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Minnesota Vikings Post-Draft Depth Chart: Projected Starters, Backups, and Longshots

Where do the Vikings' rookies fall in the depth chart heading into OTAs?

With the 2022 draft in the rearview and the Vikings' roster at the full 90 players, let's break down the team's projected depth chart heading into rookie minicamp and OTAs. This won't be a 53-man roster projection, but we'll group players into three tiers: starters, backups, and...the rest. The third tier will include those on the roster bubble and those who are longshots to stick around, and it'll be roughly ordered from right to left like a normal depth chart.

Without further ado, let's get into it.

Quarterbacks (4)

  • Starter: Kirk Cousins
  • Backup: Sean Mannion
  • The rest: Kellen Mond, Nate Stanley

All eyes this year will be on Cousins and whether or not Kevin O'Connell can get more out of him than previous coaches were able to. The Vikings brought back Mannion, so he remains the No. 2 until proven otherwise. Mond will have the opportunity to surpass him and take over the backup job, but it won't be handed to him. He'll need to take major steps as a passer while showing that he knows O'Connell's offense and can be an asset in Cousins' preparation each week, which is what the previous coaching staff liked about Mannion. This is a big offseason for Mond.

Running backs (8)

  • Starters: Dalvin Cook, C.J. Ham (FB)
  • Backups: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu
  • The rest: Ty Chandler (R), Jake Bargas (FB), A.J. Rose Jr., Bryant Koback (R)

As always, Cook's health and workload will be worth watching. He turns 27 in August. I'm curious to see how Chandler fits into the mix here, because the Vikings didn't draft him in the fifth round for nothing. He has 4.38 speed, a bunch of experience (676 touches in college), and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Could he push for touches as the No. 3 back, relegating Nwangwu to special teams duties alone? Could he even push Mattison — who is entering a contract year — as the No. 2, given that he'd be more of a true change-of-pace/third-down back behind Cook? It's not a given that each of Mattison, Nwangwu, and Chandler will make the 53-man roster; five RBs is a lot. This will be interesting.

Wide receivers (11)

  • Starters: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn
  • Backups: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Jalen Nailor (R)
  • The rest: Myron Mitchell, Dan Chisena, Blake Proehl, Trishton Jackson, Thomas Hennigan (R)

Jefferson missed breaking Randy Moss's single-season franchise record by 17 yards, which gives him something to aim for in his third season. It'll be fascinating to see if O'Connell uses him in any new or different ways this year. At 32, Thielen's best days are behind him, but he'll look to stay healthy this year and continue racking up touchdown catches. Osborn's breakout 50/655/7 season last year cemented him as the No. 3 receiver going forward. This year will be about seeing if he can continue to develop and show the potential to be a No. 2 in a post-Thielen world, or if he's best suited as a long-term third option. Smith-Marsette, Johnson, and Nailor could all conceivably earn the WR4 role.

Tight ends (5)

  • Starter: Irv Smith Jr.
  • Backup: Johnny Mundt
  • The rest: Ben Ellefson, Nick Muse (R), Zach Davidson

This is a big season for Smith, who is coming back from a major injury and will look to ball out in a contract year. The Vikings didn't draft a tight end until taking Muse in the seventh round, which essentially cemented Mundt as the No. 2 this year. They're high on Mundt's blocking ability and knowledge of the offense, and they believe he has the potential to do more as a receiver than he did in Los Angeles. Out of the bottom three, I'd guess one makes the roster, one sticks around on the practice squad, and one gets cut.

Offensive line (15)

  • Starters (L-R): Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Ed Ingram (R), Brian O'Neill
  • Backups (L-R): Vederian Lowe (R), Wyatt Davis, Austin Schlottmann, Chris Reed, Jesse Davis
  • The rest: Oli Udoh, Blake Brandel, Kyle Hinton, Timon Parris, Josh Sokol (R)

Three of the five spots appear to be locked in: Darrisaw at LT, Cleveland at LG, and O'Neill at RT. The C and RG spots are where the questions are, and there are a bunch of possible answers. Bradbury is still the favorite at center, but the Vikings need to make him earn that job. Reed and Wyatt Davis seem like the most likely candidates to get reps at center and push Bradbury. Those two, along with Jesse Davis and Ingram, will be in the mix at the wide-open RG spot. Ingram has the talent and draft pedigree to win that job, but Reed and Jesse Davis have the experience advantage. The addition of Lowe gives the Vikings a higher floor at swing tackle than they previously had with Udoh. 

