Starter: Kirk Cousins
Not really much to say here. Kirk Cousins is locked in as the Vikings starting quarterback after signing a fully guaranteed 3-year/$84 million deal in free agency. With the big price tag comes big expectations and with the weapons surrounding CuzBuzz, there is no reason to think he should not put up his 4th-straight season with 4,000 yards and 25 (+) touchdown passes.
Backups: Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
While the starting quarterback job is not up for grabs, the battle for the backup job could be an entertaining battle.
The Vikings traded a 2019 5th-round pick to the Broncos for veteran quarterback Trevor Siemian and a 2018 7th-round pick. During Siemian’s two seasons as the Broncos starting quarterback, he completed 59% of his passes while totaling 5,686 passing yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 30:24. While those numbers won’t blow anyone away it does provide some stability if, heaven forbid, something does happen to Cousins.
The other option for the backup job would be the 2nd-year undrafted free agent, Kyle Sloter. Sloter was with the Broncos but was let go during the final roster cuts. This came as a surprise to some as Sloter was quite impressive during the preseason, completing 31 of his 43 pass attempts (72%) and three touchdown passes.
Below you can watch some of Sloter’s best throws from 2017 preseason:
Running Back (4)
Starter: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray
When healthy, Dalvin Cook was the clear lead-dog in the Vikings backfield during his rookie season. During his three-plus games, Cook averaged 18.5 carries per game, which put him on a 296 carry pace during his rookie campaign. While Cook has the game to handle that kind of workload it would not be the worst thing in the world for the Vikings to continue to get Latavius Murray consistent touches, especially in short-yardage and goal line situations.
Reserves: Mike Boone, CJ Ham
The biggest question mark comes from the Vikings 3rd running back spot. CJ Ham will likely be the emergency RB as well as the starting fullback, but with the departure of Jerick McKinnon to San Francisco, the Vikings still have a need for a back that can play on third-down and excel in the passing game.
The options for the third running back spot will likely be between 3rd year running back, Mack Brown and two undrafted free agents, Mike Boone and Roc Thomas. Brown could have the advantage due to his experience at the pro level, but I believe that the choice will come down to either Boone or Thomas due to their upside in the passing game.
Thomas, a former five-star recruit, originally committed to Auburn but due to injuries and a crowded running back room which limited his role in the offense, Thomas decided to transfer to Jacksonville State after his sophomore season.
During his first season with the Gamecocks, Thomas played in 9 games, starting 4, and was named first-team All-Ohio Valley honors after putting up 127/782/7 in his first season with the program. During his second season, Thomas was named the starting running back and had a monster year. On just 178 carries Thomas put up 1,065 yards and found the end zone 13 times. Thomas also had better production as a pass catcher his second year, improving his total receptions (13 –> 21) and receiving yards (173 –>244). Those totals were good enough to earn Thomas his second-straight first-team All-Conference bid, while also being named second-team All-American by the Associated Press.
While Boone does not come with the pedigree Thomas possesses, he does look to be a back that can excel in the passing game. When Boone was being recruited by college programs, it was actually as a wide receiver, not as a running back. When Boone got to Cincinnati the original plan was to redshirt him his freshman year so he could focus on learning a new position. However, due to some injuries, Boone was forced into action right away and ended up leading the Bearcats in rushing (650) and scored 9 touchdowns during his freshman campaign.
Boone improved on his impressive freshman campaign by averaging 7.2 yards-per-carry and scoring 9 touchdowns as a sophomore. Through Boone’s first two seasons with the Bearcats he averaged 6.8 yards-per-carry, but after battling a foot injury Boone’s yards-per-carry dropped nearly in half to 3.98. Boone’s senior season was slightly better but it still remains to be seen whether or not he can regain the explosiveness he showed early in his Bobcat career.
Wide Receiver (6)
Starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are locked into the starting wide receiver position, but after that, there is the opportunity for someone to take hold of the no. 3 spot on the wide receiver depth chart.
Reserves: Laquon Treadwell, Kendall Wright, Stacy Coley, Brandon Zylstra
Make no mistake, this is the final chance for Laquon Treadwell to become a consistent contributor to the Vikings offense. Treadwell was in line to be the no. 3 receiver for the Vikings last year, but after an injury in training camp, Treadwell seemingly lost his job to veteran Jarius Wright.
Although it could just be coach-speak, head coach Mike Zimmer indicated that he thought this was Treadwell’s best offseason to date. There were reports that Zimmer wanted Treadwell to train smarter, not harder, after finding him running stairs and working out at the training camp field late at night and it appears something has clicked with the former first-round pick.
If Treadwell cannot claim the no. 3 wide receiver job the Vikings do have an insurance policy with veteran, Kendall Wright. After falling out of favor with the Titans, Wright had somewhat of a bounce-back season with the Chicago Bears, posting 59 receptions for 614 yards and one touchdown. Although the explosive plays were lacking (10.4 ypc), that could be due in large part to the conservative offensive gameplan the Bears employed last year with John Fox and a rookie quarterback.
Stacy Coley will likely be the no. 5 wide receiver but with Cayleb Jones serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, there could be an open roster spot, at least for a couple weeks.
