a college quarterback transitioning to fullback, must have really shown something during the rookie minicamp to get a training camp shot over undrafted college runningback/fullback Kamryn Pettway. As both Ham and Stanton are undrafted free agents, it will probably come down to performance and versatility. The only advantage Ham seems to have at this time is that, like Adam Thielen, he is a local favorite (from South Dakota).
Locks: Stefon Diggs; Adam Thielen;
Likely Safe: Laquon Treadwell; Stacy Coley;
On the Bubble: Kendall Wright; Tavarres King; Brandon Zylstra; Jake Wieneke; Korey Robertson; Jeff Badet; Chad Beebe;
Long Shot: Cayleb Jones;
Analysis: This is probably the most underrated one-two receiver combo in the NFL. Diggs is probably going to get paid a lot of money and Thielen already is. Treadwell has to do the difficult balancing act of relaxing while stepping up at the same time. The talent is there as evidenced by the amazing one-handed catch he made against the Packers, but it needs to shine through more frequently and this makes this a pivotal year for him. Coley was a pre-season star a year ago and will probably get more chances this season if he continues to refine his game. Kendall Wright was signed to fill huge shoes in Jarius Wright, probably the Vikings most reliable receiver the past few years, but that doesn’t guarantee Kendall a roster spot. King was a free agent from the Giants who has a chance but he will have to battle some talented undrafted free agents in Zylstra, Wieneke, Robertson and Badet. Zylstra and Wieneke probably have the best chances to stick around as the team tries to develop more “Adam Thielens” but its more likely they will end up on the practice squad for this season as the Vikings see how the situations with Diggs, Treadwell and Kendall Wright play out. Chad Beebe, son of NFL speedster Don Beebe and a rookie minicamp find, is an intriguing wildcard as a Wes-Welker-type slot receiver who showed enough to push out fellow undrafted rookie Armanti Foreman. However he is also likely a practice squad candidate at this time. Cayleb Jones made himself a long shot with his recent drug test issues and is unlikely to stick around.
Locks: Kyle Rudolph; David Morgan II;
On the Bubble: Blake Bell; Tyler Conklin;
Long Shot: Josiah Price; Tyler Hoppes;
Analysis: Rudolph re-discovered his explosive playmaking ability last year and Morgan is turning into a solid blocking tight end with sneaky good hands. Bell was a pickup off waivers from the 49ers and turned in a solid season which makes his unseating a tough, though doable, challenge for rookie draft choice Tyler Conklin. Conklin has amazing leaping ability but has injury concerns from the past. Price is an undrafted free agent from a year ago who is being given another shot and Hoppes was an undrafted free agent pick up this year. Both have their work cut out for them though if they wish to make the roster.
Locks: Riley Reiff; Mike Remmers; Rashod Hill;
Likely Safe: Aviante Collins; Brian O’Neill;
Long Shot: Storm Norton; Dieugot Joseph; Cedrick Lang;
Analysis: The Vikings addressed the position well a year ago, but depth is still a concern. Reiff is a top player at left tackle, Remmers did a fairly good job holding down the right side and Hill is turning into a valuable, versatile backup who has excellent talent to play the position. Beyond those three however, the depth becomes a question mark. Collins was an undrafted free agent a year ago who showed enough to stick around and play in some run-heavy formations, but where his development is at is the concern. O’Neill, the second round pick, is a huge question mark. No one doubts his athleticism or quick feet but his technique is atrocious and he struggles to maintain blocks. If he struggles at tackle, chances are he will get moved to guard where his quick feet can become an asset on screens and pulling-guard plays. Odds right now are that O’Neill’s future will be restricted to six-linemen heavy-running formations as the sixth lineman. Norton, Joseph and Lang are camp bodies who will have to show a lot to stick around.
