The little white strips of rookie camp will be removed from helmets, marking an equally small step in the long road for many hopeful players trying to make the Vikings’ Week 1 roster or practice squad. They will get a name on a practice jersey and a job, for now.
Once the offseason picks up speed and meaning with the May 21 opening to Organized Team Activities (NFL lingo for the first full-team practices), Vikings coaches will get just over a dozen practices to better evaluate the 90-man roster ahead of defining moments in training camp and the preseason. That’s when jobs will be won and lost.
So let’s take stock of where things will begin, following the final flurry of roster building that saw the Vikings draft 12 players, sign another 10 college free agents and add three players who auditioned during last weekend’s rookie minicamp. Below is a post-draft look at the Vikings depth chart, which features many obvious starters but competitions likely to change the second and third tiers (+ connotes a player rehabbing from an injury and/or unable to participate in last week’s rookie session open to reporters).
Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter, Jake Browning
Analysis: The competition is real behind Kirk Cousins. The Vikings guaranteed more to undrafted Washington quarterback Jake Browning ($140,000) than free-agent addition Sean Mannion ($90,000), who was the only veteran signing after last year’s backup, Trevor Siemian, left in free agency. Kyle Sloter can also push for one of possibly three roster spots.
Running backs (7)
RB: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas
FB: C.J. Ham, Khari Blasingame
Analysis: Alexander Mattison, a third-round pick, is the Vikings’ answer to losing Latavius Murray in free agency. Mattison carried a heavy load at Boise State and should be the assumed No. 2 back behind Dalvin Cook, who has played just 15 games in two seasons. Ameer Abdullah, the former Detroit Lion, can be an immediate contributor on special teams, where the Vikings need a new kick and punt returner. Minnesota did keep five running backs last year, leaving one spot for Boone or Thomas if they do so again.
Tight ends (6)
Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., David Morgan, Tyler Conklin, Cole Hikutini, Brandon Dillon
Analysis: What does the future hold for Kyle Rudolph? It’s one of the most intriguing questions lingering over this Vikings team. The second-longest tenured player has seen the organization draft tight ends in five straight offseasons, peaking with second-round pick Irv Smith Jr. most recently. Smith Jr. should make an immediate impact, but will it be with Rudolph on the field as well? David Morgan will likely maintain a run-heavy role. Do they keep four tight ends with Conklin?
Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra, Jordan Taylor, Jeff Badet (+), Olabisi Johnson, Dillon Mitchell, Davion Davis, Alexander Hollins
Analysis: Competition should be wide open behind the Vikings’ star duo. Laquon Treadwell, whose fifth-year option was recently declined, will likely be competing with undrafted receivers in Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra for playing time. Five new faces were added to the mix, including two seventh-round picks and 6-foot-5 target Jordan Taylor, who underwent surgery on both hips last year. Taylor also returned punts during his time with the Broncos, making him a candidate for that job.
Riley Reiff, Brian O’Neill, Rashod Hill, Oli Udoh, Storm Norton
Analysis: The Vikings are keeping Riley Reiff at tackle, presumably on the left side where he played poorly while battling a foot injury last season. Brian O’Neill needs to build off a promising rookie season. Rashod Hill, the swing man, was given $2 million to stay as depth. The Vikings also added sixth-round project Oli Udoh, who may need a year on the practice squad to become a contender. Aviante Collins can also play tackle.
Pat Elflein, Josh Kline, Dru Samia, Aviante Collins, Dakota Dozier, Danny Isidora
Analysis: Pat Elflein may be headed to left guard, where the Vikings’ lone opening remains after adding center Garrett Bradbury with the 18th-overall pick. Bradbury played center almost exclusively during one rookie camp session open to reporters, but the Vikings have plenty of time to change that. Josh Kline, the former Titan and Patriot, got $7.25 million guaranteed to plug in at right guard. Fourth-round guard Dru Samia could be his backup. Samia’s primary competition may be Aviante Collins, who can play four positions. Danny Isidora, three starts in two NFL seasons, has to prove himself this summer.
Garrett Bradbury, Brett Jones, Cornelius Edison, John Keenoy
Analysis: Bradbury may soon become the unquestioned man at center, but the Vikings have remained coy about his starting job. Brett Jones was a late depth addition in free agency, but Elflein is likely the backup center in the event one is needed next season.
