Deliberations are ongoing at TCO Performance Center in Eagan as the Vikings prepare for exhibition No. 3 on Friday. Among the decisions to be made are which intriguing reserves will get the most playing time to prove themselves in Friday’s second half and the preseason finale Aug. 30 in Nashville.
Less than 48 hours after the Titans game, the Vikings will have to cut 37 players to form the initial regular season roster. Even more will be waived if general manager Rick Spielman trades for — or acquires from another team’s cuts — let’s say, offensive line help.
So, armed with half the preseason and entire training camp of evaluations, here is the Star Tribune’s first 53-man roster projection for the Vikings.
QB Kirk Cousins, QB Trevor Siemian
Waived: QB Kyle Sloter, QB Peter Pujals
Why: The past two seasons, the Vikings have kept two active quarterbacks and one on the practice squad. Sloter is again a prime practice squad candidate, if he clears waivers, after looking serviceable in two preseason outings to date. The Vikings should want to see better practices from Sloter before using a third roster spot on the quarterback.
Running backs/fullback (4)
RB Dalvin Cook, RB Latavius Murray, FB C.J. Ham and RB Roc Thomas
Waived: RB Mack Brown, RB Mike Boone, FB Johnny Stanton
Why: Perhaps the roster’s most difficult decision will be made at running back, where Roc Thomas and Mike Boone have proven worthy of roster spots in two exhibitions. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings go with either Brown, Thomas or Boone. But Thomas’ upside, especially as an elusive athlete in the open field, should intrigue John DeFilippo too much to let him go. Thomas has also shown improvement in pass protection, where Boone has struggled despite a hard running style that impressed against the Jaguars. However… Boone has proven the most durable this summer, with both Thomas and Brown nursing injuries. So, we’ll see. At fullback, Ham is very versatile and the group’s best pass protector next to Murray.
WR Adam Thielen, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Laquon Treadwell, WR Kendall Wright, WR Stacy Coley and WR Brandon Zylstra
Waived: WR Tavarres King, WR Korey Robertson, WR Chad Beebe, WR Jake Wieneke and WR Jeff Badet
Suspended: WR Cayleb Jones
Why: The receiver battle hasn’t been as competitive as the Vikings expected, especially since the decision on the top bubble player — Cayleb Jones — is postponed four weeks due to his suspension for PEDs. Zylstra and Coley have battled injuries, but neither King nor Robertson have made strong pushes for their spots. When they’re healthy, both Zylstra and Coley are expected to contribute a lot on special teams. Coley has been perhaps the most disappointing due to a trio of offseason injuries, including the latest leg injury that has kept him out of the preseason. Still, the Vikings liked how he looked in the spring entering Year 2. Treadwell earned the No. 3 spot in practices over Wright.
Tight ends (4)
TE Kyle Rudolph, TE David Morgan, TE Blake Bell and TE Tyler Conklin
Waived: TE Tyler Hoppes
Why: Reserve Josiah Price is headed for I.R. after suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice last week. Conklin’s upside as a receiving threat gives the rookie an edge. Bell, the veteran blocking tight end, should warrant consideration as a special teams contributor even though he’s nursing an injury now. Besides, blocking tight ends become even more valuable when an offense has line issues.
Offensive linemen (9)
LT Riley Reiff, LG Tom Compton, C Pat Elflein, RG Mike Remmers, RT Rashod Hill, OT Brian O’Neill, OT Aviante Collins, G Danny Isidora and C Cornelius Edison
Waived: G Colby Gossett, C J.P. Quinn, OT Storm Norton, OT Dieugot Joseph, C/G Josh Andrews, G Kaleb Johnson
Why: Reserve guard Cedrick Lang is headed for I.R. after suffering a season-ending leg injury on Saturday. Nick Easton’s season-ending neck injury opens the door for Edison, who has started at center since Easton went down in training camp. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings scan the waiver wire for other additions and/or make a trade for interior line depth.
Defensive linemen (9)
DE Everson Griffen, DE Danielle Hunter, DE Brian Robison, DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Tashawn Bower, NT Linval Joseph, DT Sheldon Richardson, DT Jaleel Johnson, DT Jalyn Holmes
Waived: DL Ifeadi Odenigbo, NT David Parry, DE Ade Aruna, DT Curtis Cothran, DE Jonathan Wynn
Why: The second-year Odenigbo made a strong case with his splash plays against Jaguars tackle Josh Wells, but the Vikings have a logjam at defensive end — where Odenigbo starred Saturday when Minnesota found itself down three ends (Griffen/Bower didn’t play and Aruna was injured). He’s added weight and moved inside, where the Vikings need reserve help. The rookie Holmes has shown promise as an interior pass rusher and pairs well as a backup with Johnson, who has been strong against the run this preseason.
OLB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Ben Gedeon, OLB Eric Wilson, OLB Reshard Cliett and OLB Antwione Williams
Suspended: LB Kentrell Brothers
Waived: LB Devante Downs, LB Garret Dooley, OLB Mike Needham, OLB Brett Taylor
Why: Cliett and Williams have separated themselves from the pack as sure tacklers heavily involved on special teams this preseason. Wilson, the undrafted Cincinnati product, has made a big improvement in Year 2 and could even be involved in a defensive subpackage this season. Downs, the seventh-round pick from Cal, is likely a priority addition to the practice squad.
Defensive backs (10)
CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Terence Newman, CB Mike Hughes, CB Marcus Sherels, S Harrison Smith, S Andrew Sendejo, S Anthony Harris and S Jayron Kearse
Waived: CB Holton Hill, CB Horace Richardson, CB Trevon Mathis, CB Craig James, S Jack Tocho, S Tray Matthews
Why: Hill, the pricey and talented undrafted addition, hasn’t shown enough to warrant a roster spot over the six corners listed. He’ll likely be a priority for the practice squad. Richardson has gotten reps over Hill in practice but could be headed for the practice squad in a second straight season. Sherels, in his ninth NFL season, should survive cuts again as the sure-handed punt returner while the Vikings work on ball security with Hughes, the first-round rookie who is the expected kick returner.
K Daniel Carlson, P Ryan Quigley, LS Kevin McDermott
Waived: K Kai Forbath
Why: Mike Zimmer spoke highly of Carlson after his NFL debut in Denver, which included six converted kicks (two field goals, four extra points) followed by another extra point against the Jaguars. Meanwhile Forbath, who has nearly kept pace in practices, missed a 41-yard field goal Saturday off the right post.