Locks: Nick Easton;
Likely Safe: Danny Isidora; Tom Compton;
On the Bubble: Colby Gossett; Josh Andrews; Chris Gonzalez;
Analysis: The depth at this position is very worrisome. Easton is a solid player but is coming off a bad injury and Joe Berger’s retirement leaves a gaping hole at right guard. Though there has been talk of moving Remmers to right guard, the Vikings are unlikely to sacrifice their strength at the all-important offensive tackle positions by making a move like that except in cases of mid-season injury. Isidora showed flashes of being a potentially very good player a year ago and could step up to take the job or Compton could prove to be a surprisingly effective pickup just as Berger was some years before. Gossett is a sixth round rookie project, Andrews is an unknown practice squad project from Philadelphia, and Gonzalez is an undrafted free agent project. All three have chances to stick but they will really have to stand out in training camp and pre-season. Chances are higher that this is another position the Vikings will be scanning the waiver wire for at the end of pre-season.
Locks: Pat Elflein;
On the Bubble: Cornelius Edison;
Analysis: Elflein is turning into a huge star for this Vikings team. More than anything else, it was he who solidified the Vikings offensive line last season and the line struggled mightily whenever he missed time. He is recovering from a nasty injury in the NFC Championship Game, but appears to be on track to start this season. However, with the retirement of the versatile Berger, the depth behind Elflein appears to be non-existent. Edison is a holdover from last year whom the Vikings seem to like but can he fill Elflein’s spot adequately if Elflein goes down again? Odds are this is yet another position the Vikings will be scanning the waiver wire for at the end of the pre-season.
Locks: Everson Griffen; Danielle Hunter;
Likely Safe: Brian Robison; Tashawn Bower;
On the Bubble: Stephen Weatherly; Ade Aruna; Ifeadi Odenigbo;
Long Shot: Jonathan Wynn;
Analysis: Griffen and Hunter are bookends on this team and keep offensive coodinators up at night with their scary abilities. Hunter should be in line for a huge payday at some point this year. This is likely Brian Robison’s last season and his solid play and versatility has made him a valuable piece of this defense. Bower came out of nowhere last pre-season to be a force off the edge and seemed to prove it was no fluke during his few snaps in the regular season. Chances are he moves up to be a primary backup this season if he continues to play like he did last year. Weatherly has good wingspan off the edge and has been solid against the run. However he faces a challenge in Odenigbo, a holdover from last year, and rookie sixth round pick Ade Aruna who has many of the same traits as Griffen, Hunter and Bower and could become another force off the edge. If Weatherly holds on to his roster spot, chances are that Aruna and Odenigbo land on the practice squad for this year if they flash during the pre-season. Wynn is an undrafted long shot for a spot but then the same was said about Bower and Odenigbo a year ago, so anything could happen.
Locks: Linval Joseph; Sheldon Richardson;
Likely Safe: Jaleel Johnson; Jalyn Holmes;
On the Bubble: Dylan Bradley;
Long Shot: Curtis Cothran;
Analysis: Joseph is the anchor of the defense and, along with Elflein, probably one of their most indispensable players. Richardson is a nice upgrade over the slowly aging Tom Johnson and might be able to provide the disruption the Vikings defense has lacked in the middle since Sharrif Floyd’s career ended. Jaleel Johnson flashed a lot last pre-season and if he has continued to improve, could become a solid rotational player and backup to Richardson. Losing Shamar Stephen in free agency was a real blow to the Vikings depth on the line and it might be a little much to expect rookie fourth round pick Jalyn Holmes to be Joseph’s top backup and rotational player right away. Holmes has good talent but is still in a developmental stage, especially with his transition from end to tackle going on. Bradley showed enough last year in camp and on the practice squad to be invited back, but will have to really stand out at such a stacked position. Cothran is an undrafted free agent who has massive size and showed enough to be kept over rookie minicamp cut Caushaud Lyons, but he also will need to really stand out to stick.
