Who will make the Vikings roster?
By: Grant Schwieger
The Minnesota Vikings wrapped up an 0-3 preseason with a 28-25 loss to Kansas City on Friday. While it was still a loss, there were plenty of positives to take away from the game as the team now looks forward to its Week 1 matchup in Cincinnati versus the Bengals. Before they get to that game, however, the team needs to cut its roster down from 80 players to just 53. That means 27 players will have to receive the heartbreaking news and receive the proverbial pink slip. Some will catch on with other teams, via the active roster or practice squad, and some will remain with the Vikings on their practice squad as well. For now, though, I’m going to tackle the difficult task that is predicting who will make the Vikings’ initial 53-man roster. A task so tedious even the Vikings’ play-by-play announcer never nails it (This obviously excludes any potential acquisitions via free agency/waivers/trades although there is a good chance that occurs).
Quarterback (2): Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
Before the third preseason game, this projection would have included Jake Browning as well. However, Browning showed zero ability to operate an NFL offense against a live opponent this preseason, and if the team truly wants to keep him around, they should not have an issue getting him on their practice squad once he clears waivers. Cousins is the starter and Mond played well enough against Kansas City to potentially give Minnesota the confidence to make him the only other QB on the active roster. This is a position the team could look at addressing via another team’s roster cutdown or trade. No matter what, if Cousins misses extended time this year, the season is over.
Running back (5): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu, CJ Ham (fullback)
Dalvin Cook is the starter and will likely get one of the heavier workloads among all NFL RBs if healthy. Mattison is locked in as his backup and Ham will continue to be his lead blocker. There were thoughts that Abdullah’s time in Minnesota might have been up with the draft selection of Nwangwu, but with Nwangwu and Mattison battling injuries and Cook being held out of the preseason, Abdullah has improved his value to the team. He remains a core special teamer and likely makes the roster due to that. There is a chance Nwangwu’s injury lands him on the Injured Reserve to start the year, which would free up a roster spot elsewhere for the time being. AJ Rose Jr also deserves a shoutout for being the team’s battering ram this preseason. Hopefully, he can land himself on the practice squad.
Wide receiver (6): Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dede Westbrook, KJ Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Chad Beebe
The depth was murky behind Jefferson and Thielen heading into camp. Westbrook should make the team even with him being eased back in from an ACL injury, and Osborn likely solidified the Mr. Mankato award and a roster spot. Not all 5th-round picks are locks to make the team, but Smith-Marsette did plenty enough to secure himself a spot as well. If the Vikings decide to go with six WRs, the final one may go to the WR with the most experience left on the roster in Beebe. Dan Chisena looked much better as a WR this year than last and has an argument for a spot over Beebe or if the team decides to keep seven. Due to the poor QB play in the preseason, Whop Philyor and Myron Mitchell were not able to do much to stick out and make much of an impact.
Tight end (3): Irv Smith Jr, Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon
Irv Smith Jr just had surgery on his meniscus that will result in him missing at least a few weeks. Tyler Conklin missed two weeks due to a hamstring injury this preseason. Between Brandon Dillon, Zach Davidson, and Shane Zylstra, none of them have pulled away as a TE3 on this roster. There were discussions about whether the team will bring in another TE, and with Smith’s injury, the chances of that happening have increased drastically. Dillon gets the nod as the third TE due to his familiarity with the team. Davidson and Zylstra could both be practice squad candidates.
Offensive tackle (4): Rashod Hill, Brian O’Neill, Christian Darrisaw, Blake Brandel
Hill and O’Neill are going to be the Week 1 starters at tackle against the Bengals. Darrisaw will make the roster as a first-round pick, but the real question will be about his health. Minnesota would prefer to see Darrisaw on the field sooner rather than later but rushing him back from injury could only make things worse. Brandel should make the team as their swing tackle. The only other tackle on the roster is Zack Bailey and he has not done much to stand out this preseason. If the team decides to cut Brandel, a move for another tackle would likely follow.
Interior offensive line (6): Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Oli Udoh, Dakota Dozier, Mason Cole, Wyatt Davis
The starting interior OL will be Cleveland, Bradbury, and Udoh from left to right. Cole had an awesome preseason as the backup center and Davis’s roster spot is not in danger as a third-round rookie. Davis showed some promise in preseason games one and two before struggling a bit in game three. As for Dozier… just accept it Vikings fans. The team is infatuated with him. They moved him to left guard, where he started 16 games last season, for the third preseason game. This signals that they trust Davis to be the backup right guard and the team likely has seen enough of Dru Samia, who has been injured recently anyways.
