We already took a shot at projecting how the Vikings’ offense would shake out come week one. Now it is time to look at Rick Spielman’s and Mike Zimmer’s preferred side of the ball, the defense. And just for good measure, we will predict the specialists, as well.
On Roster (As of May 1): On Roster (As of August 28): Ade Aruna, Tashawn Bower, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Hercules Mata’afa, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anree Saint-Amour, Karter Schult, Stephen Weatherly
Prediction: DE1: Hunter DE2: Griffen DE3: Weatherly DE4: Odenigbo DE5: Aruna
Prediction: NT: Joseph 3T: Stephen DT3: Johnson DT4: Holmes DT5: Watts
Like the offensive line in yesterday’s piece, we are going heavy on defensive line. Last year, the Vikings kept nine players. But there are so many young young guys on the line that could develop, including second-year players in Aruna and Mata’afa who missed the cut largely due to injury in 2018. Since we are going light on defensive backs for now, it opens up some spots here.
Both tackle and end have three near-locks. Griffen may have been a cut candidate, but the Vikings did not add enough depth to think that is a strong possibility anymore. Plus, his restructured contract makes his position less cumbersome. Hunter and Weatherly will certainly make it, as will Joseph, Stephen and Johnson. The Vikings seem high on Jalyn Holmes, so he could be a candidate for increased playing time.
After those guys, however, it is wide open. Despite Tashawn Bower’s traits, he has not really put it all together yet. With Aruna coming back, and the versatility of Odenigbo, I am favoring those two to bump Bower for the final end spots. At tackle, the rookie Watts seems a solid bet to land the last slot.
One thing to note here: while we currently have 10 defensive linemen here, one of them will likely get bumped once Holton Hill returns from suspension.
Prediction: MLB: Kendricks SLB: Barr WLB: Gedeon LB4: Wilson LB5: Smith LB6: Downs
This is a position of solid depth for the Vikings. Wilson and Gedeon are strong in spurts on defense, but really shine on special teams. Downs also proved an effective special teamer. The fifth-rounder Smith throws a wrench into the predictions a bit, but it is possible the Vikings can find a role for six linebackers this year. Effectively, they could use this position to stock the kick coverage units rather than the secondary.
Prediction: CB1: Rhodes CB2: Waynes CB3: Alexander CB4: Hughes CB5: Boyd
Corner is deep for Minnesota, as well, especially once Hill returns from suspension (assuming that is the plan). That gives them five guys who the Vikings know they can play for long stretches. On top of that, Boyd brings a lot of intrigue as a seventh-round pick. He was college teammates with Hill, and has a similar profile of strength and physicality. It may seem like nine defensive backs is overly light for a projection, but Hill’s suspension means they essentially have a 54th body that we assume will be around come week five.
Prediction: SS: Harris FS: H. Smith S3: Kearse S4: Epps
Safety, on the other hand, is more on the shallow end. The Vikings are pretty confident in their top three. Smith is a star, Harris showed himself to be a solid playmaker and Kearse is a big nickel of sorts who can move around the field. After that, however, it is a lot of guess work. Epps is probably the safest choice as a recent draft pick. That said, Abernathy could make a run as a special teams ace, given his solid combination of size and explosiveness. And then there is Derron Smith, who has plenty of game experience in three NFL seasons, though little on the defensive side.
On Roster: Austin Cutting, Kevin McDermott
This one is going to depend on Cutting’s service responsibilities. There is the possibility that he will not have to serve in the Air Force before starting his NFL career, but if he does, the job will remain McDermott’s for now. If Cutting can play this year, one would assume he will take over, given that long snappers are not drafted all that often.
On Roster: Matt Wile
On Roster: Dan Bailey
Maybe Wile and Bailey get some competition in camp, but right now, there is none. The jobs are theirs to lose.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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