Breaking Down the Minnesota Vikings Depth Chart After the Peak of Free Agency
The peak of NFL free agency has passed, and the Minnesota Vikings' biggest splash was the signing of former Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings. While Jennings instantly becomes the No. 1 receiver the team desperately needed, there are still plenty of holes to be plugged in the roster.
The Vikings still need to find a starting middle linebacker, as well as some depth at cornerback. While the signing of Jennings is a good start, the Vikings still need to add more talent at wide receiver.
Here's an early look at how the Vikings' current depth chart shakes out. It's based on the roster as it stands today. The gaps will be pretty evident, and I'll attempt to fill some of those with potential free agents as well as draft picks.
There should be little to no drama around the quarterback position this year. The only debate may be who will be the emergency quarterback.
The Minnesota Vikings have repeatedly said Christian Ponder will be the starter. When they signed Matt Cassel, it was understood that he would be Ponder's backup.
Last season, head coach Leslie Frazier was so hesitant to play Joe Webb when Ponder was struggling that Webb did not even attempt a single pass during the regular season. It wasn't until Ponder was forced to the sideline in the Wild Card Game in Green Bay with a triceps injury that Webb saw any significant action.
Frazier has indicated that he will take four quarterbacks into training camp. That means Webb will battle McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the third-string quarterback. If we were to play One of These Things is not like the Others, it would be obvious that Webb is the odd man out. He is not a prototypical pocket passer that the Vikings offense is built around.
In a tweet from Tom Pelissero from 1500ESPN, Frazier is not inclined to look at playing Webb at other positions. If that's the case, Webb could find himself looking for another team.
QB1: Christian Ponder—at least when the season opens.
QB2: Matt Cassel—it will be interesting to see how quickly he gets into the game when Ponder struggles.
QB3: McLeod Bethel-Thompson
QB4: Joe Webb
The Minnesota Vikings currently have five running backs on the their roster. This includes Pro Bowlers Adrian Peterson and fullback Jerome Felton, who did not carry the football at all last season. Peterson had an incredible season rushing for 2,097 yards and finishing with 10 games with at least 100 yards—seven of those for at least 150 yards.
Last season was supposed to be Toby Gerhart's opportunity to prove he could be a starter in the NFL. The Vikings' second-round draft pick from 2010, was going to carry the load for the running game until Peterson recovered from major knee surgery.
Unfortunately, no one told Peterson.
Even though Peterson did not play a single down in the preseason, he was the starter when the Vikings opened the season. It resulted in the fewest carries for Gerhart in three seasons. He rushed for only 169 yards on 50 carries.
Matt Asiata made the final roster last season after leading the Vikings in rushing during the preseason. He finished with 134 yards on 23 carries for a 5.8-yard average during the exhibition season. Active for 14 games during the season, he had three carries for nine yards.
The most recent addition is someone called Joe Banyard, who the Vikings signed in January to a reserve/future free-agent contract. A rookie free agent from 2012, Banyard spent time in New Orleans as a member of its practice squad.
RB1: Adrian Peterson
RB2: Jerome Felton
RB3: Toby Gerhart
RB4: Matt Asiata—the only way he winds up on the roster is if the Vikings trade Gerhart.
RB5: Joe Banyard—no way he sticks.
Don't be surprised if general manager Rick Spielman trades Gerhart for additional draft picks, mostly likely for 2014. When the season opens, the Vikings will only have four running backs on the roster.
Despite the signing of former Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings, wide receiver is still one of the biggest needs for the Vikings. They need to find a prototypical outside receiver.
With six wide receivers on the roster currently, look for the Vikings to add a couple more to the mix in the draft next month. Most likely five will make the final roster.
Along with the trade of Percy Harvin to Seattle, gone are Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu from last season. Jenkins was released earlier this month, and Armoashodu is a free agent.
The only other addition to the roster is Chris Summers. He spent a couple of preseason games with the Chicago Bears last last year after going undrafted out of Liberty. At 6'4" and 213 pounds, he has some size. In four seasons at Liberty, he had 188 catches for 2,712 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Of the six wide receivers currently on the roster, only three of them are locks to be on the roster when the season opens—Jennings, Jerome Simpson, who the Vikings re-signed to another one-year contract, and Jarius Wright, who made his NFL debut after Harvin was injured in Week 9 last season.
Stephen Burton, the Vikings' seventh-round draft pick from 2011, who was active for 12 games last season, making one start, will have to really impress if he is to stay on the active roster.
The last receiver on the roster is Greg Childs who is coming off injuries to both knees. Tearing both patella tendons, it's the same injury he suffered to one knee as a junior at Arkansas. Childs was looking like he had fully recovered from that injury when he got hurt during a training camp scrimmage.
Current Depth Chart
WR1: Greg Jennings
WR2: Jerome Simpson
WR3: Jarius Wright
WR4: Stephen Burton
WR5: Greg Childs
WR6: Chris Summer
Look for the Vikings to once again draft two wide receivers this year. Options with one of their first-round picks will be Justin Hunter from Tennessee or DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson.