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Interior defensive line (9)

  • Starters: Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips
  • Backups: Armon Watts, James Lynch
  • The rest: T.Y. McGill, Jullian Taylor, T.J. Smith, Jaylen Twyman, Tyarise Stevenson (R)

There isn't actually a ton of intrigue here from a depth chart perspective. Tomlinson, Phillips, and Watts will all play a lot. Phillips might not have quite the ceiling Michael Pierce did, but he should be a lot more durable. What I'm curious to see is what the rotation and responsibilities look like in a new scheme under Ed Donatell. Also, can someone from the third tier jump ahead of Lynch and earn a role? Taylor and Twyman might have some upside.

Edge defenders (9)

  • Starters: Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith
  • Backups: D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II
  • The rest: Kenny Willekes, Janarius Robinson, Esezi Otomewo (R), Luiji Vilain (R), Zach McCloud (R)

The Vikings' EDGE group has both star power and depth. If Hunter and Smith stay healthy — and that's a big if, admittedly — they could be the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL. A lot of the Vikings' hopes on defense hinge on those two being able to stay on the field. Behind them, there's a lot of interesting young talent with two third-year players, two second-year players, and three rookies. Wonnum had 8 sacks last year, but he wasn't really an impact player, as most of those were unblocked or pursuit sacks. Willekes and Jones had some moments in 2021. Otomewo has the tools to earn playing time as a rookie, and both Vilain and McCloud got a lot of guaranteed money for UDFAs.

Inside linebackers (8)

  • Starters: Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks
  • Backups: Brian Asamoah II (R), Blake Lynch
  • The rest: Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, Ryan Connelly, Tuf Borland

There's no doubt about who the starters are here, as Kendricks remains one of the best players on the roster and Hicks should be a solid Anthony Barr replacement. Asamoah, drafted early in the third round, should see the field as well because of his speed and tackling ability. With Asamoah in the mix, the pressure is on the Lynch/Dye/Surratt trio to step up and improve if they're going to earn a roster spot, much less playing time on defense. The Surratt pick at No. 78 overall last year was a head-scratcher at the time and it's tough to see how he fits in this year.

Safeties (6)

  • Starters: Harrison Smith, Lewis Cine (R)
  • Backups: Cam Bynum, Josh Metellus
  • The rest: Myles Dorn, Mike Brown (R)

All of a sudden, this is one of the most exciting position groups on the roster. Taking Cine in the first round adds speed, physicality, and instincts to the back of the Vikings' defense. Playing alongside the ageless Smith, Cine is going to be a lot of fun for fans to watch, particularly when he's flying downhill to make big hits. Bynum, who was the projected starter before the draft, should still have a sizable role in 2022, whether that's as a third safety or at slot corner. He'll also be nice depth to have if either Smith or Cine have to miss time. 

Cornerbacks (10)

  • Starters: Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan (Slot)
  • Backups: Andrew Booth Jr. (R), Akayleb Evans (R), Nate Hairston (Slot)
  • The rest: Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Tye Smith, Parry Nickerson

The Vikings' cornerback room was a disaster earlier this offseason, but it looks quite solid now. They brought back Peterson to start on the outside and retain his role as the veteran leader, signed Sullivan and Hairston to compete in the slot, and then drafted two high-upside players in Booth and Evans. If Booth stays healthy, he should beat out Dantzler for a starting job and could be one of the biggest steals of the draft. Evans may not play much as a rookie, but his size and speed give him a chance to develop into a starting-caliber player down the line. Dantzler needs to step up and find some consistency in his third season if he's going to have a major role.

Specialists (5)

  • Starters: Greg Joseph (K), Jordan Berry (P), Andrew DePaola (LS)
  • Backups: Gabe Brkic (K) (R), Ryan Wright (P) (R)

Kicker and punter competitions! Brkic and Wright are undrafted rookies who will have a chance to beat out their veteran teammates, given that neither Joseph nor Berry have any guaranteed money in their contracts. The veterans are the favorites, but they'll need to earn their jobs. Also, Nwangwu is a lock as the Vikings' kick returner. The punt returner gig is wide open with Dede Westbrook gone; Osborn and Nailor might be the favorites there.

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