The Minnesota Vikings entered the 2012 offseason with a goal of making the roster younger.
Through free agency and the draft the team has done exactly that and now must turn their attention to which of these young players will be on the team come September 9th, when the team plays its first game against Jacksonville.
Many positions on the roster are secure, but there are still plenty of spots left up for grabs, especially along both the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.
Vikings fans should notice an influx of speed and talent on the roster in 2012 compared to 2011. Here are my early projections for who will make the team.
Guaranteed Spots: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels
Barring the addition of another veteran quarterback, this position group is all but set. Ponder will start, Webb will back him up and Rosenfels will be a mentor for both.
Many Vikings fans were disappointed with the production from Ponder during his rookie season; I happen to disagree with them and look forward to what he can bring.
However, Ponder does need to show improvement, especially with the additions of better receivers and a re-vamped offensive line.
Guaranteed Spots: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart
Fighting for a Spot: Lex Hilliard, Jordan Todman
Last season the Vikings opened the year with three running backs on the roster.
But with Adrian Peterson coming off of knee surgery, the team may look at keeping an extra back for emergency purposes.
Peterson is reportedly far ahead of schedule, which is good news for the Vikings and their fans. For this reason, I think the Vikings will again add just three backs to their 53-man roster.
The real battle lies between newly signed Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman, two backs with very different playing styles.
The 27-year-old Hilliard is much bigger, standing at 5'11", 240 lbs. He has one speed and is not going to make anybody miss. Strictly a downhill, between the tackles runner.
Todman measures in at 5'9", 193 lbs. and is younger at just 22 years old. He ran a 4.40 40 at the combine in 2011 and was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Chargers.
Todman offers value as a third-down pass catcher. His game is similar to that of former Viking Lorenzo Booker, but he has shown more explosiveness and speed.
In the end, I think the Vikings will give Todman the spot on the 53-man roster.
Guaranteed Spots: None
Fighting for a Spot: Rhett Ellison, Jerome Felton, Matt Asiata, Ryan D'Imperio
For the first time in 13 years the Vikings will open their season without Jim Kleinsasser on their roster.
That opens up a spot that will be filled with high expectations. The ideal candidate will bring toughness, great blocking skills and tenacity.
After being selected in the fourth round this season, Rhett Ellison will have the upper hand on the other competitors.
Felton and Asiata were both brought in during free agency. Asiata and D'Imperio seem to be the odd men out at this point.
Jerome Felton brings experience and has the ability to catch a few passes out of the backfield. However, he is not the greatest of blockers which means he must really outperform Ellison.
Ellison is also a receiving threat out of the backfield but is a better blocker.
It is hard for me to believe that the Vikings will let a fourth-round selection go—Ellison is the choice.
Guaranteed Spots: Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs
Fighting for Spots: Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Kris Adams, Bryan Walters
Last season, the Vikings kept five receivers on their active roster all season long. Jerome Simpson will have to sit out the first three games which will open up an extra spot for one player to open the season.
Right now one would have to believe that after investing fourth-round selections on former Arkansas wide receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, those two have the upper hand.
Barring injury or an off-field incident I would have to agree. That leaves five others fighting for a three-game tryout.
Burton and Arceneaux spent much of last season on the practice squad and I would expect a similar scenario in 2012. Same can be said for Kris Adams.
That leaves Bryan Walters and Devin Aromashodu fighting for the final spot. Aromashodu had nearly 500 receiving yards in 2011, but left far more on the field.
Walters is a former Charger who brings the most value as a punt returner. But with Jarius Wright being able to also help out there, I suspect he will be the odd man out in 2012.
That leaves Devin Aromashodu with the opportunity to show what he can do over the first three games.
Guaranteed Spots: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson
Fighting for a Spot: Allen Reisner, Micky Shuler
A year ago the Vikings opened their season with Visanthe Shiancoe, Kyle Rudolph and Allen Reisner as their three tight ends.
In 2012, Rudolph and the newly inked John Carlson are guaranteed spots, leaving one up for grabs between Reisner and Shuler.
Reisner and Shuler are similar players; both lack the speed to be a starter, but are good blockers who can play in short-yardage situations.
The Vikings kept Reisner on the roster last year and I expect them to do the same this year.
Guaranteed Spots: Matt Kalil, Charles Johnson, John Sullivan, Geoff Schwartz, Phil Loadholt
Fighting for Spots: Patrick Brown, DeMarcus Love, Joe Berger, Jose Valdez, Brandon Fusco, Chris DeGeare, Quentin Saulsberry
The suspension of Kevin Williams to open the 2011 season allowed the Vikings to open the season with 10 offensive linemen. In 2012 that number will most likely move back to nine.
The five starters are all but set in stone at this point, but there is plenty of competition for the remaining four spots.
Valdez, Brown and Love will compete for two backup tackle spots. All three are 25 years old or younger and it truly is a tossup between them. Because of their experience in the system I will give the nod to Love and Brown.
The other two positions will be reserved for the interior. Twenty-nine-year-old veteran Joe Berger has a leg up on the competition after starting a combined seven games in 2011. I would suspect him to make the roster.
That leaves rookie free agent Quentin Saulsberry, and former late-round picks Chris DeGeare and Brandon Fusco fighting for the final spot.