Hunter, 6'4", 196 pounds, caught 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Hopkins, 6"1", 214 pounds, had 72 receptions for 978 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2012, the Vikings started the same five offensive line in all 16 games. That had not happened since 2003 when Bryant McKinnie, Chris Liwienski, Matt Birk, David Dixon and Mike Rosenthal were on the line.
The re-signing of right tackle Phil Loadholt to a four-year deal, and the restructuring of right guard Charlie Johnson's contract, means there is a good chance the same offensive line could play next to each other this season. They join second-year left tackle Matt Kalil, center John Sullivan and right guard Brandon Fusco.
Over the past five seasons, the Vikings have drafted six offensive linemen, including current starters Sullivan (2008), Loadholt (2009), Fusco (2011) and Kalil (2012). With these five returning, don't look for the Vikings to draft a lineman his year.
Along with the draft, the Vikings sign a load of offensive linemen to reserve/future free-agent contracts each year in hopes of finding a potential starter.
There are currently 10 offensive linemen on the roster. The Vikings typically carry eight on the active roster. After the five starters, three of the remaining linemen have yet to play in an NFL game.
Depth Chart—The Starters
LT: Matt Kalil
LG: Charlie Johnson
C: John Sullivan
RG: Brandon Fusco
RT: Phil Loadholt
Joe Berger—can play anywhere along the line and started 14 games for the Miami Dolphins in 2010.
Seth Olsen—started five games the last two seasons at guard for the Indianapolis Colts.
DeMarcus Love—sixth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2011, he spent last year on injured reserve.
Potential Practice Squad Players
Tyler Holmes—2012 rookie free agent from Tulsa.
Kevin Murphy—2012 practice squad player from Harvard.
The Vikings currently have five tight ends on the roster. With the top three spots set from last season, the only battle at this position will be to make the practice squad.
Kyle Rudolph finished off his second NFL season winning the Pro Bowl MVP. In his first year as the starter, he finished second on the team with 53 receptions for 493 yards and led the team with nine touchdown receptions.
Last year's biggest free-agent signing was John Carlson. The former Seahawk signed a five-year, $25 million contract. After finishing the with eight catches for 43 yards in 2012, Johnson restructured his contract this month, saving the Vikings more than one million against the salary cap.
A second-round pick in 2008, Carlson averaged 53 catches and six touchdowns in his first two seasons in Seattle.
A surprise pick of the Vikings last year, Rhett Ellison was selected in the fourth round from USC. Projected to go undrafted, Ellison fits the mold of former H-back Jim Kleinsasser.
TE1: Kyle Rudolph
TE2: John Carlson
TE3: Rhett Ellison
The Practice Squad Fodder
Chase Ford—another undrafted rookie, he spent time on the Cowboys and Vikings practice squad last season.
The five safeties on the roster all contributed last season and have a good chance of returning this season.
The Vikings upgraded the safety position last season with the selection of Harrison Smith from Notre Dame with their second pick in the first round of the draft. An instant starter, Smith tied for the team lead with three interceptions and finished second on the team with 104 tackles.
The question will be who starts next to him when the season opens?
At the start of last season, Mistral Raymond had earned the starting role over Jamarca Sanford, who had started 15 games in 2011. An injury suffered against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 knocked Raymond out of the lineup.
When he returned, he was unable to regain the starting spot. The Vikings were so pleased with Sanford's play that they re-signed him to a two-year contract worth $5 million.
The other two safeties are Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo. Blanton was Smith's teammate from Notre Dame. A converted cornerback Blanton, who the Vikings selected in the fifth round, was active for 12 games.
Sendejo, a rookie free agent from Rice in 2010, spent time with the Cowboys and New York Jets before the Vikings signed him in November of 2011. A special teams player, he was active for 13 games last season.
FS: Harrison Smith
SS: Jamarca Sanford
With the release of Antoine Winfield, the Vikings have a huge hole to fill at cornerback. Many are hoping it will be filled by Winfield if the Vikings can re-sign him for less than the $7.25 million he was set to make in 2013.
According to an article by Tom Pelissero from 1500ESPN, head coach Leslie Frazier believes that Winfield would be willing to re-join the team—at the right price. The Vikings' best cornerback last season, it may take a lot to re-sign him.
As of right now, the top two cornerbacks on the roster are Chris Cook and Josh Robinson—most recently the highest corners drafted by the Vikings.
Cook was selected in the second of the 2010 draft, and Robinson was taken with a third-round pick in 2012. The Vikings are still hoping that Cook can develop into a game-changing corner; the problem is he has not been able to play an entire 16-game schedule in his three seasons. In 22 games, he has yet to intercept a pass.
Robinson made six starts last season and finished with two interceptions.
The Vikings have nine cornerbacks on the roster, including restricted free agent A.J. Jefferson. Four of them have no NFL experience and most likely will wind up on a practice squad somewhere.
CB1: Chris Cook
CB2: Josh Robinson
CB3: A.J. Jefferson
CB4: Marcus Sherels—this former Golden Gopher only makes the team as a returner.
CB4: Brandon Burton—a fifth-round draft pick from 2011, he was active for only four games last season. He could be the first cornerback cut depending on who the Vikings draft, sign or re-sign.
