The 53-man roster the Vikings announced on Saturday evening has something of a transitory feel to it, given how many things figure to change about the group in just the first few weeks of the season. That’s true of NFL rosters in general after the cutdown deadline, given how many players become available for teams to pick up, but it feels especially true of this Vikings roster, where some roster construction quirks could change before too long.
Here are a few thoughts about the roster as it currently stands:
–The Vikings kept 10 defensive backs, sending a conditional 2021 seventh-rounder to the Chiefs for Mark Fields and hanging onto rookie Kris Boyd. They’ll use the depth for now, given the fact Mike Hughes is still only taking part in a couple practice periods at a time, but once Hughes is ready to go, the Vikings could move on from one of those corners and use the roster spot elsewhere. The Vikings’ decision to bring Hughes off the PUP list in the preseason suggests they think he’ll be ready before Week 6.
–In recent years, the Vikings have often kept six wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster. It wasn’t a surprise to see that number come down from six this year, given how much more they want to incorporate tight ends and running backs into their offense, but four receivers on the roster feels like a stretch, especially when two of them (Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson) have played a combined three NFL games. The Vikings could look to add a receiver in a waiver claim on Sunday, or they could try to bring Brandon Zylstra back to the practice squad for the time being. A NFL source said Saturday the Vikings are interested in retaining Zylstra, whom they guaranteed $275,000 before the 2018 season. If they needed another receiver quickly, they could promote Zylstra once they feel good enough about their depth on another part of the roster to open up a spot. It’s also worth noting Aldrick Robinson — who caught five touchdown passes last year and played with Kirk Cousins in a system similar to the Vikings’ current scheme while the two were in Washington — is still a free agent.
–One of the bigger surprises on the initial 53-man roster was tight end Brandon Dillion, the NAIA product who beat out Cole Hikutini for a spot on the initial roster. But perhaps it shouldn’t have come as as much of a shocker as it seemed to be; Dillon’s name was the first one coach Mike Zimmer listed early in camp, when he was asked about players who had stuck out to him in the first few days. Dillon took a nasty hit in the preseason finale against Buffalo that could land him on the Vikings’ initial injury report on Wednesday, but he’s an intriguing pass-catching option.
–The Vikings kept 10 of their 12 draft picks on the roster, cutting only wide receiver Dillon Mitchell and linebacker Cameron Smith, and retained Dillon as their only undrafted free agent (though Fields was an undrafted free agent from Kansas City). They will have 12 rookies on the roster, in a development that should again make them one of the younger teams in the NFL. In addition to those rookies, the Vikings have nine second-year players and six player in their third year, meaning 27 of their 53 players are in their first three seasons.
–Speaking of experience, the Vikings only have 21 vested veterans (players with four or more years in the NFL) on the roster. That’s important because vested veterans have their base salaries guaranteed for the season as long as they’re on a team’s roster for the first game of the season. The Vikings, in other words, retain a fair amount of financial flexibility by stocking their roster with younger players whose base salaries aren’t guaranteed for the season.
–Sixth-year guard Dakota Dozier and fourth-year tackle Rashod Hill could turn out to be two of the more important backups on the roster, given how young the Vikings are along their offensive line. Hill could start the season at right tackle with Brian O’Neill still dealing with a right arm injury, while Dozier is the Vikings’ second-most experienced interior lineman, behind Josh Kline. He’s also seen time at tackle during training camp, and could be called on there in a pinch, especially if the Vikings aren’t ready to put Oli Udoh — their mammoth rookie who made the roster but might need some time — on the field.
–The decision to keep 10 defensive linemen means there could be quite a battle for playing time behind tackles Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen. Former fourth-round picks Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson are listed ahead of Hercules Mata’afa and Armon Watts on the depth chart, though Mata’afa could find his way onto the field in pass-rushing situations. Ifeadi Odenigbo, who made the team in his third try, will join Stephen Weatherly for pass rushing depth at defensive end; Weatherly could move inside on third downs as a pass-rushing option, as well.