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 may have dictated much for the back end of the roster. As we approach the final stretch of preseason, here are my final projections for the Vikings’ offense.
Prediction: QB1: Cousins QB2: Mannion QB3: Sloter
The decision to retain Sloter is a battle of mixed signals. Signal one is the fact that Mannion has been second on the depth chart all summer, has played well enough against twos and has not seen the criticism Sloter has as far as grasping the offense. Signal two, however, is the fact that the Vikings have consistently taken steps to keep Sloter on their active roster over the last three seasons. He was Case Keenum’s primary backup in 2017 and made the roster out of camp as third quarterback last season. As such, the Vikings clearly see something in him.
But make no mistake; Sloter will probably not sniff the backup job anytime soon. Mike Zimmer was clear that, for all the numbers, Sloter is miles away from where he needs to be as far as reads, calls and time management. Hence the reason he has yet to run with the twos in games. So like it or not, Mannion is the backup. The bigger question here is whether the Vikings keep Sloter at all. They have a number of good players on defense they could prefer over a third-string quarterback. However, recent history suggests they will keep three in their pocket to start the season.
Prediction: RB1: Cook RB2: Mattison RB3: Boone RB4: Abdullah FB: Ham
Blasingame has done everything in games to make himself worthy of a spot, but here is the rub: the Vikings are not going to keep two fullbacks. Even if Blasingame’s role is more as a pass-catcher, making him a fourth tailback, Boone and Abdullah would both be better at that role. And Ham is also a darn good ball-carrier himself, while also serving as one of their better special teamers. Simply put, it would be tough to justify keeping Blasingame over any of those three guys. The only justification would be keeping him over Ham and hoping his special teams value catches up to that of the veteran.
Boone has earned the third running back spot over Abdullah simply by being more consistent. He has looked better reading cutback lanes in zone and has hit the splash plays that were supposed to give Abdullah the edge. That said, Abdullah has held returning duties the duration of preseason. Jeff Badet had a nice showing when given chances, but the Vikings clearly favor Abdullah in that role. As such, I am going with the Vikings repeating their 2018 course and retaining four backs as well as Ham at fullback.
Prediction: WR1A: Thielen WR1B: Diggs WR3: Johnson WR4: Beebe WR5: Zylstra
The big change here from last week’s projection is in Johnson moving ahead of Beebe on the depth chart. Johnson is a lock to make the team; he did not take reps when the first team sat out of walk-throughs this past week. And given his strong preseason output with both the ones and twos, his spot is safe. Beebe’s spot is also locked in, however his drop-laden performance has me dropping him to WR4.
With Taylor gone and Treadwell seemingly headed in the same direction, the battle for the last spot likely comes to Zylstra, Davis and Mitchell. Zylstra has flashed the most as a receiver and had special teams value last season, so he gets the last spot here. Granted, there is every possibility that the Vikings keep six receivers. However, no one beyond Zylstra seems like a “must-keep,” especially given the Vikings’ depth in other areas. Mitchell is a strong candidate for the practice squad, however, should he lose the job to Zylstra as anticipated.
Prediction: TE1: Rudolph TE2: Smith TE3: Conklin
If the Vikings want to keep four tight ends for the long haul, my guess is that they will wait until Morgan returns from PUP. Until then, I have them keeping this spot open. Hikutini and Dillon have both impressed and either deserves a practice squad nod. For now though, I see too much talent in other areas to bump in favor of either of them.
Prediction: LT: Reiff RT: O’Neill OT3: Hill OT4: Collins
Prediction: LG: Elflein RG: Kline G3: Dozier (Also a swing tackle) G4: Samia
Prediction: C1: Bradbury
I have kept Jones in virtually every projection, but Collins approaching full health makes that a difficult call. The Vikings like their versatility from the line depth. Collins and Dozer fit that well, given both have taken numerous reps at both tackle and guard. It would mean bumping a solid reserve in Jones as well as an interesting rookie in Udoh, but the Vikings love for Collins has been evident the past few years.
One thing to keep in mind, not just on cut day but for the season, is the ascent of Dru Samia. Samia has impressed in the last few games, so he could be pushing Elflein and Kline for a starting spot sooner than expected. Elflein and Kline finished the preseason with a strong week three, but both have been a little inconsistent. In other words, the Vikings’ line may not be solved quite yet, even if improvements seem to be there.
–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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