Edge defenders (6): Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, DJ Wonnum, Kenny Willekes, Patrick Jones
Which edge rushers make the roster is one of the toughest positions to figure out. Hunter, Griffen, and Wonnum should be considered locks. Weatherly might be starting opposite Hunter, or he could end up as a veteran cut. Either of those scenarios seems possible. I think they keep him around as an experienced vet at the very least. If Minnesota keeps just five edge rushers, Jones, Willekes, Hercules Mata’afa, and Jalyn Holmes have to battle for the last spot. Rookie Janarius Robinson has already been placed on IR or else this decision would be even more difficult. The Vikings have kept 6 edge rushers in years past so let’s assume they do so again. Jones makes it as a mid-round rookie, and Willekes makes it over Mata’afa. Willekes and Mata’afa both had strong preseasons, but this would be Mata’afa’s third season on the team and he has yet to make a huge impact. The unknown of former 7th-round pick in Willekes is appealing and gives him the tiebreaker and a chance to be a rotational player along the defensive line. Holmes has yet to make a positive impact in his three seasons with the team and is all but gone.
Defensive tackles (4): Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, Armon Watts
Pierce, Tomlinson, and Richardson are all locks. Reading those three names as DTs for the Vikings this year should make fans swoon after the atrocity they saw across the defensive interior last year. Watts should make the team as well and has shown enough promise in his first two seasons to keep him rostered. James Lynch has garnered some praise this summer, but he may be the odd man out if Minnesota keeps only 10 total players along the defensive line.
Linebackers (5): Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Nick Vigil, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt
Kendricks, Barr, and Vigil will all make the team without a sweat as the three starters in the Vikings’ base package. Dye has shown some improvements from his rocky rookie season and the team will not give up on him this soon, so he should be a lock as well. The team took Surratt in the third round, which was a reach, but they obviously view him as a future piece of this team. If the team keeps only five LBs, which I expect them to, that leaves Blake Lynch, Ryan Connelly, and Tuf Borland the odd men out. Lynch and Connelly made a few plays this preseason and the team could try and stash them on the practice squad. Borland was always just a camp body. In the event Barr needs to go on IR, however, Lynch might find himself on the roster.
Cornerbacks (6): Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, Mackensie Alexander, Cameron Dantzler, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand
Peterson and Breeland will be the starting outside CBs with Alexander starting in the slot. Even with a less than ideal training camp and preseason, Dantzler will still make the team as well. If the team keeps six CBs, that leaves Boyd, Hand, Tye Smith, and Parry Nickerson left to battle out the last two spots. Boyd has the experience and has played well for most of the preseason, even starting at outside CB in the last two games. Hand has not done that much in camp and this preseason, but his rookie campaign last year was encouraging. The Vikings likely do not want to expose him to the waiver wire. Smith and Nickerson had two of the team’s five highest PFF defensive grades this preseason, so this decision will not be an easy one for Vikings brass. Zimmer will forever love his CBs, so it is easy to envision him pitching to keep seven of them.
Safety (3): Harrison Smith, Xavier Woods, Cam Bynum
Minnesota went into 2020 with only three safeties on their active roster, and 2021 could be no different. Smith just received a lucrative extension and will be starting with Woods. The team liked Bynum enough to draft him in the fourth round and move him from CB to safety. He is not ready to be a full-time safety right now, though, and his competition this offseason has left a lot to be desired as well. Myles Dorn, Josh Metellus, and Luther Kirk have not done much to impress, leaving the Vikings left to once again roster only three safeties. An acquisition for another safety would be no surprise, the team would just have to make a cut elsewhere on the roster to make it happen (I’m sure Harrison Smith still has Andrew Sendejo on speed dial).
Specialists (3): Greg Joseph, Britton Colquitt, Andrew DePaola
Colquitt bounced back from a shaky punting performance against Denver to perform well enough in the next two games to be back as the Vikings’ punter. DePaola has had no issues as a long snapper and has that locked up as well. Then there is Greg Joseph. Minnesota and kickers are like cats and cucumbers, so he already started at a disadvantage. If you don’t know what I mean, just go on YouTube, it will make sense immediately. Joseph seemingly beat out Riley Patterson in camp, who was hurt, came back and kicked seemingly pretty well, and then waived with an injury designation anyways. Joseph has not been terrible, but a few misses on kicks over 50 yards have not necessarily eased Minnesotan’s concerns when it comes to kicking. However, barring a move for another kicker, which is common and would not be a huge surprise, Joseph will be the Vikings’ kicker for the time being.