Projecting the Minnesota Vikings' 5 Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IMay 8, 2013

Projecting the Minnesota Vikings' 5 Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason

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    The NFL draft has passed and NFL free agency is basically past.

    The Minnesota Vikings' roster is unlikely to incur new additions between now and the beginning of 2013.

    With that in mind, it's easier to get a gauge on Minnesota's starting lineup and where the competition will be for starting spots this spring and this summer at training camp. 

    The Vikings have an infusion of rookie talent that will compete for immediate and significant playing time and a few savvy vets who will try to hold onto their starting jobs.

    Following are the five starting competitions that will be the most heated this offseason for the Vikings, but not listed in any particular order.

Split End

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    Battle: Jerome Simpson vs. Cordarrelle Patterson

    When the Vikings jumped back into the first round to select Cordarrelle Patterson they made a statement that Patterson was to be the future of the receiving corps.

    The raw talent with Patterson is unreal. He has the potential to be a phenomenal receiver. How quickly it all comes together, however, will determine the outcome of this position battle between him and re-signed veteran Jerome Simpson.

    Simpson's first season in Minnesota was uninspiring. After serving his three-game suspension to open 2012, he never got on track. He suffered from numerous cases of the "drops" and battled through injury.

    He finished with 26 receptions for 274 yards and zero touchdowns.

    Patterson has all the skills to become Minnesota's best downfield threat since Randy Moss, but it's going to take time. He's a raw receiver.

    Simpson is better suited to start Week 1 with Greg Jennings, but by mid-season it may be a different story.

    Winner: Jerome Simpson

Middle Linebacker

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    Battle: Erin Henderson vs. Outside Linebackers

    By passing on Alec Ogletree and Manti Te'o in the 2013 NFL draft, Minnesota set itself up to convert its starting outside linebacker from 2012 to its middle linebacker for 2013.

    Erin Henderson said he is up to 248 pounds this offseason, an increase from 244 last season in order to ready himself for the transition.

    That suggests Minnesota told Henderson early in the offseason that he would be the man inside, although four pounds isn't a huge increase.

    Henderson has been with the Vikings since 2008 so knows the system, which should help him adjust inside.

    How he performs during OTAs and in training camp will certainly influence whether he stays at this position, but it's not completely within his control.

    The Vikings will monitor the competition at his departed outside linebacker position to determine whether Henderson is better suited there.

    Who would play middle linebacker then?

    Well, there are savvy veterans on the market looking for work who could fill the void. Brian Urlacher would be the No. 1 choice, but Karlos Dansby is also available, too.

    It doesn't seem like the Vikings are all that interested in pursuing a free-agent middle linebacker. The outside position would have to be in awful shape or Henderson would have to struggle inside for them to make a move.

    Winner: Erin Henderson

Outside (Will) Linebacker

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    Battle: Gerald Hodges vs. Audie Cole, Marvin Mitchell, Erin Henderson

    This is the most exciting battle to watch this offseason.

    The Vikings really don't have a stable answer at this position with Erin Henderson moving inside. It truly should be an open competition.

    Marvin Mitchell will likely be the guy playing with the first team in OTAs and early in training camp. He started two games for Minnesota in 2012 and has the most experience at the position within Minnesota's system.

    Gerald Hodges should be in the No. 2 position to start. He's Minnesota's fourth-round pick from Penn State. NFL Network's Mike Mayock said Hodges is a "starting Will linebacker all day long." Hodges is a former safety who has good coverage skills, which would complement Chad Greenway's focus on tackling everything in sight.

    Audie Cole showed glimpses of becoming a playmaker in training camp and preseason games last season, but never showed more during the season on special teams. He's more of a middle linebacker who probably doesn't have the speed for the outside, but given that the position is in dire straits, all options should be explored.

    If all of those options fall through, then look for Minnesota to move Henderson back outside and sign Brian Urlacher or Karlos Dansby to play the middle.

    Hodges should starts out in the No. 2 spot, but he'll overtake Mitchell. Hodges has more upside and should be able to overtake the 28-year-old seventh-round pick.

    Winner: Gerald Hodges

No. 2 Cornerback

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    Battle: Josh Robinson vs. Xavier Rhodes

    When the Vikings selected Xavier Rhodes in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft ahead of middle linebackers Alec Ogletree and Manti Te'o and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson they made a statement.

    First, that they really liked Rhodes. It's become public knowledge that Minnesota also really liked Patterson, as demonstrated by the Vikings trading back into the first round to select him.

    The Vikings believe Rhodes is in the Chris Cook build of a shutdown cornerback. Rhodes also has speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash) athleticism (40-inch vertical, 132-inch broad jump) and instincts.

    Secondly, with their gaping hole at middle linebacker the Vikings chose to address cornerback ahead of their interior defense. That, to an extent, suggests Minnesota wasn't sold on Josh Robinson as a starter.

    Robinson played mostly slot coverage last season and struggled when he was put into positions on the edge.

    Rhodes has experience on the outside and has better size with Rhodes at 6'1", 210 pounds and Robinson at 5'10", 199 pounds.

    Robinson is the veteran and Rhodes is the rookie, but in this case, the rookie will be given every chance to earn the job and should take it. Robinson will be an integral part of the defense, but won't start.

    Winner: Xavier Rhodes

Starting Safety Not Named Harrison Smith

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    Battle: Jamarca Sanford vs. Mistral Raymond

    Harrison Smith is entrenched as the starting safety for the Vikings next season. He's on pace to become one of the best to ever play the position for the franchise, should he stay healthy and remain in Minnesota for the majority of his career.

    The other position, however, is open.

    It's a teeter-totter with Jamarca Sanford on one side and Mistral Raymond the other.

    Entering 2012 with Smith entering camp as a rookie first-round pick and expected to start at one spot eventually, Raymond was expected to be the other starter.

    Raymond secured the starting spot to open the season, but suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 vs. San Francisco (Sept. 23). He didn't return until Week 10 (Nov. 11).

    His injury allowed Sanford to step in and find his groove. When Raymond returned, Sanford was "rolling" and Raymond struggled to find the field for any meaningful time.

    Now that both are healthy, expect an open competition for this position.

    Raymond is the stronger cover guy while Sanford is stronger in run support.

    It's a toss-up, but look for Leslie Frazier and company to go with the run support with strong cover corners Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes starting on the outside.

    Winner: Jamarca Sanford