Fusco was ahead of DeGeare a season ago and will likely do the same in 2012. With Berger's ability to play center as well as guard I think that leaves Saulsberry on the outside looking in as well.
Guaranteed Spots: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Brian Robison, Christian Ballard, Everson Griffen, Fred Evans
Fighting for Spots: D'Aundre Reed, Trevor Guyton, Tydreke Powell, Chase Baker, Ernest Owusu
Griffen can also play linebacker which may open up another spot on the roster, but I am listing him now strictly as a defensive lineman.
With seven spots already locked up, that leaves two up for grabs. Reed and Guyton have the upper hands at this point, as both have been drafted by the team in the last two years.
Powell, Baker and Owusu are all undrafted free agents from the 2012 draft class. Of the three, I think Powell has the best chance to stick because he plays NT.
However, I think the Vikings would like to keep Reed—a raw, yet exciting talent. I also think they will keep Guyton as he has the versatility to play RE and 3-technique.
Guaranteed Spots: Erin Henderson, Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley
Fighting for Spots: Larry Dean, Solomon Elimimian, Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie, Audie Cole, Tyler Nielsen
The three backup spots are up for grabs at linebacker. Elimimian and Dean lack the size to play consistently and are strictly special teamers.
Cole and Nielsen will join the team as rookies fresh from college. McKenzie and Mitchell are free-agent signees who bring the ability to play both special teams and start in a pinch.
Mitchell has proven over the past three seasons to be a solid backup in the NFL, so I think he will get a spot. I also think the Vikings envision Audie Cole as a backup versatile enough to play any of the three positions.
That leaves Dean, Elimimian, McKenzie and Nielsen fighting for one spot. McKenzie was a once-promising prospect who had his career derailed by injury. If he shows up to camp healthy I think the last spot is his.
If not, I would expect Nielsen to beat out Dean and Elimimian due to his versatility of being able to start in a pinch and play special teams.
Guaranteed Spots: Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson
Fighting for Spots: Zack Bowman, Asher Allen, Marcus Sherels, Chris Carr, Brandon Burton
The Vikings signed Carr and Bowman with the idea that they would at the very least provide competition come fall camp.
Allen, Sherels and Burton spent last season on the active roster. In Allen the Vikings have someone who can play in sub packages and that's about it.
Sherels bring value as a punt returner, but the Vikings also drafted two guys in Robinson and WR Jarius Wright who can help out there. He is raw, but fast and talented. I would look for him to be on the practice squad come 2012.
A fifth-round draft pick a year ago, Burton is still just 22 years old and has great size at 6'0", 190 lbs. He improved last season, and I think the Vikings will give him a chance again in 2012.
I think the last two spots will be filled by Bowman and Carr, veterans with plenty of experience playing in zone coverage. That leaves Asher Allen as the odd man out.
Guaranteed Spots: Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford
Fighting for a Spot: Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah
This one is quite simple. The Vikings will keep the four young safeties, including the former Notre Dame duo recently drafted.
That leaves one spot and two players. Only problem is, one of those players—Abdullah—is not currently on the roster.
If he decides to sign a contract, he will get the final spot. If not, Frampton will be on the team. That simple.
Guaranteed Spots: Chris Kluwe, Cullen Loeffler
Fighting for a Spot: Ryan Longwell, Blair Walsh
Kluwe and Loeffler will be on the squad barring an injury or suspension.
That leaves the kicker position that many fans expected to be a guaranteed spot for Ryan Longwell prior to the draft. However, I was not one of them.
Longwell struggled in 2011 with both accuracy and power. He is currently one of the NFL's top paid kickers, but he is not performing like it.
Also, when a team uses a draft pick on a kicker or punter, they are expecting that player to be on their final 53-man roster.
For all the struggles Walsh had in 2011, he more than proved himself in 2009 and 2010. In fact, nine of his 14 missed field-goal attempts in 2011 came from 45 yards or longer.
Walsh also can drive the ball to the back of the end zone on kickoffs, something Longwell has never been able to do.
The Vikings are not expecting to go to the playoffs in 2012 and must look towards the future. Longwell may be the better kicker now, but in the end I think the rookie will beat out the veteran due to his upside.
Quarterback: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels
Running Back: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman
H-Back: Rhett Ellison
Wide Receiver 1: Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson, Greg Childs
Wide Receiver 2: Percy Harvin, Jarius Wright, Devin Aromashodu
Tight End 1: Kyle Rudolph, Allen Reisner
Tight End 2: John Carlson, Rhett Ellison
Left Tackle: Matt Kalil, DeMarcus Love
Left Guard: Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco
Center: John Sullivan, Joe Berger
Right Guard: Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger
Right Tackle: Phil Loadholt, Patrick Brown
Left Defensive End: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, D'Aundre Reed
3-Technique: Kevin Williams, Christian Ballard, Trevor Guyton
Nose Tackle: Letroy Guion, Fred Evans
Right Defensive End: Brian Robison, Trevor Guyton
Sam Linebacker: Chad Greenway, Marvin Mitchell
Mike Linebacker: Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole
Will Linebacker: Erin Henderson, Tyler Nielsen
Field Corner: Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Brandon Burton
Strong Safety: Jamarca Sanford, Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton
Free Safety: Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond
Boundary Corner: Antoine Winfield, Zack Bowman
Kicker: Blair Walsh
Punter: Chris Kluwe
Long Snapper: Cullen Loeffler
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