A few weeks ago the Vikings pretty much cleaned up the NFL Draft, snagging three first round draft picks, and getting some pretty good value in the later rounds. After signing a slew of undrafted free agent rookies, and going through the rookie mini-camp last week, the roster looks to be primed for Training Camp as the Vikings have already hit their cap of 90 players. Through the course of the off-season, training camp and pre-season that number will eventually be trimmed to only 53, but until then I’m going to take a look at where things stand and offer my insanely early predictions for who will likely win out spots on the team. Using the roster information from Vikings.com, I’ll start with the offense.
Quarterbacks: McCleod Bethel-Thompson, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, James Vandenberg, Joe Webb
This is a unit that, on paper anyway, stinks. Christian Ponder has had an up-and-down first 2 years, and Matt Cassel similarly has had an up-and-down 8-year career in the league. Ponder is the starter with Cassel serving as the veteran backup, and Ponder has a lot riding on this season. Then we’ve got a bunch of inexperienced potential behind those two. Joe Webb may be done as a QB after his abysmal performance in last year’s playoff game, and Vandenberg was signed as an undrafted rookie and will be lucky to make the practice squad. Bethel-Thompson has a rocket arm, but has some accuracy issues, and still has a ways to go in development.
Roster Prediction: Ponder – Cassel – Bethel-Thompson (James Vandenberg – Practice Squad)
Running Backs: Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerome Felton, Toby Gerhart, Zach Line, Adrian Peterson, Bradley Randle, Jerodis Williams
Last year’s league MVP reiterated recently what he said in January, that he wants to rush for 2,500 yards in 2013, and if he thinks he can do it…at this point, I believe him. It will be interesting to see what the team does with Peterson’s backup Toby Gerhart. Toby has the talent to be a bruising, between the tackles starter in the NFL, but the team obviously will be riding Peterson for the next few years. Gerhart is on the last year of his rookie deal and may want to seek out a starters role and/or more money from another team next year. When Peterson is reaching the end of his career in about 2-3 years from now, Gerhart will be 29 and looking at minimal productive years left. If I were the Vikings, I would be looking to trade Gerhart to try to get some draft pick compensation, although they may be hoping for a compensatory pick as well. After those two, it’s really anyone’s game for the 3rd RB spot. Asiata played his way onto the team last pre-season against some pretty mediocre competition, and unless the trio of undrafted rookies can bring a lot to the table, the job would appear to be Asiata’s to lose.
Roster Prediction: Peterson – Gerhart – Asiata, Jerome Felton (FB), (Joe Banyard – Practice Squad)
Wide Receivers: LaMark Brown, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Erik Highsmith, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Rodney Smith, Chris Summers, Adam Thielen, Jarius Wright
Arguably the weakest position on the offensive side of the ball last year, the Vikings have done a lot to address this area. First, they shipped Percy Harvin off to the Seahawks for a slew of picks, including a 1st rounder. Second, they signed veteran free agent Greg Jennings to a hefty deal from the Packers. Third, they moved up into the first round to draft Cordarrelle Patterson using an extra pick they acquired in the Harvin trade along with a few others. Fourth, they brought in four undrafted free agent rookies to compete in training camp. And finally, they are hoping that a pair of receivers can get healthy and contribute more on the field than they did last year: Greg Childs (who was on IR) and Jerome Simpson (who was suspended for the first three games, and then hurt his back and played less than 100% for the 2nd half of the year). They are also hoping that 2nd year player Jarius Wright can take a step forward in development, and that Chris Summers and Stephen Burton can find ways to contribute. Greg Childs is the interesting story here as he tore patellar tendons in both knees during training camp last year and has been rehabbing and trying to get back on the field ever since. He was a guy that many viewed as having 1st round talent, but struggled with injury issues in college. So, if can come back from this injury (which is a long shot to begin with) he could surprise many and emerge as a starter eventually. With Childs likely to start on the PUP, it will be interesting to see how many receivers they keep. Also, Joe Webb has apparently been taking more reps at WR this off-season.
Roster Prediction: Jennings, Simpson, Wright, Patterson, Childs (PUP), Webb (Erik Highsmith – Practice Squad)
Tight Ends: Colin Anderson, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Kyle Rudolph
John Carlson was the “big” free agent signing of last off-season, and after getting injured in the pre-season, he never really found a role on the team last year. He’s got one more year to prove his worth until his guaranteed money runs out on his contract, otherwise he’ll be shown the door. Kyle Rudolph emerged as the go-to guy over the middle last year, and Ellison found a nitch as a blocking TE. We’ll see if undrafted free-agent rookies Anderson and Ford can bring anything to the table, but it will be tough to unseat the trio of TE’s for a starters role.
Roster Prediction: Rudolph – Ellison – Carlson
Tackles: Mark Jackson, Brandon Keith, Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, DeMarcus Love
Guards: Jeff Baca, Travis Bond, Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, Seth Olsen
Centers: John Sullivan, Camden Wendz
General: Joe Berger, Tyler Holmes, Troy Kropog, Kevin Murphy
We have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL with a pair of elite tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, and according to Pro Football Focus, the best center in the NFL. Our guard position leaves a little to be desired, but I really like 6th round selection Jeff Baca to offer up some competition at that position. Even 7th rounder Travis Bond could compete. I’m a little concerned about our backup Tackle should Kalil or Loadholt go down, and our general depth behind the starters still needs some improvement. But this unit should excel in 2013.
