The NFL depth chart is a fickle thing. The order constantly shifts week-to-week depending on individual performances from the most recent game, injuries suffered and the strength of the upcoming opponent.
In the case of the 2012 Minnesota Vikings, any prediction will be extremely difficult with the roster currently at the NFL maximum 90 players—46 of them who were not in Minnesota last season. That should not be a surprise for a team that finished 3-13 and is in the process of rebuilding.
The opening day roster for the Vikings will have a considerably different look to that of 2011.
Gone are 12 players that either opened the season in the starting lineup or had significant playing time.
This includes both starting guards, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and the opening day quarterback, Donovan McNabb, on offense.
Defensively, the Vikings are without cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen, safety Husain Abdullah, middle linebacker E. J. Henderson and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele.
Place-kicker Ryan Longwell, third all-time in scoring for the Vikings, has also been released.
While any attempt to predict the Vikings depth chart at this point is an exercise in futility, that's not going to stop me from projecting the team's starter and primary backup for each position.
Injuries and off-the-field issues devastated the cornerback position for the Vikings last season.
This will be Antoine Winfield's 14th season in the NFL. Winfield, who turns 35 this month, plans to finish out his current contract that runs through the 2013 season, and has no plans to move to safety.
Chris Cook was suspended from the team by head coach Leslie Frazier after being charged with felony domestic assault last October.
This will be a make-or-break season for Cook, who has only eight starts since be selected in the second round by the Vikings in the 2009 NFL draft.
They also addressed the position by drafting Josh Robinson from Central Florida in the third round with the 66th pick in the draft.
Starting cornerbacks: Winfield and Cook.
No. 3 corner: In three cornerback situations, Carr will come on the field, moving Winfield to cover the slot receiver.
Backups: Bowman and Robinson
Husain Abdullah and Jamarca Sanford were the starting safeties last season for the Vikings.
Abdullah, who the Vikings offered a contract, is now in Miami, and according to Tom Pelissero from 1500 ESPN, Sanford will move back to playing on the coverage units after a less than successful first season as the starter.
Harrison Smith moved to the top of the heap when the Vikings moved up from the third pick in Round 2 in order to select the Notre Dame safety with the 29th pick in Round 1.
Smith was joined by his teammate, Robert Blanton, when the Vikings selected him in the fifth round. A cornerback in college, Blanton is making the move to safety.
The other safeties currently on the roster include second-year player Mistral Raymond, the Vikings' sixth-round pick last season who started three games, and Eric Frampton, a special teams player for the Vikings the last four and a half seasons.
Andrew Sendejo, an undrafted player who made his professional football debut in 2010 with the Sacramento Mountain Lions, completes the list.
Starters: Smith and Raymond. There's no chance that Leslie Frazier will start two rookies back there. At least Raymond has a few starts under his belt.
Backups: Blanton and Sanford
The Minnesota Vikings have 10 linebackers on the roster, but only three of them have ever started defensively in the NFL—Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley.
Greenway has started 79 of 80 games at outside linebacker since 2007.
He is the Vikings leading tackler over the last five seasons.
Henderson returns for his second year as a starter on the outside, and Brinkley, who started four games at middle linebacker in 2009, replaces E.J. Henderson at middle linebacker.
Also returning is Larry Dean, a rookie free agent in 2011 from Valdosta State. Dean made the roster as a special team player.
The Vikings signed Marvin Mitchell, a five-year veteran whose main contribution has been on special teams for New Orleans from 2007 to 2010 and Miami last season. They also added Solomon Elimimian, a two-year veteran of the CFL.
The last three linebackers on the roster are rookies. The Vikings drafted Audie Cole from North Carolina State in the seventh round and signed rookie free agents Tyler Nielsen from Iowa and Corey Paredes from Hawaii.
If anything happens to Greenway, Henderson or Brinkley, the Vikings will have a pretty significant drop off in experience.
Starters: Greenway and Henderson on the outside and Brinkley in the middle.
Backups: Mitchell—he has the most time in the NFL, and Elimimian, although he will see most of his playing time on the coverage teams.
The Vikings strongest position on the defense is defensive end. The dynamic duo of Jared Allen and Brain Robison had 30 sacks combined last season, the most since 1989, when Chris Doleman and Keith Milliard combined for 39.
Allen carried the bulk of the load with 22, setting the franchise single-season record, and Robison added eight.
The Vikings current have nine defensive ends and seven defensive tackles listed on the roster. They will most likely keep seven on the final 53-man roster, so most of these players will be vying for a position on the practice squad.
Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams bring the most experience, heading into their ninth and 10th seasons, respectively. Next is backup defensive tackle Fred Evans, who is in his seventh season, followed by second-year starter Robison who is entering his sixth season.
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion, who the Vikings re-signed to a three-year deal, is in his fifth season. Third-year defensive end Everson Griffen and second-year defensive tackle Christian Ballard round out the players that make the team.
Right defensive end: Allen
Left defensive end: Robison
Defensive tackles: Williams and Guion
Right defensive end: Griffen
Left defensive end: Griffen
Defensive tackles: Evans and Ballard
The Vikings offensive line will have the most juggling of any position for the Vikings.
They will open the season with two new guards, with Charlie Johnson moving from left tackle to left guard and free agent Geoff Schwartz, who the Vikings signed from Carolina.
