Many of the Vikings' notable position battles – including virtually every competition for a starting role – have been all but wrapped up over the past few weeks of training camp practices. I've covered all of these in my practice recaps, but here's a rundown to get you caught up if you haven't been following closely.
- Despite mostly uninspiring play, Dakota Dozier and Pat Elflein appear to be cemented as the team's starting guards. Elflein never faced any real competition, while Dozier beat out Aviante Collins on the left side.
- A strong camp has propelled Jaleel Johnson to the starting three-technique spot. Armon Watts and Hercules Mata'afa will be involved in the rotation at both defensive tackle spots, but it'll be Shamar Stephen and Johnson on early downs, at least.
- Bisi Johnson has held off Justin Jefferson for the WR2 job – for the time being.
- Sean Mannion withstood a minor push from Jake Browning to keep the backup quarterback spot.
- K.J. Osborn appears to have earned both the kick return and punt return jobs, which might be bad news for the roster prospects of Ameer Abdullah and Chad Beebe.
With that said, there are still five more practices remaining before Saturday at 3 p.m. central, which is when the Vikings must cut their roster from 80 down to 53. Let's run through the five biggest remaining positional battles to track over the next week, most of which involve backups fighting for spots on the 53-man roster.
First, make sure to check out my Vikings 53-Man roster and practice squad projection if you haven't already (which was written before the addition of Yannick Ngakoue).
No. 3 cornerback in nickel: Cameron Dantzler vs. Jeff Gladney
Number of winners: 1
To me, this is the only remaining competition that comes with a significant difference in playing time based on the outcome. You could say that Bisi Johnson-Justin Jefferson and Jaleel Johnson-Armon Watts still count, but I'd argue that all four of those players are going to see the field plenty. Whoever wins the No. 3 cornerback job between rookies Dantzler and Gladney is going to play a lot more than the guy who loses that battle.
Right now, the third-rounder is clearly ahead of the first-rounder. Dantzler has been one of the breakout stars of training camp, utilizing his length and instincts to make several highlight plays. Even looking past the big plays, he has been in good position on the vast majority of his reps and a lack of elite speed – which caused him to fall to the third round – doesn't look like a major issue.
Gladney got off to a slow start in camp due to a flare-up with his meniscus, which he had surgery on this offseason. That allowed Dantzler to leap ahead in this battle. But Gladney has put together some impressive practices in recent days and might be closing the gap a little. The difference may come down to Dantzler's size on the boundary; with Mike Hughes looking comfortable in the slot when the Vikings are in nickel, Dantzler and Holton Hill give Mike Zimmer two 6'2" guys to match up with big receivers on the outside.
This battle could continue into the week leading up to the Green Bay game and all season long.
Projected winner: Dantzler
No. 5 DE: Jalyn Holmes vs. Eddie Yarbrough
I had both of these defensive ends making the 53-man roster, but adding Ngakoue obviously changes that. If the Vikings keep five DEs, that means only two of these players can make the team to provide depth behind Danielle Hunter, Ngakoue, and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
I think rookie D.J. Wonnum is fairly safe, so I didn't even include him in this competition. While Holmes and Yarbrough have gotten reps ahead of him during camp, the Vikings didn't use a fourth-round pick on Wonnum as a project for Andre Patterson just to risk losing him to waivers before the season starts. He'll get at least a year or two to prove that he belongs and (hopefully) start showing strides under Patterson's tutelage.
That leaves two guys fighting for one spot. Holmes would seem to be the favorite, as he has been working with the first-team defense all camp long in the absence of Hunter. The converted defensive tackle has had a few flashes, but has mostly struggled against Brian O'Neill in practice. Don't count out the veteran Yarbrough, who is three years older and has more NFL experience at DE. The Vikings seem to like what the former Buffalo Bill brings as a backup edge rusher.
This may seem surprising considering he's been serving as a starter in camp, but I won't be shocked if Holmes winds up getting cut.
Projected winner: Yarbrough
Backup WR(s) on roster: Tajae Sharpe vs. Chad Beebe vs. Alexander Hollins
Number of winners: 1 or 2
The top three receivers on this offense are set in stone: Adam Thielen, Johnson, and Jefferson. K.J. Osborn would be included in this section if not for the fact that he's already seemingly locked down a roster spot as a returner. I'm definitely intrigued to see if he competes for any snaps at receiver, but this competition is about spots on the 53-man roster.
With Osborn's spot secure, that leaves room for one or two more receivers. Dillon Mitchell and Quartney Davis haven't done enough to become part of that competition, which leaves Hollins, Sharpe, and Beebe fighting for one or two spots.
As of just last week ago, I still thought the veteran Sharpe was the safest bet here. Now, I legitimately think Hollins might be in the lead among this trio. The Vikings liked him enough to keep him around last season as an undrafted rookie, and he's made a huge leap this year. Hollins has been incredibly impressive in camp, showing that he's more than just a burner. It'll be tough to cut either Sharpe or Beebe, but the Vikings aren't going to keep seven receivers. I bet they keep six this year, with Sharpe narrowly edging out Beebe for that final roster spot.
Projected winner(s): Hollins and Sharpe
No. 5 LB: Hardy Nickerson Jr. vs. Jordan Fehr vs. Blake Lynch vs. vs. David Reese II
Number of winners: 1
The Vikings have kept five linebackers on the 53-man roster in each of the past two seasons after keeping six or more in every year from 2014-17. Given the way the league is progressing, the Vikings' usage of their nickel package has become increasingly more heavy than their 4-3 base defense. Because of that trend, I bet the Vikings break camp with just five LBs once again this year.
After established starters Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Eric Wilson (a starter when the team is in base defense, at least), rookie fourth-rounder Troy Dye appears to be secure in the No. 4 role. And as you can see from the header to this section, there are a bunch of guys competing for that No. 5 job.
As of right now, I'm projecting Fehr to win this battle. The undrafted rookie from Appalachian State has had a strong camp, making a couple notable plays and more importantly, appearing around the ball quite a bit. He's also a freakish athlete, with measurements including a 4.45 40, a 40.5-inch vertical jump, and a bench press max of 415 pounds. Nickerson has experience in the league, but he also received rather poor PFF grades during his Bengals career. Reese probably arrived too late in camp to unseat Lynch or Fehr.
Projected winner: Fehr
Backup safeties: Josh Metellus vs. Myles Dorn vs. Steven Parker vs. Nate Meadors
Number of winners: 2
The Vikings' lack of proven depth behind Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris remains a concern. The team has worked out veterans Jahleel Addae and George Iloka, but Zimmer and company are currently rolling with a bunch of inexperienced players as depth safeties. If either star were to go down with a significant injury, I'd imagine the Vikings might look to bring in a veteran who knows their defense.
For now, the Vikings need to decide which players they're going to keep on the initial 53-man roster. I think they'll go with four safeties, which means two of the four players above are going to be cut. The competition is comprised of two rookies (Metellus and Dorn), a second-year converted cornerback (Meadors), and a third-year player who had two picks for the Dolphins last year (Parker). I didn't include him here, but it could be possible that Dan Chisena's special teams ability could get him onto the roster.
I'm going to go with Meadors because of his experience in this defense, and Metellus because he was a sixth-round pick who the Vikings are high on. Those two guys have spent a lot of time with the second team during training camp.
Projected winners: Meadors and Metellus
There are other guys fighting for roster spots – including at cornerback, offensive line, defensive line, and elsewhere – but these five competitions stand out to me.
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