According to reports the receiver who consistently flashed during the offseason program was the former Concordia-Moorehead Cobber, Brandon Zylstra.
Zylstra spent the last two seasons in the Canadian football League playing for the Edmonton Eskimos. After a decent first season, Zylstra really turned it on in the sophomore campaign. The 6’3″ 220 lbs receiver was 4th in the league in receptions (100), number one in receiving yards (1,697) and was one of the best wideouts in terms of big-play ability (16.9 ypc) and was the 2nd best receiver in the league in generating YAC ability (489 YAC). If Zylstra can build off his strong spring there could be a real possibility that he makes the 53 out of camp while Jones serves his suspension.
Tight End (3)
Starter: Kyle Rudolph
With the addition of Kirk Cousins, Kyle Rudolph should be in line for a big statistical year. Over the last three years, the tight end has been one of Cousins’ favorite options in the passing game, averaging 122 targets and 89 receptions while Cousins was the starting quarterback.
While its hard to envision Rudolph getting 122 targets this season with Diggs and Thielen as the primary targets of the passing game, a season line of 58/649/8 (in line with career averages) is more than possible for the veteran tight end.
Reserves: David Morgan, Tyler Conklin
Even if Rudolph is the no. 1 tight end there should still be some targets mixed in for third-year tight end, David Morgan. Originally thought of as a blocking specialist, Morgan flashed some impressive receiving ability to go along with his upper-echelon blocking skills.
Rookie Tyler Conklin was generating quite a bit of buzz during the offseason program. While there probably will not be many targets to go around between Rudolph, Morgan and Conklin, the rookie fifth rounder should still make the squad as the no. 3 tight end.
Offensive Line (9)
Starters: Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers, Rashod Hill
Reserves: Brian O’Neill, Aviante Collins, Danny Isidora, Colby Gossett
There is no question that the offensive line is the weak point on the Vikings roster. While the team is bringing back 4 of 5 starters from last years squad there is still a fair amount of uncertainty, especially with the 2nd unit.
Right now, Rashod Hill is slated to open up camp as the starting right tackle for the Vikings. Hill was not a world-beater, but he was more than serviceable as a right tackle last season. Yes, he struggled in the playoffs, specifically in the NFC Championship game, but, for a guy the Vikings signed off the Jaguars practice squad they have easily gotten a positive return on their investment.
Brian O’Neill, the Vikings second-round pick, will likely be the backup right tackle when camp opens and could see time as the 6th offensive lineman if the team decides to go with a jumbo package.
The backup guard spot will be an interesting battle during training camp. Second-year guard, Danny Isidora will likely be the backup on the right side while veteran Tom Compton and rookie UDFA Colby Gossett battle for the backup LG spot.
One guy I do not currently have on the 53, but I think people should keep an eye on is Josh Andrews. Andrews (27), signed with the Eagles as a UDFA in 2014 and spent the last three seasons with the team before signing with the Vikings this offseason. Andrews provides a versatile player on the interior with the ability to play both guard and center and with Nick Easton being the primary backup at center right now, having a guy that would allow Easton to stay at G in the event of an injury to Elflein could be very appealing.
Defensive Line (10)
Starters: Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson, Everson Griffen
After losing Sharrif Floyd to a career-ending nerve issue, the three-technique has been biggest hole on the Vikings defensive line. Tom Johnson and Shamarr Stephen performed admirably as a tandem, but with the signing of Sheldon Richardson the Vikings have someone who is not only a dynamite pass-rusher, but someone who can be a force against the run.
Reserves: Brian Robison, David Perry, Jaleel Johnson, Tashawn Bower, Stephen Weatherly, Jayln Holmes
Last year the Vikings depth, or lack-there-of, along the defensive line really showed towards the end of the season, specifically in the NFC Championship game against the Eagles.
This year it seems like Zimmer is going to try and cycle his defensive ends in more often this season. Jayln Holmes, the Vikings 4th-round pick this season, was defensive end in college, but it sounds like he is going to play defensive tackle with the Vikings. Holmes broke his hand during the offseason program so it will be intersting to see if he is full-go once training camp starts.
Brian Robison is still effective, but definitely not the athlete or pass-rusher that he used to be. Despite agreeing to a pay cut there is still the possibility that Robison could be cut during training camp, saving the Vikings $1.1 million dollars against the cap with no dead money. While B-Rob is a fan favorite and I would love to see him finish his career hoisting the Lombardi with the Vikings, the team needs to eventually see what they have in some of their younger, developmental pass-rushers like Stephen Weatherly and Tashawn Bower.
The Vikings 7th-round pick Ade Aruna could be the wild card of the group. Standing 6055, 262 lbs with a 38 1/2″ vertical Aruna possesses elite measurables and if he does flash during the preseason there’s a chance some team will snag Aruna if the Vikings try and sneak him through waivers to the practice squad.
