Projected Minnesota Vikings' Final 53-Man Roster Pre-Training Camp Edition
Yet here we are, nearly six months later and NFL players and coaches are wrapping up their summer vacations and getting ready to report to training camp next week.
Training camp brings hope to all 32 teams that this could be their year. Fans in Seattle see no reason why the Seahawks can't be even better this year. The folks in Denver would like nothing more than a rematch in what might be Peyton Manning's final season. Hopes are even high in Cleveland; while the Browns may be losing their best player to a year-long suspension, the arrival of Johnny Manziel has the city alive with excitement.
In Minnesota hopes are extremely high for a Vikings team that will try to bounce back from a forgettable 5-10-1 season last year. New head coach Mike Zimmer and his fiery personality are a welcome change after three seasons under the low-key Leslie Frazier.
The Vikings made a couple of astute free-agent signings that will help shore up their defense and look to have had their third straight excellent draft.
The Vikings will report to training camp next week with a roster that has far more depth than in recent seasons. Several starting positions will be up for grabs during camp, which should make for an even livelier month than usual.
Here we give you an admittedly early projection of the Vikings' final 53-man roster for their opening game in September.
1. Matt Cassel
2. Teddy Bridgewater
3. Christian Ponder
Matt Cassel will begin training camp as the starter, but he is by no means a lock to still have that job come opening day. The Vikings, as reported by ESPN.com's Ben Goessling, have stated that they will have a three-way competition for the starting quarterback job between Cassel, Christian Ponder and first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.
Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall notes that each of the three candidates brings something a little different to the table. And while it's being presented as a three-man race, it's pretty clear to anyone who's paying attention that the initial pecking order will be Cassel, followed by Bridgewater and then Ponder.
While Bridgewater will be given every opportunity to prove that he deserves the job in training camp, he'll have to prove beyond any doubt that he's the best quarterback on the roster to wrest the job away from Cassel.
That certainly doesn't mean that if Bridgewater doesn't win the job in August that he won't be starting at some point during the season. As ESPN's Stats and Information's Jason Vida reports, it normally doesn't take first-round quarterbacks very long to find themselves on the field.
What you won't see for the Vikings is the ridiculous quarterback carousel that marked the disappointing 2013 season. With new head coach Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner both having been around the NFL block plenty of times, they'll know how to go about having the best option on the field.
Fair or unfair to Cassel, his role as the starter will be a tenuous one. The bottom line is always winning football games, and if he can help the Vikings do that, he'll stay on the field. If the losses start to mount, Bridgewater might get his chance earlier than expected.
For Bridgewater the road ahead is a simple one. Study, learn and perform. Keep putting your best foot forward and make it as difficult as possible for the Vikings coaches to keep you off the field. If Bridgewater can prove without a doubt that the offense is at its best when he's running it, he'll have earned the starting job coming out of training camp.
2. Jerome Felton
3. Jerick McKinnon
4. Matt Asiata
5. Zach Line
The only real intrigue for the Vikings at running back will be for the fifth spot, and we're giving the early nod to Zach Line over Joe Banyard and Dominique Williams because he's perhaps a bit more versatile than the other two.
Banyard and Williams are both very similar players to third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon, while Line is a bigger body who can play fullback and both run and catch a little bit.
The most interesting thing to watch for in training camp is how much the Vikings use Peterson as a pass-catcher. The last year the Vikings offense wasn't completely one dimensional was in 2009, when Brett Favre was under center, and that happened to be Peterson's best receiving year, when he caught 43 passes.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to utilize his backs as receivers, so you can bet they'll take a long look at Peterson catching balls in camp to see if it's something with which he's comfortable.
If he's not, opportunity will come quickly for McKinnon in his rookie season. Drafted as a change-of-pace back to complement Peterson, McKinnon could see the field a lot during his rookie season, should he prove to be a better option than Peterson on passing downs.
Matt Asiata will almost surely make the team as a special teams contributor and a guy who can get you some tough yards when called on.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson
3. Jerome Simpson
4. Jarius Wright
5. Adam Thielen
One of the more intense competitions at the Vikings training camp will be for the fifth wide receiver spot.
While it's almost certain that the first four players listed above will be on the roster come September, the fifth spot is expected to be a long training camp battle between Thielen, Rodney Smith and undrafted free-agent Kain Colter.
Minnesota is very solid at the top of their WR depth chart. Jennings is the veteran who's looking to have a bounce-back season after a slightly disappointing first year in Minnesota.
Patterson is the second-year comet who is on the verge of stardom. Simpson remains a deep threat with a ton of athletic ability who needs to develop into a more consistent contributor. Wright enters his third season as a breakout candidate; he seems to be a player who can make plays on short, intermediate and deep routes.
