The Vikings’ roster is loaded. There are stars past, present and future at virtually every position. Rick Spielman established himself as one of the preeminent team-builders in the league with his assembly of talent in Minnesota. However, as always, he will also spend much of the preseason evaluating the outskirts of the roster, finding the fringe contributors, the rotation players who impact a small percentage of the game. And fortunately for the Vikings, that is virtually all they need to assess in the preseason. They have their starters in far more positions than not.
That being said, let us take a look at those positions that will require some intra-squad competition.
Honorable Mention: Kicker
Daniel Carlson better win; Spielman traded up in the fifth round to draft him, after all. But a Roberto Aguayo situation is always possible and Kai Forbath has made (and missed) some big kicks for the Vikings.
5. Defensive Tackle
Two weeks ago, there was not much of a battle here. Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson were the starters, Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes the reserves who would likely make the roster out of camp. But with the signing of David Parry, the situation is a bit more muddied.
Parry was a productive nose in Indianapolis but missed most of last season with a knee injury. However, if he is healthy, Parry could provide a a solid spell at nose for Joseph. Johnson and Holmes, on the other hand, are more projects than immediate producers. At this moment, any combination of the three making the roster is a possibility. Holmes has the most versatility, Johnson the longest tenure, Parry the strongest history.
4. Running Back
Again, the top-two is not up for debate at this point in time. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray are the duo and should get 90 percent of the touches. But as we saw with Jerick McKinnon last year, a change of pace back who can also step into a larger role if need be has become a big part of NFL offense.
The Vikings have three candidates at the moment to win this job. Two are rookies, Roc Thomas out of Jacksonville State and Mike Boone from Cincinnati. The third is Mack Brown, who appeared in one game for Minnesota last season but did not touch the ball. It is anyone’s guess which direction they go; the rookies bring the excitement of the unknown but Brown has an NFL touchdown. It may end up coming down to who is the best at catching the ball out of the backfield.
3. Wide Receiver
As stated before, the Vikings are loaded at the top at virtually every position. Once again, their starting two at a position are not only locked in, they are superstars. Minnesota has possibly the best one-two receiver punch in football with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The question is who else can become a weapon for Kirk Cousins.
As far as third receiver goes, the leader in the clubhouse is Kendall Wright. He has multiple years of production in the league and fits the prototypical slot receiver mold. But Laquon Treadwell will continue to draw eyes because of his pedigree. He was the first round pick meant to be what Thielen has become. He is the talent with a disappointing 21 catches in his first two years. And most of all, he is the one whose Vikings career could be on the line in 2018.
Outside of these two, other names to watch are 2018 signee Tavarres King, second-year speedster Stacy Coley and the collection of undrafted free agents. Those include second-year Brandon Zylstra and rookies Jeff Badet, Korey Robertson, Chad Beebe and Jake Wieneke.
Same song, fourth verse. Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes will man the outside on virtually every snap. The nickel and dime packages are where the questions lie. It is a tale of balancing ends of the spectrum in the cornerback room; extreme youth and extreme age fighting for playing time.
First round pick Mike Hughes has about as little experience as one can have while competing for a spot in an elite defensive rotation. He had only one season as a starter in college, yet still could see significant playing time. Mike Zimmer has suggested a safety-slot corner hybrid role to take advantage of Hughes’ physicality.
And then there are the returning guys. Third year Mackensie Alexander took some steps last year, enough where fans scratched their head when the Vikings brought back soon-to-be-40 Terence Newman for one more season. Most figured the spot would be split between Hughes and Alexander. Instead, Newman adds the wrinkle of being both a Zimmer mainstay and a consistently productive player. Undrafted rookie Holton Hill could be another wrinkle. He has the talent to see the field as a rookie, but off the field issues held him back in college. While he is a favorite to make the roster, time will tell if he can crack the rotation.
All three guys’ spots on the 53 seem safe. But training camp should provide a couple extra answers: Will Zimmer bring Hughes along slowly like he often does with young corners or will he find a spot for him right away? Is there confidence in Alexander to become the guy at nickel? Will age ever catch up to Newman and make him just a glorified coach?
1. Offensive Line
The biggest need, the most earnest questions and the position went surprisingly unaddressed this offseason. Spielman did not ignore the line, per se. Rather, he did not prioritize it the way fans have. So now it is the only position group without clear penciled-in starters. As such, this battle will be on the forefront of just about everyone’s minds as camp progresses.
Three players, Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein, are locks to start. Nick Easton is a returning starter, so he is also a safe bet. After that, there is a host of names that could realistically grab the final spot. The two rookies, Colby Gossett and Brian O’Neill, are in play. Cousins’ best friend Tom Compton could be the guy. Rashod Hill and Danny Isidora, each of whom have NFL starts, are also on the short list.
This position has been the thorn in the Vikings’ side for a number of years. And Spielman has done a nice job improving on it. Four clear starters heading into camp is a lot better than a year ago when he had to completely revamp the group. But there are still questions that camp will have to answer.
- Fall from Grace for the Once-Proud Minnesota Vikings Defense
- Vikings at Buccaneers: Preview and Prediction
- NFL Monday Night Football Odds: Vikings Favored to Claim Rare Win in Chicago
- Lions Commit Three Turnovers, Get Run Over in Loss to Minnesota
- Disappointing Vikings Poised for a Second Half Run