Starters: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon
Reserves: Eric Wilson, Garret Dooley
While the starting linebackers will be the same as last year, the depth at the linebacker position is down-right putrid, and even worse with Kentrell Brother suspended for the first 4 games of the season after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Eric Wilson enters his sophomore campaign as the only linebacker that I would say has a guaranteed spot on the 53. After Wilson, the Vikings will choose from the likes of Reshard Cliett, Devante Downs, Garret Dooley and Antwoine Williams.
If I had to pick one of those guys right now to make the 53 it would probably be Garret Dooley. Dooley was a highly touted recruit coming out of Illinois but struggled to get regular playing time until his senior season during his 3-year career at Wisconsin.
When he did get on the field he made his presence felt in opposing backfields, tallying 17.0 TFL’s and 9.0 sacks in his final two seasons with the Badgers.
Devante Downs could also be an option for the 5th linebacker spot. Downs was on his way to having a career year during his senior season at Cal, but due to a “lower body injury”, his season was cut short after just 7 games. During his career Downs established himself as a guy that can make an impact in coverage (5 INTs) as well as make plays in the run game (14.5 TFL’s) and even showed that he could get after the quarterback on occasion (8.0 sacks).
Starters: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander,
Equipt with four first-round draft picks and a second-round draft pick the Vikings have the deepest set of cornerbacks in recent memory. Xavier Rhodes has firmly established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in football, consistently following the opposing teams top receiving option week in-week out.
Although he still needs to get better driving on passes, Trae Waynes has taken some very positive steps and established himself as a good, not great, no. 2 corner in the NFL.
Reserves: Mike Hughes, Terence Newman, Holton Hill
Rookie first-round pick, Mike Hughes will likely open the year as the Vikings no. 4 cornerback and could be the primary punt returner if the Vikings end up moving on from Marcus Sherels.
While Hughes will be the no. 4 corner to open camp, there is a real possibility that Hughes could split nickel snaps with Mackensie Alexander.
I think this is it, folks. Yes, THIS will be the year that Marcus Sherels is cut off the 53-man roster. Normally I live by the three guarantees in life; death, taxes and Marcus Sherels on the 53. But, with the addition of talented UDFA Holton Hill, I think Sherels’ days could be numbered.
Holton Hill is a BALLER. Cant see how this kid doesn’t make the 53 pic.twitter.com/lQhTmxk7F5
— Josh Mensch (@JoshMenschNFL) July 19, 2018
Due to the lack of elite speed Hill tends to get handsy during at the top of routes, which could make him vulnerable to holds and pass interference during his transition to the pro game. However, I would rather have a corner that needs to tone it down as opposed to be told to be rev it up.
Now, if the Vikings do decide to keep Sherels it could come down to the dead money in Marcus Sherels and Terence Newman’s contract. Sherels has a $1.4 million cap hit this year, and while the team could save $900,000 if they cut him, they would also be on the hook for $500,000 in “dead” money.On the other hand, cutting Newman saves the Vikings $720,000 against the cap without having any “dead” money on the books.
Just something to keep an eye one if the Vikings need some additional cap space to lock up guys like Barr and Diggs.
Starters: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo
The Hitman is still the best safety in football and Andrew Sendejo is coming off the best season of his career. ‘Dejo has been battling some nagging injuries throughout the spring, but, by all indications the 9-year vet should be good to go once training camp starts.
While his roster spot is likely safe this season with a reasonable cap hit of $3.5 million, this could be Sendejo’s last year in purple as the team can save $5.5 million next year.
Reserves: Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse
There’s not much competition for the backup safety spots. Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse have both been with the team for multiple years and know the defensive scheme. Harris has made some spot starts and always seems to make a big play when he is on the field.
Kearse is a guy that still probably won’t play much this year unless there are a couple injuries, but his ability on special teams, specifically as a gunner on punt coverage has been a major asset.
“Cobra” Kai Forbath has been a solid placekicker since the Vikings picked him up in the middle of the 2016/17 season, making 47 of his 53 field goal attempts (88.6%). Kai has been damn near automatic from 49-yards and in making 40 of his 43 attempts (93%), but Forbath’s issues with longer field goals and inconsistencies with extra points have left his job security in question
In 2018 Forbath was the 2nd-worst kicker in the NFL on point after attempts, missing a league-high 5 extra points last season (34/39). Forbath also tied with Broncos kicker, Brandon McManus, for the 2nd most misses from 50+ yards (3).
Forbath was also one of the worst kickers when it came to kickoffs last season. According to The Football Database, Forbath ranked 20th in TB% last season (44/88) and allowed the 9th most Yards Per Return (23). While it may seem like I am nitpicking, power on kickoffs looks like it will be emphasized with the new kickoff rules.
On top of the inconsistency with his power, Forbath will likely an uphill battle if he hopes to win the kicking job after the Vikings traded up in the 5th round for former Auburn kicker, Daniel Carlson.
Carlson earned first-team All-Conference in both the 2016 and 2017 season and earned SEC Special Teams player of the year. In his career, Carlson converted 92 of his 114 field goal attempts (80.7%) and made 100% of his extra point attempts (198). It should be noted that the college extra points are still the 19-yard chip-shot, so Carlson still needs to prove he can make the extra point on a consistent basis in the pro game.