With three weeks of training camp practices and one preseason game in the books, it's time for an updated Minnesota Vikings 53-man roster projection.
There are still two weeks left for players to compete for roles and roster spots, a period that includes two joint practices with the 49ers this week and two more preseason games. But we're getting into crunch time. At this point, we should already have a decent idea about who is going to make this roster.
Five cuts were already made on Tuesday: CB Tye Smith, FB Jake Bargas, OLB Andre Mintze, DT Tyarise Stevenson, and WR Thomas Hennigan.
What we saw in the Vikings' loss to the Raiders factors into this projection, but it's also important not to overreact to the sample size of one game. What's more valuable are the last three weeks of training camp — what I've seen watching practice up close every day, what the coaches are saying, etc. And of course, things like previous NFL production, draft pedigree, and contract size all matter.
Without further ado, let's get into it.
- In (2): Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
- Out: Sean Mannion
Mannion's poor play and Mond's strong finish to Sunday's game in Las Vegas solidified how I view this position. I've now got Mond firmly ahead of Mannion in the Vikings' backup quarterback race, and I don't see any reason to keep the latter around.
Both players have struggled for much of camp, with Mannion having a touch more consistency to his mediocre level of play and Mond showing much higher flashes of upside. The game against the Raiders was a reminder that Mannion doesn't have backup-caliber talent. It was also a reminder that although Mond needs a lot more development, he has the physical tools to become a quality No. 2 at some point.
Now the question becomes whether or not Mond can earn the backup job this season or if the Vikings will end up looking outside of their building for additional depth at QB.
- In (5): Dalvin Cook, C.J. Ham, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler
- Out: Bryant Koback
I don't think there's anything to discuss here. If you had any doubts about whether or not Chandler was making the roster, those should've been quickly eliminated during the game against the Raiders. The rookie ripped off 50 rushing yards on five carries, sparked a drive with a 56-yard kickoff return, and drew praise from head coach Kevin O'Connell after the game. Chandler would not clear waivers if the Vikings tried to get him to their practice squad.
Nwangwu was also excellent on Sunday. Bargas being in the first round of cuts was a bit surprising, considering it leaves Ham as the only fullback on the roster.
- In (6): Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Jalen Nailor
- Out: Albert Wilson, Trishton Jackson, Myron Mitchell, Dan Chisena, Blake Proehl
Man, has the competition at this position been fierce. Mitchell and Jackson have both been impressive during camp and caught multiple passes in Vegas. Wilson, a seven-year veteran, broke out with two touchdown catches against the Raiders. You could also make an argument for Chisena, the special teams speedster who has made the initial 53 in each of the last two years.
I just couldn't quite get any of them onto the roster. Maybe the Vikings keep seven receivers, but it's hard for me to envision that since I have them rostering five backs. If they only keep six, I think Johnson and Nailor will barely nudge out Wilson, Jackson, Mitchell, and Chisena for the fifth and sixth spots.
Johnson is a reliable fourth-year vet who had 45 catches in his first two seasons before missing all of 2021 with an injury. Nailor was drafted in the sixth round, has had a solid first camp, and is in the mix to return punts as well. The Vikings will be hoping at least a couple of the receivers that get cut make it to their practice squad.
- In (3): Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt, Zach Davidson
- Out: Ben Ellefson, Nick Muse, Shaun Beyer
Because of Smith's injury situation, it's possible the Vikings will keep Ellefson on the initial roster. He's a very talented blocker, which we saw again in Vegas. But if they feel OK about Smith's progress, I think they'll try to get Ellefson onto the practice squad and potentially elevate him for the first couple games. They could also use that strategy with Davidson, but his receiving upside might make him more likely to get poached by another team.
- In (9): Christian Darrisaw (LT), Ezra Cleveland (LG), Garrett Bradbury (C), Ed Ingram (RG), Brian O'Neill (RT), Jesse Davis (G), Chris Reed (G/C), Blake Brandel (T), Oli Udoh (T)
- Out: Vederian Lowe (T), Austin Schlottmann (G/C), Kyle Hinton (G), Wyatt Davis (G), Timon Parris (T), Josh Sokol (C)
The O-line is always the most difficult and complex position to project on the offensive side of the ball. I'm very curious to see how this all ends up taking shape on cutdown day in two weeks.