Schwartz missed the entire 2011 season after injuring his hip. In 2010, he started all 16 games at right guard for the Panthers. This experience gives him the edge over other linemen at this point.
Matt Kalil, taken with the fourth-overall pick in the draft, will start at left tackle.
The only holdovers are right tackle Phil Loadholt, the Vikings' second-round draft pick from 2009, and center John Sullivan, whom the Vikings drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
The Vikings' starting offensive line will be much younger than last season, with an average age of 25.6 years, compared to 28.6 years in 2011.
The Vikings will most likely carry eight offensive linemen on the active roster, with at least one or two on the practice squad.
Left tackle: Kalil
Left guard: Johnson
Right guard: Schwartz
Right tackle: Loadholt
Left tackle: Patrick Brown
Left guard: Joe Berger
Right guard: Berger
Left tackle: DeMarcus Love
The Vikings will have two very capable pass-catching tight ends with second-year player Kyle Rudolph and free-agent John Carlson from Seattle. Carlson signed a five-year, $25 million contract.
A shoulder injury prevented Carlson from playing last season. In his first three seasons in Seattle, he averaged 46 receptions for 506 yards and four touchdowns.
Last year as a rookie, Rudolph finished with 26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
Both players are from Notre Dame. Carlson played with the Irish from 2004 to 2007, starting his junior and senior seasons. Rudolph started as a freshman in 2008.
Another coincidence is that both were selected in the second round of the NFL draft.
And both will most likely be on the field together when the Vikings go to a two-tight end set.
The Vikings have three other players listed at tight end, Mickey Shuler, Jr., who, in two years in the NFL, has two career receptions, Allen Reisner who was promoted from the Vikings' practice squad last year and had one reception.
The last tight end is fourth-round draft pick Rhett Ellison, who played fullback at USC with Matt Kalil.
Starter: Carlson—at $5 million per season, he's to expensive to be a backup.
Backup: Rudolph, although he will see plenty of action making it tough to call one the the stater and the other the backup.
The Vikings top receiver is Percy Harvin, who has led the Vikings in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. In his rookie season, he finished second in receptions and yards and third in touchdowns.
Since 2009, when the Vikings' top receiver was Sidney Rice, they have been looking for someone to complement Harvin.
The free-agent signing of Jerome Simpson could be that person. Last year for the Bengals, he finished with 50 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers were better than any Vikings receiver other than Harvin. The downside is that Simpson will miss the first three games of the season after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Michael Jenkins returns after missing the last five games of the season with a knee injury. With only seven starts in 11 games, Jenkins still finished second behind Harvin with 38 receptions for 466 yards and three touchdowns.
The Vikings selected a couple of wide receiver teammates from Arkansas in the fourth round. With the 118th pick, they chose Jarius Wright, who led the Razorbacks last season with 66 receptions for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns.
With the 134th selection, the Vikings drafted Greg Childs. As a sophomore, Childs led Arkansas with 48 receptions for 894 yards and seven touchdowns. Injuries limited his play as a junior and senior.
Starters in the first three games: Harvin, Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu.
Backups: Wright, Aromashodu and Childs.
Starters in Week 4: Harvin, Simpson and Jenkins
Backups: Wright, Childs and Aromashodu.
The Minnesota Vikings are a little thin a running back right now with both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart coming off season-ending knee injuries.
On the positive side, Gerhart did not require surgery, and Peterson is well ahead of schedule in the rehabilitation after having reconstructive surgery to repair both the ACL and MCL of his left knee.
On the less than positive side, the only other running back with any experience on the roster is Lex Hillirad, who spent the last three seasons with the Dolphins. Hilliard has only 39 carries for 130 yards in those three seasons.
Peterson has an ambitious goal of being ready for the Vikings' home opener on September 9. Still, the Vikings should exercise caution and make sure he is fully ready before giving him the full running back workload.
In relief of Peterson, Gerhart has done a very good job. Last season, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry, rushing for 531 yards. In a report in the Star Tribune, head coach Leslie Frazier indicates that Gerhart will carry the load early in the season.
Starter: Gerhart—just until Peterson is completely recovered from his knee injury.
It's a good thing I'm only going two deep.
This is an easy one. There will be no open competition for quarterback heading into the Vikings training camp, much to the disappointment to fans of Joe Webb.
Christian Ponder took over as the Vikings starting quarterback in Week 7 last year, and unless he is injured, will be the starter to open the season.
According to a story in the Pioneer Press, the Vikings want Webb to focus solely on playing quarterback and to push Ponder as the primary backup. There will not be anymore playing receiver or returning kicks for the Vikings' backup quarterback.
The Vikings will need Webb to be ready when needed to step in for Ponder.
The biggest change here has been the release of Ryan Longwell after six years as the Vikings' field-goal kicker. In 2011, Longwell was 22-for-28 in field goal attempts, only a 78.6 percentage—the worst season for the Vikings.
The duties are being handed over to the Vikings' sixth-round draft choice, Blair Walsh from Georgia.
This is a risky move, especially since Walsh was only 21-of-35 his senior year.
Starter: Blair Walsh
Backup: Any available free-agent veteran who's on the golf course.
As for the punting duties, they are secure with Chris Kluwe, who has been with the Vikings since 2005. In his seven-year career, he has averaged 44.4 yards per punt with only one blocked in 551 punts.
Backup: Let's hope we don't have to find out.