The Rest: Don't Expect Any of These to Be on the Roster When the Season Opens
Bobby Felder—an undrafted free agent he spent time on the Vikings practice squad last season.
Greg McCoy—a seventh-round draft pick of the Bears in 2012, he spent time on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad.
Nick Taylor—a former point guard at Florida International, he spent the year on injured reserve.
Roderick Williams—a three-year player from the CFL, like Solomon Elimimian, who the Vikings signed last year, an all-star to the North, most likely a practice squad player in the NFL.
The Vikings will most certainly look to draft a cornerback once again in the second or third round next month. Potential draft picks include Darius Slay form Mississippi State or Jamar Taylor from Boise State.
While the departure of middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley may not be as big a loss as Antoine Winfield, it's another starter that the Vikings need to replace in the middle of their defense.
Last year, the Vikings carried seven linebackers on the roster. There's currently only five on the team, so this is a position that will definitely see some changes before training camp opens this summer.
The Vikings agreed to a two-year contract with Erin Henderson, bringing back the undrafted rookie out of Maryland from 2008. Henderson took over for Ben Leber in 2011 as the weak-side linebacker and has started 21 games the last two seasons.
On the strong side, the Vikings have their leading tackler in Chad Greenway. After missing his rookie season with a knee injury in 2006, Greenway has been the epitome of durability, playing in every game since 2007. The last two seasons ended with a trip to the Pro Bowl for the South Dakota native.
The question is: Who will be the Vikings' starting middle linebacker?
The three remaining linebackers on the roster have a combined three starts on defense—all of them by Marvin Mitchell.
SLB: Chad Greenway
MLB: Marvin Mitchell—he holds this spot only until the Vikings get someone who can start.
WLB: Erin Henderson
Special Team Players
Larry Dean—an undrafted free agent signed by the Vikings in 2011, he has become a special team standout, playing in 31 games the last two years.
Audie Cole—a seventh-round draft pick in 2012, his only mark was two interceptions returned for touchdowns on consecutive plays against the Bills in the preseason.
While some fans are hoping the Vikings might take a run at former Bear Brian Urlacher, the odds of the Vikings signing a 35-year-old veteran are very slim.
In typical Rick Spielman fashion, look for the Vikings general manager to sign a value-priced free agent.
All along I have been saying the Vikings might be interested in someone like Larry Grant, who has spent the last two seasons as a backup in San Francisco. According to Walter Football he is the fifth-ranked, free-agent middle linebacker available.
Also look for Spielman to address linebacker in the draft.
Depending on whether he uses his two first-round picks to address wide receiver, defensive tackle or linebacker, the Vikings could have a shot at drafting Kevin Minter from LSU or Manti Te'o from Notre Dame.
If they hold off to the second round, they might add Kevin Reddick from North Carolina or Jonathan Bostic from Florida.
The Vikings defensive line is the oldest part of the roster. With the release of Antoine Winfield, defensive tackle Kevin Williams takes over as the senior member of the squad—at least until Winfield is re-signed.
The Vikings are also facing a crisis in that the bookends of their D-line will both become free agents following the end of the 2013 season. In fact, even their main backup, Everson Griffen, will join them looking for a new contract.
These three were the top-three sack producers for the Vikings. Jared Allen led the way with 12, while Brian Robison added 8.5 and Griffen eight.
The Vikings need to address the defensive tackle position. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans both finished with two sacks last season, but neither has the same kind of presence that Pat Williams had while playing alongside Kevin Williams for six seasons from 2005 until 2010.
The Vikings finished 11th against the run last season and will need an athletic wide body to play along side Williams if they want to return to a top-10 run-stuffing defense.
Of the nine defensive linemen on the roster, eight of them saw action last season. The only player not activated was Chase Baker. An undrafted rookie from Boise State, he spent last season on the Vikings practice squad.
Jared Allen—in his 10th season, he is still a sack-producing machine.
Kevin Williams—he needs to be the veteran presence to a new version of himself in 2013.
Letroy Guion—made 15 starts last season, but the Vikings may be looking for an upgrade.
Brian Robison—in the last year of his contract, this could be his last year with the Vikings.
Everson Griffin—four years younger than Robison, I believe he has the inside track to a contract extension.
Christian Ballard—a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, he needs to bide his time. Just as Robison did before becoming a starter in his fifth season.
Fred Evans—a solid backup for six seasons, he could be the odd man out if the Vikings draft a defensive tackle.
George Johnson—signed off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad last December, he played in two games for the Vikings.
D'Aundre Reed—a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, Reed's days are numbered with the Vikings.
Chase Baker—no more than practice squad material at this point.
Look for the Vikings to take a defensive tackle in one of the first two rounds of the draft. I see them taking John Jenkins from Georgia with either the 23rd or 25th pick in the first round.
At 6'3" and 359 pounds, he has the size to plug the middle of the line and help the Vikings improve against the run.
If for some reason they wait until a later round, they might be interested in Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern. Projected to be drafted somewhere in the second or third round, at 6'1" and 341 pounds, he's another wide body that could develop into a starter.
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