We're going with Thielen, because he might be the most well rounded of the guys battling for that last receiver spot. At 6'2", 195 pounds and possessing a penchant for making spectacular catches, Thielen is the type of wideout becoming more prevalent around the league. He's a guy who understands how to get himself open and will pretty much catch anything you throw at him.
Smith, at 6'5", 200 pounds, is obviously a great candidate because he fits the old football adage that you just can't teach size. He spent all of 2013 on the Vikings practice squad, and if he wants to make the roster in 2014, he'll have to prove that he can be a consistent performer at the NFL level.
Colter is an intriguing prospect who comes to camp trying to land a spot with his smarts and athleticism. Mainly a quarterback at Northwestern, Colter did a little bit of everything while in college, and he'll have to prove that he can pick up the nuances of playing receiver in the NFL. He seems likely to land on the Vikings practice squad.
1. Kyle Rudolph
2. Rhett Ellison
3. A.C. Leonard
There will be absolutely no question about the pecking order for the Vikings at tight end. Kyle Rudolph is the starter and the player with star potential. Rhett Ellison is the premier blocker at the position and can certainly catch the ball when it's thrown his way.
This leads to what should be a pretty spirited competition for the third roster spot at tight end. Chase Ford is a big guy who played very well when pressed into duty in 2013. Allen Reisner can block and catch, but might not be able to do either one well enough to earn a roster spot.
The last candidate for the third tight end spot is undrafted rookie A.C. Leonard. Leonard was a highly recruited prep who spent a year at Florida before transferring to Tennessee State after an arrest.
Leonard was the fastest and quickest tight end at the draft combine, and he has exceptional hands. He's a guy who can be a receiving threat all over the field. If receiving was the only role of an NFL tight end, Leonard would lock up a job quickly.
Obviously, there's more to it than that, and Leonard will have to flash enough ability as a blocker to be considered. He'll also have to prove to the Vikings coaches that he's matured and is ready to take on the responsibilities of being a professional football player.
While Ford and Reisner are both nice players, they probably don't have a ceiling that's higher than a third-string tight end. With the Vikings having an extremely solid one-two punch with Rudolph and Ellison, the thought is that they'll tab the high potential offered by Leonard with the third spot.
We might be overestimating the talent level of the unit, but the thought here is that the Vikings had an incredibly productive draft week when it comes to stocking their offensive line.
Minnesota added two players who might be talented enough to start as rookies, and they only had to use a fifth-round choice to land them.
The Vikings nabbed Stanford guard David Yankey in the fifth round, and the guess is that he'll exit training camp as the starting left guard. Yankey was projected as a second- or third-round pick by most draft analysts; he's a smart mind in a large body and will fit in nicely between Sullivan and Kalil.
Minnesota's luck continued when they were able to sign Antonio "Tiny" Richardson after he didn't get selected in the draft. Richardson was the biggest surprise among those players who went undrafted; reports were that an offseason knee surgery before his senior season raised red flags, but Richardson never missed a game while at Tennessee. The 6'6", 330-pound giant makes offensive tackle perhaps the Vikings' strongest overall position.
The training camp battles for the other backup spots should be pretty fierce. Incumbent starting left guard Charlie Johnson had his worst year in the NFL last season, and the guess is that the Vikings will go with the youth of Jeff Baca and the versatility of Joe Berger as the backups.
At tackle, we're guessing that Kevin Murphy makes the jump from the Vikings practice squad to the roster in 2014. At 6'7", 305 pounds, the Harvard graduate has both the size and smarts that the Vikings are looking for.
It might sound completely crazy, but the Vikings' biggest area of improvement might come at defensive line, where Minnesota said goodbye to two guys who might end up in the Hall of Fame.
In moves that were perhaps tough to swallow because of all the good memories they provided, it was time for the Vikings to go another direction from both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.
Allen was one of the best pass-rushers in Vikings history, but he'd become a pretty one-dimensional player and it made zero business sense to give him the big money he was looking for. Letting go of Allen also opened the door for Griffen, who's vast potential will finally be given enough reps to see if he's the high-end player the Vikings think he is.
Replacing Williams might be harder than Allen, but Minnesota acted quickly in free agency, signing 25-year-old Linval Joseph, who will come in and be the massive nose tackle the Vikings have lacked since Pat Williams was let go.
With Joseph now the anchor of its defensive line, Minnesota is free to let second-year man Sharrif Floyd take over at the other tackle spot. At 6'3", 305 pounds, Floyd is hoping to make a huge leap in his second season. He's quick and athletic and should be a force for the Vikings against the run and in rushing the passer.
Rookie Scott Crichton will take on the role of high-potential third defensive end. Crichton has size and speed and his relentless play will remind Viking fans of Allen.
