Ranking Vikings Rookies by Chance of Playing in 2018

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Linebacker Hercules Mata'afa catches the ball during drills at the Minnesota Vikings Rookie Camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan on Friday, May 4, 2018. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
Linebacker Hercules Mata'afa catches the ball during drills at the Minnesota Vikings Rookie Camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan on Friday, May 4, 2018. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

At this moment, without the benefit of training camp or preseason games and going primarily on reputation and roster fit, there are 16 rookies who I feel have a good chance of making the final roster. Obviously, not all 16 will make it. But these 16 have college production, athletic traits and/or a Vikings endorsement on their side to make me believe they will get a serious look.

I have arranged their likely roles into three tiers: Day One Starters, Rotational Players and Roster Depth.

Tier One: Day One Starter

Pretty self-explanatory. These are players who have a legitimate shot to be listed first on the depth chart somewhere.

One of two position players, and almost certainly not both, has a chance to start in the first week. Those two are Colby Gossett and Brian O’Neill, the two offensive line draft picks. Offensive line is the only position group on the entire roster without penciled-in starters. As such, no other rookie besides these two have much of a chance to break that barrier. Assuming Nick Easton keeps his starting job after returning from injury, O’Neill and Gossett will be in competition with Danny Isidora and Tom Compton for the last spot.

As for specialists, rookie kicker Daniel Carlson should win the job over Kai Forbath, so he can be viewed as a starter, as well. That one is perhaps not necessarily a lock, as drafted kickers have recently flunked out earlier than expected. The latest and most notorious example is Roberto Aguayo. Still, even those kickers who turn out to be busts typically have the job out of camp, so Carlson is a safe bet.

Tier Two: Rotational Player

These players may not be starters, but could see the field regularly within the typical gameplan.

Tyler Conklin was supposedly catching everything in rookie minicamp. It would appear he is a favorite to take on secondary receiving duties alongside Kyle Rudolph, while David Morgan will continue his role as an extra blocker. Roc Thomas and Mike Boone seem to be the frontrunners to take on the third back spot vacated by Jerick McKinnon. Mack Brown is in the running, as well. It is unlikely both Thomas and Boone make the final cut. But both have good explosion and playmaking ability to fulfill the change-of-pace role.

On defense, Mike Hughes will almost certainly get snaps both as a nickel and a safety hybrid. Hughes was the Vikings’ first pick in 2018. Though Mike Zimmer often brings defensive backs along slowly, Hughes’ coverage abilities and physicality should see him on the field early and often. And that is not even mentioning his potential as a return man. As for Jalyn Holmes, he is currently looking at the fourth defensive tackle spot. It will be a transition for Holmes, as he played mostly end at Ohio State. However, he has good length and interior pass rush upside, so with some seasoning, he should see some third down snaps later in the season.

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Tier Three: Roster Depth

These players could see non-special teams snaps if players go down with injury. All of them are candidates to make the roster as special teamers or to fill out the 53.

Holton Hill and Hercules Mata’afa were the Vikings’ big gets in undrafted free agency. Both are intriguing prospects, as either could easily have been drafted without any dissension from the fanbase. Hill has the chance to see the field on defense quite a bit, given his size and athleticism. But at the very least, he could become a special teams ace. Same goes for Tray Matthews, who could become a solid safety but for now, has the mentality to be excellent in kick coverage. Mata’afa is a different story. Initially, Rick Spielman said they wanted to try Mata’afa at linebacker to take advantage of his pass rushing. However, he is currently listed as a defensive end on the official roster. He was tremendously productive in college, but he may be too small and slow to be a consistent threat on the edge. Time will tell.

Ade Aruna and Devante Downs were both day three selections. Aruna has a great shot at making the roster purely because of his combination of size and athleticism. With polish, he could become a rotational player sooner than some think. As for Downs, he may make the roster initially to provide depth in the wake of Kentrell Brothers’ suspension. Beyond that, special teams are likely in his immediate future.

The receivers will be a position to watch in the preseason. Jake Wieneke was one of the more productive receivers in college football four years running. He has size and route running, but limited athletic ability and hands that are not quite as natural as one would like. Still, he has red zone value and could earn a spot as the sixth receiver simply because of the Adam Thielen factor. Like Thielen, Wieneke is an undrafted, small school receiver from Minnesota.

Jeff Badet also brings some eyes, not so much for his receiving upside but because of his blinding speed. Badet ran a 4.27 40 at his pro day. At the very least, he has a shot as a gunner and/or return man. Tight end Tyler Hoppes has longer odds, since he would have to beat out Blake Bell, draft pick Tyler Conklin and fan favorite David Morgan. Still, Hoppes has an outside chance as a blocker on kick returns and field goals.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Full Press Coverage NFC North. Like and

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