Defensive ends (10)
Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, Tashawn Bower (+), Ade Aruna, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Karter Schult, Hercules Mata’afa, Anree Saint-Amour, Stacy Keely
Analysis: Everson Griffen agreed to a $3 million pay cut to return to the Vikings for a 10th season. In March, about six months after two police incidents led to his five-game absence and mental health treatment, Griffen said he was focused on becoming “a better man, which in return will make me a better player.” The Vikings largely kept status quo at end, indicating they expect Griffen to return to his old self on the football field. Stephen Weatherly took a big step last season and can handle more playing time. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him sign a long-term extension ahead of his contract year. Tashawn Bower sported a walking boot on his left ankle during the start of the Vikings’ offseason program in April.
Defensive tackles (7)
Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Armon Watts, Curtis Cothran, Tito Odenigbo
Analysis: Shamar Stephen, a 2014 seventh-round pick by the Vikings, returns to what seems to be a starting role alongside Linval Joseph. Perhaps Mike Zimmer has some tricks up his sleeve for how he’ll create interior pressure after Sheldon Richardson said adios in free agency and the Vikings didn’t sign or draft a pass-rushing tackle. Competition will be telling between Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes and sixth-round pick Armon Watts for rotational snaps. Holmes also got snaps at defensive end last season, and could be an option there.
Weak-side linebacker (3)
Eric Wilson, Ben Gedeon, Reshard Cliett
Analysis: The Vikings school linebackers on all three positions in the defense, but third-year Eric Wilson is the one they tabbed for four starts last season when injuries limited Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Ben Gedeon is the primary weak-side linebacker on running downs, but in a passing league it’s Wilson who can make an impact.
Middle linebacker (4)
Eric Kendricks, Cameron Smith, Kentrell Brothers, Devante Downs
Analysis: The room is getting crowded for former fifth-round pick Kentrell Brothers, entering his fourth and final season under contract for the Vikings. Cameron Smith’s addition in the fifth round is a sign new competition is wanted behind Kendricks in the middle. Gedeon can also be a backup here.
Strong-side linebacker (3)
Anthony Barr, Eric Wilson, Greer Martini
Analysis: Wilson was tabbed for three starts here when Anthony Barr was held out because of a hamstring injury. He’ll likely be the primary backup again.
Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes (+), Holton Hill (suspended), Kris Boyd, Duke Thomas, Nate Meadors
Analysis: The Vikings’ logjam at cornerback isn’t so dense when considering Mike Hughes’ ongoing recovery from knee surgery and Holton Hill’s four-game suspension for PEDs. The Vikings added five new cornerbacks to compete for depth and special teams reps, including seventh-round pick Kris Boyd from Texas.
Nickel (slot cornerback)
Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes (+), Craig James, Terrance Alexander
Analysis: Two of the Vikings’ tryout signings, Isaiah Wharton and Terrance Alexander, are capable of defending the slot, where Hughes’ absence will be felt the most this summer. Alexander is the lead man entering his contract season (until Hughes returns), but there will be plenty of reps available while Hughes is sidelined. Don’t be surprised to see safety Jayron Kearse still get reps in the hybrid slot defender role he played last season.
Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Marcus Epps, Derron Smith, Micah Abernathy, Isaiah Wharton
Analysis: The Vikings let Andrew Sendejo walk in free agency after declining his $5.5 million option. That leaves the runway relatively clear for last year’s breakout safety, Anthony Harris, to continue starting alongside Harrison Smith. The Vikings gave Harris a second-round tender (worth $3 million) in restricted free agency, showing how highly he’s thought of within the organization. Sixth-round safety Marcus Epps won’t have much established competition. He’s one of four new faces in the seven-man safety group. Epps still needs to prove himself on special teams.
Analysis: Bailey missed a career-high seven field goals after signing with the Vikings in Week 3. He was re-signed to a one-year, $1 million deal after first-year special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf did homework on the draft’s kickers and met with a handful at the scouting combine. The Vikings summoned two kickers to team headquarters for tryouts last weekend, but neither were signed.
Analysis: If Mike Zimmer was most vocal about one aspect of the Vikings’ lowly field goal operation last season, it was openly wondering whether he should change holders. Wile’s late-summer addition to the roster (a waiver claim after post-preseason cuts) probably didn’t help him get a grip right away. A full offseason could help Wile as a holder and punter, or the Vikings may look for a new holder within the roster.
Long snappers (2)
Analysis: Three years after Kevin McDermott signed a four-year extension, the Vikings drafted Austin Cutting with the 250th-overall pick. Long snappers don’t get drafted often, proving the Vikings’ desire to get a new snapper in the mix. According to Cutting, the Vikings and officials from the Air Force Academy are in discussions seeking a solution for Cutting to fulfill his NFL and military obligations at the same time. He said he plans to attend OTAs starting May 21.