Just four days remain until final cut day, and much is still yet to take shape with the Vikings’ roster. Chances are good that most battles are already settled. However, the final preseason game could dictate much for the back end of the roster. As we approach the final stretch of preseason, here are my final projections for the Vikings’ defense and special teams. I will provide final projections for the offense later in the week.
Prediction: LDE: Hunder RDE: Griffen DE3: Weatherly DE4: Odenigbo
Prediction: NT: Joseph 3T: Stephen DT3: Johnson DT4: Holmes DT5. Mata’afa
I really want to keep 10 here, but 10 probably too many defensive linemen. Six guys are absolute locks, and Jalyn Holmes is also a comfortable distance from the bubble. Behind those seven, there is simply too much intrigue. Odenigbo has looked great as he always does, only this time, there is no one challenging him for fourth end. Plus, he took some snaps at tackle in week three, so there is versatility there.
The real struggle comes with the other tackles. There is obviously much excitement around Mata’afa. He was a college stud, looks a whole lot bigger this year and has played nose and three-technique with the first team for pass rush downs. And Watts, while working mostly with the third team, has only impressed with his combination of size and athleticism. He is a specimen at nose who could have a bright future ahead of him. The problem is that Watts is pretty clearly the 10th guy. And with Odenigbo working inside, the Vikings are probably going to go with nine and move Watts to the practice squad. If and when that happens, it will not be long before he is snatched up by another team.
Prediction: MLB: Kendricks SLB: Barr WLB: Gedeon LB4: Wilson LB5: Brothers LB6: Smith
It does not appear that any of the top four are in any danger. So really, this comes down to four guys going for two spots: Downs, Cliett, Brothers and Smith. Downs is the only one among them who made the roster out of camp last season, but there were extenuating circumstances. Brothers was suspended for the first four games and ultimately played the other 12. With that in mind, and his apparent depth chart advantage, Brothers seems the safest bet.
The sixth spot is far more open, and truth be told, may not even be available. Six may be a lot of linebackers to keep, made possible by no defensive backs serving as primary return specialists. Three of the Vikings projected top special teamers (Gedeon, Wilson, Brothers) are linebackers. As such, they can sacrifice a secondary spot and keep a spot open for a developmental linebacker. Smith has been behind Downs on the depth chart and Downs has played fairly well. However, Smith is a fifth-round pick this year and has taken some second-team reps. That would indicate Minnesota is looking to do things with Smith in the near future and earns him an intrinsic edge over Downs and Cliett.
Prediction: CB1: Rhodes CB2: Waynes CB3: M. Alexander CB4: Hughes CB5: Thomas
Prediction: SS: Harris FS: H. Smith S3: Kearse S4: Epps S5: D. Smith
With Hughes officially off PUP, seven players are guaranteed spots on the 53. I have the Vikings keeping a sixth linebacker and a fifth running back, so only 10 defensive backs go here. That leaves three spots largely up for grabs. Hill would have had one of the spots in all likelihood, but he will miss eight games, so the Vikings can keep him around without using a roster spot.
The two players I am fairly confident keeping in are Thomas and Epps. Epps is a sixth-round pick who the Vikings seem to have some versatile plans for, and Thomas has looked good playing mostly with the second team. The last spot to me is a toss-up between Derron Smith and Boyd. Boyd has the benefit of being a recent draft pick, but he has not wowed in any sense to date. Smith, on the other hand, despite a shaky week three performance, has seen a lot of action as second team safety for much of the preseason. The Vikings can afford to cut one of their recent draft picks since they had more than any other team and have a glut of back end secondary talent. As such, Boyd moves to the practice squad.
On Roster: Austin Cutting
On Roster: Matt Wile, Kaare Vedvik
On Roster: Dan Bailey, Kaare Vedvik
Vedvik’s two missed field goals last week may have put an end to his shot at stealing Bailey’s job. That said, his other duties (kick-offs and punts) have gone swimmingly, and Chad Beebe’s run as Bailey’s holder seems to be working out. As a result, Wile’s job seems the most precarious. With Bailey hanging around, Minnesota’s lingering kicking problems under Zimmer will remain on the mind of every Vikings fan.
–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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