Locks: Anthony Barr;
Likely Safe: Ben Gedeon;
On the Bubble: Eric Wilson; Hercules Mata’afa; Antwione Williams;
Long Shot: Reshard Cliett; Garret Dooley; Brett Taylor;
Analysis: After ‘coasting’ in 2016, Barr seemed to re-discover his playmaking ways last year, but he will have to continue to play at that level in order to get an extension similar to the one teammate Eric Kendricks got. Gedeon was quiet last year but to be a rookie mid-level draft pick starting on Mike Zimmer’s defense and replacing a Viking legend in Chad Greenway at the same time, it might be an understatement to say he held up well. Eric Wilson surprised many last year by coming in as an undrafted free agent and hanging on to a backup/special teams job. It would be foolish to write him off again. The real wildcard in this group is undrafted rookie Hercules Mata’afa. He was a disruptive force as a defensive tackle in college with a motor reminiscent of John Randle’s. Too small to play on the line, his key to making it in the NFL will be if he successfully transitions to a pass-rushing linebacker role similar to the one filled by players like Bruce Irvin and Vic Beasley. If he can do that, he gives Zimmer another great weapon on defense to group with Barr, Hunter and Griffen in pass-rushing situations. Williams was a practice squad addition last season and obviously showed enough to get a training camp shot at a roster spot. Cliett is a practice squad journeyman and Dooley an undrafted free agent. Both will really need to stand out in order to win a roster spot. Brett Taylor flashed enough in rookie minicamp to be given a training camp shot as well, but like Cliett and Dooley he has an uphill battle ahead of him to stick on the roster.
Locks: Eric Kendricks;
Likely Safe: Kentrell Brothers;
On the Bubble: Devante Downs;
Analysis: Kendricks is a rock in the middle of that defense and well-deserved his contract extension. Brothers has been a solid special teams player and knows the defense well enough to handle the backup job, but he screwed up big time with failing an NFL drug test, which will result in a suspension to open the season. His misfortune will likely open the door for seventh round rookie Devante Downs to win a backup spot for at least the first four weeks of the season. Downs will have to be careful not to bungle the opportunity however, for the Vikings can always scour the waiver wire for help at the end of the pre-season if he doesn’t step up his game.
Locks: Xavier Rhodes; Trae Waynes;
Likely Safe: Mike Hughes; Marcus Sherels;
On the Bubble: Terence Newman; Mackensie Alexander; Holton Hill;
Long Shot: Horace Richardson; Craig James;
Analysis: Rhodes is one of the NFL’s best corners and Waynes has turned into a solid complement to him on the outside. A position whose depth was tested and questionable last season, the drafting of Hughes has begun turning it back into an overpowering strength. Sherels probably sticks because of his great special team play rather than his coverage skills, leaving a precious one to two spots left for Newman, Alexander and Hill to battle out for. Newman has said this is his last season and if he struggles at corner due to age, the Vikings could move him either to safety or to the coaching staff. Alexander hasn’t developed as quickly as the Vikings would like, but then Waynes took time to develop also and Alexander’s play has slowly but surely improved. Hill was a late first round to mid-round prospect who went undrafted due to maturity issues. If Zimmer and the coaching staff can get him to mature and focus on playing corner, the Vikings secondary could turn into a bastion of overpowering strength. Horace Richardson is a practice squad holdover and Craig James is a rookie minicamp pickup who must have flashed enough skills for Zimmer to keep around for training camp. Whatever talents they might have, however, they sadly may just become a victim of the numbers game which will prevent them from having a shot at the roster.
Locks: Harrison Smith;
Likely Safe: Andrew Sendejo;
On the Bubble: Anthony Harris; Jayron Kearse; Tray Matthews;
Long Shot: Jack Tocho; Trevon Mathis;
Analysis: Smith is the leader of the Vikings secondary and one of Zimmer’s favorite and most dangerous weapons. The Vikings have struggled in finding a true complement to him however. Sendejo has hung on to the job for years and has done fairly well but then no real challenge has been made to his starting position to date. For an undrafted rookie, Harris was playing very well last season, especially against the Rams when he had to step up for an injured Sendejo. Kearse has played well on special teams but hasn’t done enough to get Zimmer to trust him with a chance as a strong safety starter. Undrafted rookie Tray Matthews adds an interesting challenger into the mix, though he might really have to wow the coaching staff to beat out Harris or Kearse. Tocho was a draft pick last year but might have to spend another year on the practice squad if he wants to make it, due to the numbers crunch. Mathis, an undrafted free agent converted from cornerback, has a long hill to climb to make the roster due to the numbers game. The wildcard here is if Newman gets moved to safety. Who does he push out if that happens?
