The Vikings cleared five roster spots on Wednesday, taking the first steps toward Saturday’s deadline for all NFL teams to reach an initial 53-man roster for the regular season.
With the roster at 75 players, the Vikings’ front office needs to clear 22 additional spots; 16 players can return to an expanded practice squad for this season.
There are many backup decisions to make, and that’s where the difficulty lies in projecting this Vikings roster. Keep in mind, as players around the league become available on waivers this weekend, new players can be introduced to the roster.
Below is the Star Tribune’s one and only 53-man roster projection.
QB Kirk Cousins, QB Sean Mannion
Released: QB Jake Browning, QB Nate Stanley
The Vikings kept two quarterbacks last season, and with the same pecking order in 2020, there could be a repeat. Second-year quarterback Jake Browning stayed busy this offseason, mixing in with the second-team offense, but that came with no preseason games and the team having an established backup in Sean Mannion.
Running backs/fullback (4)
RB Dalvin Cook, RB Alexander Mattison, FB C.J. Ham, RB Mike Boone
Released: RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Tony Brooks-James, FB Jake Bargas
Abdullah’s role as kick returner could be usurped by rookie receiver K.J. Osborn, so will his roster spot? The Vikings could make the difficult call in cutting Abdullah, who is eligible for the practice squad under 2020 rules, for upside elsewhere.
WR Adam Thielen, WR Olabisi Johnson, WR Justin Jefferson, WR Tajae Sharpe, WR Chad Beebe, WR K.J. Osborn
Released: WR Alexander Hollins, WR Quartney Davis and WR Dillon Mitchell
Many factors here, and six receivers might be one too many. Second-year receiver Alexander Hollins (Eastern Illinois) had a strong camp with the second-team offense, and has been involved on special teams. Is that enough? Coordinator Gary Kubiak speaks highly of Chad Beebe’s upside as an NFL slot receiver, and Kubiak tinkered with four-wide sets in camp with Beebe and Jefferson working inside. The projection here is the Vikings keep Beebe entering Year 3, and hope to get Hollins onto the practice squad for Year 2. Rookie K.J. Osborn has taken the lion’s share of punt returner reps, and has mixed in as kick returner. Even Sharpe, the ex-Titans receiver, could get cut if the upside of another player — even at a different position — entices the front office.
Tight ends (4)
TE Kyle Rudolph, TE Irv Smith Jr., TE Tyler Conklin, TE Brandon Dillon
Released: TE Nakia Griffin-Stewart
Tight ends will maintain prominent roles in Kubiak’s offense, and a solid trio in Rudolph, Smith Jr. and Conklin doesn’t mean Dillon is on the outside looking in. General manager Rick Spielman liked Dillon enough to keep him as a fourth tight end last year, over a fifth receiver in Brandon Zylstra. The guess is Dillon stays again as the Vikings diversify personnel to keep options open on offense.
Offensive linemen (10)
LT Riley Reiff, LG Dakota Dozier, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Pat Elflein, RT Brian O’Neill, OT Rashod Hill, G/OT Aviante Collins, OT Oli Udoh, C Brett Jones and G/OT Ezra Cleveland
Released: G Dru Samia, G Kyle Hinton, C Jake Lacina, OT Blake Brandel
Versatility is a key part of offensive line decisions, and veteran Aviante Collins’ ability to play guard and tackle means he gets the nod over second-year guard Dru Samia in this projection. Samia has worked as a second-team right guard throughout much of camp, but Cleveland’s upside and move to guard could nudge Samia to the practice squad.
Defensive linemen (10)
DE Danielle Hunter, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Shamar Stephen, DT Jaleel Johnson, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Armon Watts, DE Jalyn Holmes, DT Hercules Mata’afa, DE D.J. Wonnum and DT James Lynch
Released: DE Anthony Zettel, DE Eddie Yarbrough, DT David Moa, DE Stacy Keely
Injured reserve: DE Kenny Willekes
Youth and potential are again themes in some of these defensive line decisions, with the Vikings keeping rookies Wonnum and Lynch over a veteran in Yarbrough or Zettel. The addition of Ngakoue shook up the defensive end depth chart, which was needed as Danielle Hunter has been out since Aug. 16 due to an undisclosed injury and the depth, or lake thereof, was exposed.
LB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Eric Wilson and LB Troy Dye
Released: LB Hardy Nickerson, LB Jordan Fehr, LB Blake Lynch and LB David Reese II
PUP: Ben Gedeon
Will the waiver wire produce a fifth linebacker? The Vikings keep four in this projection, as Ben Gedeon has been unable to gain medical clearance to return from two concussions last season, and the Vikings cycled through depth in August. Gedeon could be moved to the reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list by Saturday, forcing him to miss at least six games.
Defensive backs (10)
S Harrison Smith, S Anthony Harris, S Steven Parker, S Nate Meadors, CB Mike Hughes, CB Holton Hill, CB Jeff Gladney, CB Cameron Dantzler, CB Kris Boyd and CB Mark Fields
Released: CB Nevelle Clarke, CB Harrison Hand, S Josh Metellus, S Myles Dorn, S Dan Chisena
Two draft picks get cut here, but that’s what happens from a 15-man draft class. Ex-Dolphins safety Steven Parker has taken over as the primary backup safety, while converted cornerback Nate Meadors works alongside him with the second team. But keep an eye on safety, where the Vikings have worked out veteran options while seemingly unhappy with the depth there. Clarke, Hand and Metellus are prime practice squad candidates, as the final corner spots here go to Boyd (top gunner on special teams) and Fields, who is the team’s No. 3 slot option.
K Dan Bailey, P Britton Colquitt, LS Austin Cutting
The Vikings return last year’s fourth-ranked field goal team, and are fortunate to have stability at both kicker and punter through the pandemic-shortened offseason.