Ingram's awesome performance in Vegas makes me think he'll be the Vikings' starting right guard, but Jesse Davis and Reed will obviously be kept for interior depth. I think Brandel has shown enough to make the roster as a swing tackle who can come in as the sixth lineman in goal line packages. And finally, I've got Udoh barely making it over the rookie Lowe for more tackle depth. I thought about keeping Lowe instead, but Udoh's been ahead on the depth chart throughout camp and has NFL starting experience.
Schlottmann was a difficult cut too. Perhaps his center experience could give him the nod over Udoh? Hinton and Wyatt Davis are young guards who still have some theoretical upside, but I don't see their paths to making this roster.
Total offense: 25
- In (6): Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts, James Lynch, T.Y. McGill, Esezi Otomewo
- Out: Jonathan Bullard, Jaylen Twyman, T.J. Smith, Jullian Taylor
This is another difficult spot to project. The top three are locks, but it gets interesting after that. Lynch seems likely to make it because of his positional versatility in the Vikings' 3-4 front. McGill has had a strong camp and picked up two sacks against the Raiders, so I've got him making the team too. That left me to choose between Otomewo, Bullard, and Twyman for the final spot. Each can play the 5-tech position and add depth there, but ultimately, I went with the high-upside fifth-round rookie.
This is close enough that I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Bullard or Twyman make it. Otomewo will need to play better in the next two preseason games than he did against the Raiders to hold off those two guys, and I wouldn't call either Lynch or McGill a sure thing either.
- In (5): Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson
- Out: Luiji Vilain, Zach McCloud
There's much less to consider here. Wonnum and Jones are making the team and will be the backup edge rushers. Robinson shouldn't get complacent and view his job as safe, but I have him ahead of the two undrafted rookies for now. Vilain and McCloud have two weeks left to make a push. It's also possible the Vikings only keep four here.
- In (4): Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah, Troy Dye
- Out: Blake Lynch, Chazz Surratt, William Kwenkeu, Ryan Connelly
Since Dye (fourth-round pick) and Lynch (UDFA) came into the league in 2020, Lynch has been the better, more productive player. Last season, Lynch played more defensive snaps (218 vs. 54) and more special teams snaps (342 vs. 325) than Dye, and graded out as a better tackler and better coverage player.
So why do I have Dye beating him out? Because the coaching staff that preferred Lynch is no longer around, and the evidence suggests that this coaching staff prefers Dye. When Hicks missed a few practices early in camp, it was Dye who stepped in with the first-team defense. That battle could go either way, but I've got the Oregon product winning it for now.
Oh, and the Raiders game made two things clear: Asamoah has a bright future and Surratt almost certainly isn't making the team.
- In (4): Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, Lewis Cine, Josh Metellus
- Out: Myles Dorn, Mike Brown
Two battles are going on at this position. Bynum and Cine are competing for a starting job, while Metellus and Dorn are competing for the fourth and final roster spot. Dorn had a nice game against the Raiders that included a forced fumble, but I've got Metellus making it for now because of his special teams value. There's still time for that to change.
- In (6): Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan, Andrew Booth Jr., Akayleb Evans, Kris Boyd
- Out: Parry Nickerson, Harrison Hand, Nate Hairston
I think Evans can be lumped in with the three current starters and Booth as a safe bet to make the team. The fourth-round rookie has had some nice moments in camp and has too much potential to be exposed to waivers. That leaves four players fighting for one spot after Tye Smith was released on Tuesday. Hand and Hairston have an argument because they could back up Sullivan in the slot, but I've got Boyd's experience and special teams abilities keeping him on the roster for now.
Total defense: 25
- In (3): Greg Joseph (K), Jordan Berry (P), Andrew DePaola (LS)
- Out: Ryan Wright (P)
Wright wasn't in the first round of cuts, so the punting battle lives for at least one more week. He had a 53-yard punt in Vegas, while Berry averaged 54.5 yards on his two punts.
Kene Nwangwu is the kick returner, with Ty Chandler and Ihmir Smith-Marsette next in line. I think the punt returner will be Smith-Marsette, with Jalen Nailor and Chandler also in the mix.
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