Likely Safe: Kevin McDermott; Ryan Quigley;
On the Bubble: Daniel Carlson;
Long Shot: Kai Forbath;
Analysis: There is never a dull moment on the Vikings special teams. Derided as the mere ‘replacement’ for Jeff Locke, the punter Quigley had an unexpectedly excellent season last year in pinning opponents deep in their own territory. McDermott continues to do well at long-snapper but his shoulder injury last year might raise a question or two as to how he will recover and how durable he is which is probably why the team brought in undrafted free agent Nick Dooley to also long-snap during rookie minicamp. Though Dooley’s stint on the roster was short, his presence might have been a reflection of the coaching staff’s worries concerning McDermott’s recovery, though, if that is truly the case, its surprising the Vikings didn’t bring back Jeff Overbaugh who filled in admirably for McDermott while he was injured last year. The kicking game is where the drama will be this year. Forbath has not been an upgrade over the departed Blair Walsh in any department except luck and last year his shoddy performances against the Lions, Rams and Bears as well as his critical miss against the Saints in the playoffs made every Vikings fan and player uneasy. This prompted Spielman and Zimmer to trade up and draft Auburn phenom Daniel Carlson, one of the most automatic kickers in college football. Barring an implosion in the pros by Carlson, his selection should spell the end of Forbath’s time with the Vikings.
Overall Analysis: This is a solidly-built team whose defense is the envy of the NFL. It is probably premature to call them a Super Bowl contender because, until it is seen how new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterback Kirk Cousins perform, the offense remains a big unknown. It will be fun to watch the defensive line and secondary perform because of all the talent they have there and if they can shut down great passers like Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Wilson, Stafford and Garoppolo then they will truly be considered one of the elite defenses in NFL history.
Final Roster Predictions:
QB: Kirk Cousins; Trevor Siemian; Kyle Sloter;
RB: Dalvin Cook; Latavius Murray; Roc Thomas;
FB: C.J. Ham
WR: Stefon Diggs; Adam Thielen; Laquon Treadwell; Stacy Coley; Kendall Wright; Brandon Zylstra;
TE: Kyle Rudolph; David Morgan II; Blake Bell;
OT: Riley Reiff; Mike Remmers; Rashod Hill;
G: Nick Easton; Danny Isidora; Brian O’Neill;
C: Pat Elflein; Tom Compton;
DT: Linval Joseph; Sheldon Richardson; Jaleel Johnson; Jalyn Holmes;
DE: Everson Griffen; Danielle Hunter; Brian Robison; Tashawn Bower; Stephen Weatherly;
OLB: Anthony Barr; Ben Gedeon; Eric Wilson; Hercules Mata’afa;
MLB: Eric Kendricks; Kentrell Brothers (suspended); Devante Downs;
CB: Xavier Rhodes; Trae Waynes; Mike Hughes; Mackensie Alexander; Holton Hill; Marcus Sherels;
SS: Andrew Sendejo; Jayron Kearse;
FS: Harrison Smith; Anthony Harris; Terence Newman;
K: Daniel Carlson;
P: Ryan Quigley;
LS: Kevin McDermott;
Practice Squad: RB Mike Boone; WR Jake Weineke; WR Chad Beebe; TE Tyler Conklin; T Aviante Collins; G Colby Gossett; C Cornelius Edison; DE Ade Aruna; DE Ifeadi Odenigbo; S Tray Matthews;
© 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.