Vikings Mid-Camp Roster Projections: Defense & Special Teams

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Vikings Eric Wilson Jayron Kearse
Vikings.com

Camp is well underway, and the Vikings are starting to give some indications as to where their roster is headed. The first preseason game saw a number of young players shine, including a couple of late-round rookies, so some players’ stocks may be on the rise.

We projected the offense last week; you can view that here. Today, we cover defense and special teams.

Defensive End

On Roster (As of August 14): Ade Aruna, Tashawn Bower, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Stacy Keely, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anree Saint-Amour, Karter Schult, Stephen Weatherly

Prediction: LDE. Hunder RDE. Griffen DE3. Weatherly DE4. Odenigbo

Defensive Tackle

On Roster: Cutris Cothran, Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson, Linval Joseph, Hercules Mata’afa, Tito Odenigbo, Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts

Prediction: NT: Joseph 3T: Stephen DT3: Johnson DT4: Holmes DT5. Mata’afa DT6: Watts

By going with two quarterbacks and five wide receivers last week, the Vikings have some room to work with on defense. Generally speaking, that has meant more defensive backs. But the defensive line gets more consideration this year, as this is where the Vikings have a lot of intriguing young depth to work with. It is unwise to overreact to one preseason game, but Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata’afa and Ifeadi Odenigbo all looked outstanding in New Orleans. It will be tough to imagine all three ending up on the cutting room floor, assuming health. The newly-drafted Armon Watts then gets the 10th spot, due to his physical profile and recent draft status. Being a sixth-rounder is not that valuable a chip if Watts underperforms from here on out, but for the moment, he has more value than bubble players at other positions in my eyes.

Linebacker

On Roster: Anthony Barr, Kentrell Brothers, Reshard Cliett, Devante Downs, Ben Gedeon, Eric Kendricks, Greer Martini, Cameron SmithEric Wilson

Prediction: MLB: Kendricks SLB: Barr WLB: Gedeon LB4: Wilson LB5: Brothers LB6: Smith

Gedeon has been the starting Will linebacker since his rookie season. And while the selection of Cameron Smith and emergence of Eric Wilson may have meant stiffer competition for Gedeon, his run in the first preseason game seems to solidify him as a starter once again. As a starter, he only appears on field for about 35 percent of defensive snaps, but his run instincts and special teams ability have been invaluable these past two seasons. Behind him, Wilson is also secure as the top reserve and one of the better special teamers.

But the fifth spot on down is where things get murky. I have the Vikings only keeping 10 defensive backs, so the linebackers get an extra spot here. That leaves roughly four guys competing for two spots: rookie Cameron Smith, second-year Devante Downs and veterans Reshard Cliett and Kentrell Brothers. Downs made the roster out of camp last season as a seventh-rounder, largely in thanks to Brothers being suspended the first four games. But Brothers is good to go this year, and has played in every game he has been available for the last two years. For his special teams value and more experience as a defender, Brothers gets the edge over Downs for now. The last spot is going to the rookie Smith, as his fifth-round status grants him a bit of an edge over the other two, despite being behind them on the depth chart right now.

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Cornerback

On Roster: Mackensie Alexander, Bene Benwikere, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, Mike Hughes, Craig James, Nate Meadors, Xavier Rhodes, Duke ThomasTrae Waynes

Prediction: CB1: Rhodes CB2: Waynes CB3: M. Alexander CB4: Hughes CB5: Thomas CB6. Boyd   

The Vikings have consistently kept more than 10 defensive backs, but returner Marcus Sherels was a big reason for that. This year, the Vikings’ return men will mostly be offensive players, so they have room elsewhere. Plus, the team’s secondary depth is not such that demands more players being retained. I leaned heavy at corner, as the Vikings are four-deep there with de facto starters. Behind those four, Duke Thomas, Nate Meadors, Kris Boyd and Bene Benwikere seem to have the best chance. Prior to Friday’s game, I had Boyd and Benwikere as the last two. But then Thomas saw most second-team reps and Benwikere made a couple of bad plays late, so Thomas gets the temporary nod. And like with Cameron Smith, Boyd is getting the draft pick benefit of the doubt, despite not being active. 

Safety

On Roster: Marcus Epps, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Derron Smith, Harrison Smith, Isaiah Wharton

Prediction: SS: Harris FS: H. Smith S3: Kearse S4: Epps  

Harris and Smith are entrenched as starters and Kearse is the secondary’s Swiss army knife, so those spots are not up for grabs. The last secondary spot here is going to Epps. The Vikings seem to have plans for him, as minicamp showed him in a vein similar to Kearse. His performance in the preseason game was nothing particularly notable, other than missing a tackle on Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s late touchdown. But Epps has showed considerable promise so he gets the nod over the corners and the AAF alum Derron Smith. That said, Smith saw a lot of playing time in the early goings on Friday, so do not be surprised if he makes an appearance come next projections.

Long Snapper

On Roster: Austin Cutting

Prediction: Cutting

There is no debate here anymore. Once Cutting was cleared to play this season, Kevin McDermott’s fate was essentially sealed. Despite a lengthy run in Minnesota, and Mike Zimmer’s report that McDermott had performed well, McDermott is on his way out to make room for the rookie seventh-rounder.

Punter

On Roster: Matt Wile, Kaare Vedvik

Prediction: Vedvik

Kicker

On Roster: Dan Bailey, Kaare Vedvik

Prediction: Bailey

The trade for Kaare Vedvik cast a lot of doubt over these two positions. Vedvik is both a punter and a kicker, and has a pretty strong leg for both facets. Meanwhile, Wile’s holding has caught scrutiny from Zimmer, as he has tried various receivers as Bailey’s holder in practice. Even with fresh holders, Bailey has been shaky, finally recording a perfect practice on Tuesday. So both kicking spots seem up in the air. For now, the holding problem seems more significant in the eyes of the Vikings than Bailey’s inconsistent kicking, so Vedvik slides in as punter and holder right now. But this is a week-to-week thing.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

 Follow @fpc_vikings and Follow @fpc_nfl

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