When the Vikings first discuss their 53-man roster on Monday, they’ll likely echo the aphorisms offered by some NFL decision-makers who talked with reporters on Saturday: that rosters, even after they’re trimmed for the start of the regular season, are never set in stone.
The group of 53 the Vikings put together on Saturday, following a series of 22 cuts before a 3 p.m. deadline, seems almost certain to change: They kept seven receivers, a year after putting just four on the initial 53, and retained 11 defensive linemen. By contrast, the only two safeties on the Vikings’ roster are Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, who figure to be backed up by an acquisition in the coming days.
But this iteration of the roster, assembled at the end of the team’s 60th training camp, will be worth at least a historical footnote before its inevitable modification.
The Vikings stuck largely with known commodities on Saturday, making center Brett Jones the only vested veteran they released while letting go of 13 rookies and six second-year players. They placed linebacker Ben Gedeon, who had two concussions last season and did not practice during training camp, on the physically-unable-to-perform list to start the season.
They will head into the season with 10 rookies: nine of their 15 picks from a class that was larger than any in the draft’s modern era, and wide receiver Dan Chisena, an undrafted free agent whom the Vikings had shifted to defensive back for three days in camp. Seventh-round pick Kenny Willekes remains in the organization, but is on injured reserve after suffering a leg injury during the team’s Aug. 28 practice at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Several of the other 2020 draft picks the Vikings released could end up on their jumbo-sized practice squad after clearing waivers on Sunday, as the team assembles a group the NFL allowed to reach 16 players this year because of concerns the coronavirus could disrupt rosters. The lack of a preseason meant other teams had no chance to evaluate game film of Vikings rookies, which could give the team an easier path to get its own players back onto its practice squad.
It also means Vikings scouts were unable to evaluate rookies from other teams in the preseason, and will be left with their pre-draft notes on players they might pursue. The bizarre circumstances could create more jobs for veteran players who represent something of a known commodity and might theoretically pick up a new scheme quicker than a rookie could.
Safety might be the spot where the Vikings — who start the season 25th in the NFL’s waiver claim process because of their trip to the NFC divisional playoffs last year — first look to add depth, after releasing safety Steven Parker and draft pick Josh Metellus on Saturday. Smith and Harris are among the NFL’s top safety duos, but an injury to either one would leave the Vikings in a difficult spot given the youth of their cornerback group.
On offense, their group of receivers stood out in part because of how infrequently they used three-receiver sets last season (though indications in training camp were offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak might spread things out a little more this year). Coach Mike Zimmer praised second-year man Bisi Johnson for his improvement last week, and Johnson could start opposite Adam Thielen when the Vikings have two receivers on the field.
But first-rounder Justin Jefferson could see plenty of time in the slot, and fifth-rounder K.J. Osborn figures to be the Vikings’ return man after playing there in training camp. The Vikings decided to give Chad Beebe another chance to stay healthy, and hung onto Chisena while cutting training camp standout Alexander Hollins (who could wind up on the practice squad Sunday).
The team’s stockpile of defensive linemen comes as the Vikings try to make up for the loss of nose tackle Michael Pierce, who opted out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns. The Vikings will also have to divulge the status of Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter when they issue their first injury report on Wednesday, after going to great lengths to conceal a training camp injury that Zimmer would only describe as a “tweak” to the fastest player in NFL history ever to reach 50 sacks.