Matthew Coller: A post-offseason program Vikings 53-man roster projection

Looking at the biggest questions at each spot after OTAs and minicamp
Image courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings
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Where everyone on the Minnesota Vikings ends the offseason program (OTAs/minicamp) works as the starting point for each player in training camp. Much will change during those dog days of summer but that doesn’t stop us from looking at how the roster might shake out if they had to cut down to 53 right now. So let’s have a look at each position…

Quarterback (3)

Starter: Sam Darnold

Depth: JJ McCarthy, Nick Mullens

Biggest question: Will they keep three QBs on the 53?

Whether the Vikings keep three QBs may hinge on how comfortable they feel about McCarthy having to play if something happens to Darnold. If McCarthy gives the coaching staff confidence that he could step into the mix or wins the job outright then they wouldn’t need Mullens as an in-case-of-emergency QB but if Kevin O’Connell doesn’t feel like the rookie QB is ready to run the offense at the drop of a hat then Mullens is a proven option who could start the season as QB2.

Running back (4)

Starter: Aaron Jones

Depth: Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu, CJ Ham

Biggest question: Will Myles Gaskin or DeWayne McBride make the team? Will they add anyone else?

Depth at the RB position is still important with Jones in the mix because he has dealt with injuries in the past but the Vikings don’t exactly have Terry Allen or Robert Smith on the bench. Unless Gaskin or McBride makes a strong impression, it seems most likely that they will roll with only Chandler and Nwangwu as the backups and then call someone up off the practice squad in case of emergency. It will be worth watching to see if McBride makes progress in this year’s camp.

Wide receiver (5)

Starters: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, Brandon Powell

Depth: Jalen Nailor, Trishton Jackson

Biggest question: Five or six? Who wins the final spot(s)?

The first three spots are pretty well set and O’Connell mentioned Jalen Nailor having a strong offseason program but outside of that things are wide open. Trishton Jackson has been with the team for two years and saw the field last season so the staff must trust that he can be on the field but he will need to hold off an entire bullpen of other receivers competing for that spot. The Vikings signed veteran Trent Sherfield this offseason. Malik Knowles had a “medical redshirt” year in 2023 but he has some explosiveness. UDFA Jeshaun Jones had some moments in the spring. Thayer Thomas stuck around after a good camp last year.

That’s only half of them. There’s also Lucky Jackson, Ty James and Devron Harper. Literally anyone could win a spot if they show out.

Tight ends (3)

Starter: TJ Hockenson (IR)

Depth: Robert Tonyan, Johnny Mundt, Josh Oliver

Biggest question: Will they keep four TEs? Will Nick Muse or N’Keal Harry push for a job?

There have been no indicators that Hockenson is going to be ready for Week 1 so we are assuming based on the timing of his ACL tear last season that he’s going to begin the year on IR, leaving the door open for an extra tight end to start the year. Tonyan had a terrific offseason program and both Mundt and Oliver know the system. The competition will be interesting between Mundt and Muse/Harry for the final spot. They could also be practice squad call-ups. If Harry makes noise in August it could make for a great camp story.

Offensive line (9)

Starters: Christian Darrisaw, Blake Brandel, Garrett Bradbury, Ed Ingram, Brian O’Neill

Depth: David Quessenberry, Dan Feeney, Dalton Risner, Walter Rouse

Biggest question: Does anyone sneak onto the depth chart?

The only debate is whether to work in seventh-rounder Michael Jurgens but Feeney and Risner are both flexible interior offensive line veterans and Rouse was a higher pick. The debate here is over the starting left guard position but there isn’t a ton of room for surprise with the backups.

Defensive tackles (5)

Starters: Harrison Phillips, Jerry Tillery

Depth: Jonathan Bullard, James Lynch, Levi Drake Rodriguez

Biggest question: Can Jaquelin Roy or Jonah Williams beat out Lynch or Rodriguez?

There are some position races that are a little more compelling like, oh, quarterback and receiver, but backup defensive tackle has some juice. The Vikings liked Lynch enough to bring him back after he tore his ACL last year plus he seems like a good fit for a scheme based in the 3-4. But Roy made a decent first impression last year and they brought in Williams as a free agent so everything is on the table past Phillips, Tillery and Bullard.

Outside linebackers (5)

Starters: Jonathan Greenard, Dallas Turner, Andrew Van Ginkel

Depth: Andre Carter II, Pat Jones II

Biggest question: Will they add depth? Will Gabriel Murphy be the next notable UDFA to make noise in camp?

The top three could make a case as one of the best units in the NFL. After that, well, it’s less compelling. Greenard and Van Ginkel were major offseason signings and Turner was a first-round pick so the expectation is that they will all see the field a lot but Carter barely played as a UDFA rookie in 2023 and Jones may have been on the field too much. With his performance last year (37.5 PFF grade) you would think that more competition would have been brought in outside of UDFA Gabriel Murphy. Maybe there still will be.

Inside linebackers (5)

Starters: Blake Cashman, Ivan Pace Jr.

Depth: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Brian Asamoah, Abraham Beauplan

Biggest question: Will a UDFA emerge? Will Asamoah stick?

This was a tough spot to figure out who the fifth linebacker might be. Beauplan got the nod here because he was on the team last year but UDFAs KJ Cloyd and Dallas Gant are also jockeying for position. This is another spot that might make sense for a last-second veteran addition. Does Anthony Barr want to come back again?

Cornerbacks (6)

Starters: Shaq Griffin, Mekhi Blackmon, Byron Murphy Jr.

Depth: Akayleb Evans, Khyree Jackson, NaJee Thompson

Biggest question: Do they stick with Booth Jr.? Can an underdog unseat him?

Last year Brian Flores had opportunities to put Booth Jr. on the field more often but left him on the sidelines which opens the door for the Vikings bailing after two years on their 2022 second-rounder. That would leave them with only five corners because Thompson is a special teams specialist but they have safeties like Josh Metellus and Jay Ward who can step up into nickel corner spots. Dwight McGlothern is also worth watching as a UDFA who could sneak up and steal a spot.

Safeties (5)

Starters: Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, Josh Metellus

Depth: Theo Jackson, Jay Ward

Biggest question: Does Lewis Cine get one more chance?

After the impression he made last year it would appear that Theo Jackson’s spot is pretty secure. It could come down to whether Lewis Cine has a strong enough camp to convince them to keep going down that road. Ward is a flexible player who can impact special teams, which could make him more valuable.

Specialists (3)

Starters: Will Reichard, Ryan Wright, Andrew DePaola

Kicking and punting competitions will be had. That’s always good fun.

Joe Nelson