Today was a big day for the Minnesota Vikings. Not only did all of the players report to Training Camp today, but they also finally signed all three of their 1st round draft picks: Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson. Training Camp practices get underway tomorrow. It’s almost impossible to believe, but Pre-Season games kick off a week from this Sunday on August 4th. The Hall of Fame game as it is known, is between the Dolphins and Cowboys this year. The Vikings first preseason game is two weeks from tomorrow on Friday, August 9th.
Shortly after the draft, I made a very early prediction about who I thought would make the final 53-man roster, but since then the team has made a couple of free agent moves, and after doing much more research, I’ve decided to take another stab at an opening day roster prediction. And with Training Camp literally right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to re-look at things.
Quarterbacks: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McCleod Bethel-Thompson
Not much has changed on this front. I’m still giving the edge to Bethel-Thompson for the #3 spot, as his rocket arm and year in the system should give him an edge over undrafted rookie James Vandenburg. I do like Vandenberg as a practice squad candidate, and his rhythm passing and play-fakes make him a good fit for our west coast style offense.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Zach Line, Jerome Felton
All-Day is still the top dog, obviously. But, I think that undrafted rookie Zach Line will make the roster. He comes highly touted out of Southern Methodist, shattering school rushing records, and he’s kind of a RB/FB hybrid. With our penchant for running the football in an old throw-back style, you can never have too many full backs. That, and Matt Asiata never really brought anything special to the table. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see us make a Pre-Season trade of Toby Gerhart to a RB-needy team. It would be good to get some compensation for him before he surely walks in free agency at the end of the year.
Wide Receivers: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb and Greg Childs
The first four players are easy picks, but the last two are not. I think the coaching staff is going to give Joe Webb the benefit of the doubt and a chance to thrive in his new position of wide receiver. He’s popular in the locker room and with fans. I also think the team is willing to give Greg Childs every chance to get back onto the field, even if that means he starts training camp on the PUP list tomorrow. Stephen Burton, the 3rd year, former 7th round pick hasn’t shown anything the past 2 years, aside from being a powerful and willing run-blocker. And that won’t be enough to make the roster this year I’m afraid.
Tight Ends: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Rhett Ellison
No surprises here. The team really needs to get something out of John Carlson this year, otherwise they will have thrown $10 Million in guaranteed money right down the toilet.
Offensive Line: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Seth Olsen, Travis Bond, and Jeff Baca.
The starters are easy: they’re the same as last year. It’s the backups that are hard to predict. I think Seth Olsen and Jeff Baca are locks. Both are guards, and should push Johnson and Fusco to get better, but even more than that Olsen is a vet with starting experience and Baca is a 6th round draft pick. Bond is a 7th round pick and mountain of a man who was drafted as a guard, but will probably get looks at tackle because of his size. Joe Berger is an aging vet, but can play multiple positions and that versatility and experience will get him a roster spot. Others that could be in the mix include DeMarcus Love and Troy Kropogg.
Defensive End: Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Lawrence Jackson
The Vikings have typically only kept four ends on the roster, but if they keep a fifth it would likely be D’Aundre Reed or Marquis Jackson. And since their three starters are all free agents at the end of the year, they might just keep five anticipating that they don’t keep all three free agents next year. This will be an interesting position group to watch.
Defensive Tackle: Kevin Williams, Fred Evans, Shariff Floyd, Anthony McCloud, Everett Dawkins
They have typically only kept four defensive tackles in the past too, however, I think the coaching staff is ready to give up on the Letroy Guion experiment, as Pro Football Focus rated him as the worst defensive tackle in the entire NFL last season. Look for Fred Evans to move into more of a starting role coming off the best season of his career. New rookie Shariff Floyd will likely see only rotational time as Kevin Williams backup, but slot into a starting position next year. I like rookies Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins to make the roster with both of them eventually slotting in as the backups behind Floyd and Evans next year. Christian Ballard will have to have an amazing training camp and Pre-Season to stick with the team after underwhelming in his first two seasons.
Linebackers: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Nathan Williams
I expect our linebacker group to look drastically different compared to last year. In fact, my prediction has us keeping only two players from the 2012 roster. I like both Penn State linebackers, and I feel like they are the future at the position and will learn a lot behind Greenway, Henderson and Bishop. There could be room for another linebacker to excel on Special Teams, and if Audie Cole has another great training camp and Pre-Season, he could play his way right onto the team again. Nathan Williams is another undrafted free agent that I love. He comes highly touted from Ohio State, and while he may be more of a fit as a 3-4 OLB that rushes the passer, he also has experience in the 4-3. He was coming off a knee injury last season and wasn’t at full health. But prior to that was garnering some hype and praise heading into the 2011 season. Williams is my under-the-radar pick.
Cornerback: Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Jacob Lacey, AJ Jefferson, and Marcus Sherels
This was a tough one. The first three are locks, but after that it’s really anyone’s guess. The team traded for AJ Jefferson prior to last season, and he showed some ability to stay with receivers. He makes for a great backup option on the outside. I like Jacob Lacey as a slot corner, and his familiarity with defensive coordinator Alan Williams should give him an edge. I honestly believe he could unseat Josh Robinson for the #3 spot. I went with Marcus Sherels as the #6 guy primarily because of his return ability, but he showed a complete lack of coverage skills when pressed into backup duty last year. I think a guy like Brandon Burton or Bobby Felder could easily surpass Marcus Sherels for the 6th spot.
Safety: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton
These are easy picks, and it’s possible the team keeps five. In the past few years they have kept five safeties to have some added defensive back depth for special teams. In that case, I like Brandon Bishop as an intriguing undrafted rookie with a reputation as a hard-hitter.
Special Teams: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Cullen Loeffler
Not much to say here…there is no one else on the roster but these three for kicking duties.
And that does it. I can’t wait to follow all of the coverage over the next couple of weeks and see who I’ll be rooting for in 2013. NFL Football is almost back! Woo!