The moves a NFL team makes to improve its roster during the course of a season often don’t grab major headlines. Nonetheless, they’re an important indicator of a team’s health, if injuries or ineffective performances send front offices to the waiver wire each week to churn the bottom of the roster in search of a piece that might make even a marginal difference.
The 2016 Vikings, beset by injuries to their offensive line and in search of a chance to save their fleeting playoff hopes, turned over their roster throughout the season, After their opening day win over the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 11 last year, the Vikings made 12 moves to their 53-man roster during the regular season, making 16 more to their practice squad while placing eight players on injured reserve.
Last year, the Vikings had to find everything from a new starting left tackle (Jake Long) to a new kicker (Kai Forbath) off the street last season, adding running back depth after Adrian Peterson’s torn meniscus and shuttling through reserves on the practice squad as they looked for help to keep their season afloat.
This year, the Vikings have mostly been blessed with good health; their 49 games lost to injury through Week 11 were the fourth-fewest in the NFL, according to Man-Games Lost (a site that tracks the health of every team in the league). And while the Vikings’ two exceptions to their tranquil state of health are big ones — running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Sam Bradford — they’ve weathered the loss of those key performers with impressive depth and surprising performances from players like quarterback Case Keenum.
All told, the Vikings have made only five moves to their 53-man roster since the start of the regular season: signing Kyle Sloter off the practice squad after Bradford’s Week 1 injury, briefly adding running back Stevan Ridley after Cook tore his ACL, activating Michael Floyd following his suspension, claiming running back Mack Brown off waivers from Washington and bringing Teddy Bridgewater off the physically-unable-to-perform list. Brown and Ridley are the only players to join the Vikings’ 53-man roster from outside the organization since the start of the regular season; Ridley was released to make room for Floyd four days after he signed with the team, and Brown hasn’t been active for a game yet. And the Vikings have made only five moves affecting their practice squad since the start of the regular season.
The reasons they’ve surged to 9-2 after losing Bradford and Cook are well documented: Keenum is having the best year of his career in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s system, and the Vikings have fashioned the league’s sixth-best running game with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon after the loss of Cook. But the Vikings have also received key contributions from second-year players that comprised one of the NFL’s least-productive rookie classes a year ago.
Tight end David Morgan, a sixth-round pick a year ago, has played 254 snaps this season, becoming an important piece of the offense as a blocking tight end and catching his first NFL touchdown pass in a Nov. 12 win over the Redskins. C.J. Ham, an undrafted free agent pickup in 2016, has logged 131 snaps, scoring a touchdown and catching three passes for 35 yards.
Former seventh-rounder Stephen Weatherly has started to see playing time at defensive end, and second-rounder Mackensie Alexander has played 255 snaps while rotating with Terence Newman at nickel corner. And while former first-rounder Laquon Treadwell still has modest numbers (14 catches on 25 targets for 152 yards), he’s given the Vikings 374 snaps after seeing just 80 last year.
With five games left in the regular season, the Vikings will keep turning over rocks in search of players who might give them a boost come playoff time. But they are where they are in part because of the fact that, to this point in the season, they haven’t had to search far for the players who can help them win.