LT: Matt Kalil, DeMarcus Love
LG: Charlie Johnson, Jeff Baca
C: John Sullivan, (Travis Bond)
RG: Brandon Fusco, Travis Bond
RT: Phil Loadholt, Troy Kropog
Practice Squad: Seth Olsen, Kevin Murphy
Defensive End: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Lawrence Jackson, Marquis Jackson, George Johnson, D’Aundrae Reed, Brian Robison, Collins Ukwu
We have a predicament with the end position. Both of our starters, and our top backup are on the last year of their deals and all three will become free agents at the end of the year. In other words, they are all in a contract year and will be playing their guts out. It’s also worth mentioning that both starters are over the age of 30 and aren’t getting any younger. It remains to be seen what the future of the DE position is in Minnesota, but the team went out and signed 1st-round disappointment Lawrence Jackson in free agency, presumably to serve in a backup role, and Everson Griffen looks primed to take over one of the starting roles in 2014 and beyond. There are a lot of question marks after that.
Roster Prediction: Allen, Robison, Griffen, L. Jackson, (Practice Squad – Collins Ukwu)
Defensive Tackles: Chase Baker, Christian Ballard, Everett Dawkins, Fred Evans, Sharrif Floyd, Letroy Guion, Anthony McCloud, Kevin Williams
This is a position that was in major need of an overhaul this off-season, and the Vikings addressed it with their first pick of the draft by selecting Shariff Floyd. Most analysts were stunned that he fell so far to the Vikings with pick #23, but I couldn’t be happier. With Kevin Williams on the last year of a restructured deal and likely looking at retirement after 2013, and inconsistency in Guion and Evans, they desperately needed some help. Christian Ballard has yet to prove he’s worthy of being a starter in the NFL, and who knows what 7th rounder Everett Dawkins brings to the table. Chase Baker was a practice squad hold-over from last year, so perhaps he can compete and find a role on the team. Either way, we’ll likely be looking at another high round draft pick at the defensive tackle position in next year’s draft too.
Roster Prediction: Williams, Evans, Floyd, Ballard (Practice Squad – Everett Dawkins)
Linebackers: Audie Cole, Larry Dean, Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Tyrone McKenzie, Marvin Mitchell, Nathan Williams
If there was one hole on defense we needed to fill this off-season, it was the middle linebacker position. After we let EJ Henderson go after the 2011 season, Jasper Brinkley became the new MLB in 2012, and boy was he terrible. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated Brinkley as one of the worst tackling MLB in the league. Thankfully he was not resigned and the Arizona Cardinals picked him up. Unfortunately, we gave up too many draft picks to move up for Patterson, and that left us a little thin at LB after the draft. We picked up OLB Hodges in the 4th, and took a 7th round flier on his teammate Michael Mauti, who is rehabbing from his third ACL tear. Word on the street is that former starting OLB Erin Henderson is bulking up in preparation to take over as the new MLB. That means that Hodges would likely slide in as the new starer at OLB. Then perhaps when Mauti is healthy (if he can regain his form) he could push to start at MLB eventually. This is a unit that is still in flux and will likely need to be addressed again next off-season.
OLB: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole
MLB: Erin Henderson, Michael Mauti
OLB: Gerald Hodges, Marvin Mitchell
Cornerbacks: Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Bobby Felder, AJ Jefferson, Jacob Lacey, Greg McCoy, Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Roderick Williams
I was sad to see Antoine Winfield released as a casualty of the salary cap, and equally annoyed to see him sign with “Vikings West” (Seattle Seahawks). But when the Vikings drafted Xavier Rhodes with their second 1st round pick, all was forgiven. Rhodes was largely viewed as the 2nd best CB in the draft, and should slot in as an immediate starter opposite Chris Cook. Rhodes is a tall, physical cornerback that will make a formiddable pairing with Cook to battle the NFC North’s big receivers in Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson. This unit is young, but talented and I expect them to take a huge step forward in their pass defense in 2013.
Roster Prediction: Cook, Rhodes, Robinson, Jefferson, Lacey, Felder (Roderick Williams – Practice Squad)
Safeties: Brandon Bishop, Robert Blanton, Darius Eubanks, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo, Harrison Smith
Last year’s 1st round pick Harrison Smith had a very good rookie season and has solidified his spot in the starting rotation. The battle between Raymond and Sanford seems to have been won by Sanford as he was rewarded with a nice 2-year deal this past off-season. Last off-season this position was in complete disarray, but now it’s becoming a position of strength. If Robert Blanton can continue to make progress in his transition from CB to S, we could have four players capable of starting. Sendejo proved to be a valuable special teamer as well.
Roster Prediction: Smith, Sanford, Raymond, Blanton, Sendejo
K: Blair Walsh
P: Jeff Locke
LS: Cullen Loeffler
This is a unit that has been completely overhauled the past 2 years, and I would bet that the overhaul will continue very shortly with the long snapper position. The Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke in the 5th round, which is a little high for a punter IMO. Chris Kluwe was shown the boot a few days ago, and the move freed up about a $1 Million in cap space. Loeffler is also another aging vet (32 years old) with a high cap cost for his position, and if the Vikings can find another reliable long snapper, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him cut either this year or next. If would fit with the theme as they’ve parted ways with Longwell and Kluwe. Walsh did nothing but set a league record for most 50-yarders last year (as a rookie!) and made the Pro Bowl, and Locke was generally rated as the top punter available in the 2013 draft. So, we should have one of the youngest and best kicking trios in the league going forward.
Roster Prediction: Walsh, Locke, Loeffler
And there you have it. I just went back and counted up all my predictions, and magically they total 53 with 8 players on the practice squad (Go Me!). I’ll be sure to revisit this at the end of August and see how I did with my predictions. If it turns out anything like last year’s attempt right before Training Camp, I’ll miss the mark on most of the backup positions. But hey, it’s fun to try anyway!