Look for veterans Fred Evans, Tom Johnson and Corey Wootton to take three of the backup spots, and we'll guess that seventh-round draft pick Shamar Stephen, a very athletic 6'5", 310-pound lineman, beats out Chase Baker for a backup tackle spot.
First-round draft pick Anthony Barr will step right into Minnesota's starting lineup and be used in a variety of different ways by Zimmer and new defensive coordinator George Edwards.
How quickly Barr can assimilate himself to all the intricacies of Zimmer and Edwards' defense will go a long way toward determining how successful he can be in his rookie season.
There's a razor-thin line between the three middle linebacker candidates as training camp begins. Jasper Brinkley returns to Minnesota after a disappointing year with the Arizona Cardina, and youngsters Audie Cole and Michael Mauti will take up spots behind him on the depth chart.
The thought here is that both Cole and Mauti will prove to be more versatile than Brinkley and win the two roster spots. Mauti still has to put a couple of healthy seasons under his belt for his injury-riddled background not to be a concern, but he's certainly flashed toughness and a high football IQ with Minnesota.
Second-year man Gerald Hodges and special teams ace Larry Dean will grab the two backup outside linebacker spots. Hodges is tough and can play the pass as well and will certainly be in the mix for playing time this season.
Look for seventh-round draft pick Brandon Watts to land on the practice squad. Watts is a speedster, and the Vikings would love to add speed to the linebacker corps, but he could use a year of bulking up to get him ready to play in the NFL.
If there are any two positions on the Vikings where the depth chart could see some drastic changes during training camp, it's at cornerback and safety.
Three of the four starting spots are pretty much in stone, with Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn starting at the corners and Harrison Smith at one of the safety spots.
Beyond that, all of the roster spots are up for grabs.
That's exactly how it should be for a team that ranked 31st in the league in both pass defense and third-down conversions allowed.
The Vikings need to find some playmakers in the secondary during training camp. They are an interception-starved team, and players who can prove that they can go get the ball will have a great chance at sticking on the roster.
At cornerback, it would surprise virtually no one if Shaun Prater, Kendall James and Jabari Price all made the team and Robinson, Cox and Sherels ended up getting cut. These jobs are up for grabs and only training camp will sort them out.
Sherels has a line on a roster spot coming off his excellent season as a punt returner, but Minnesota has plenty of guys who could step into that role if the Vikings decide they don't get enough out of Sherels on defense.
Prater, Cox and Robinson are all going to be battling each other for not only the third corner spot but for roster spots as well. Cox has the best resume, Robinson the most speed and Prater perhaps the most savvy.
Both rookie corners, Moore and Price will get long looks. It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see them both on the practice squad if they don't make the full-time roster.
The competition at safety is even more crowded.
Jamarca Sanford is the returning starter at strong safety, but with only two interceptions in 70 career games, he hardly has a lock on the job.
Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond, Kurt Coleman, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum are all candidates to either start or at least land roster spots. Sendejo played very well at the end of 2013 and his big contributions on special teams might give him an edge over the likes of Coleman and Raymond.
While kicker Blair Walsh wasn't quite as sensational in 2013 as he was in his rookie campaign, he was still very good.
Walsh made 26 of 30 field-goal attempts, as opposed to the 35 of 38 he made the year before. And he proved he was human from beyond 50 yards, going 2-of-5 last year, after making all 10 of his attempts from that range as a rookie.
Punter Jeff Locke struggled out of the gate for the Vikings but kept getting better as the year wore on. Locke ended the season with a 44.2 yard average on his punts, with a net average of 39.2 yards. His 23 punts inside the 20-yard line were more than Chris Kluwe had in either of his last two seasons with Minnesota.
Things will obviously be a little more difficult for all three players listed above as the Vikings move outside to TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. Gone will be the climate controlled dome, where the kickers had to worry about only putting all of their leg into each kick.
Having said that, Minnesota is set up nicely for years in this department. Walsh and Locke are both just 24 years old and should constitute a nice kicking combination for the Vikings for years to come.
Projected Final Roster
3. Blair Walsh Kicker
5. Teddy Bridgewater Quarterback
7. Christian Ponder Quarterback
15. Greg Jennings Wide Receiver
16. Matt Cassel Quarterback
17. Jarius Wright Wide Receiver
18. Jeff Locke Punter
19. Adam Thielen Wide Receiver
21. Josh Robinson Cornerback
22. Harrison Smith Safety
24. Captain Munnerlyn Cornerback
28. Adrian Peterson Running Back
29. Xavier Rhodes Cornerback
31. Jerick McKinnon Running Back
32. Antone Exum Safety
33. Jamarca Sanford Safety
34. Andrew Sendejo Safety
35. Marcus Sherels Cornerback
36. Robert Blanton Safety
37. Derek Cox Cornerback
42. Jerome Felton Fullback
44. Matt Asiata Running Back
46. Cullen Loeffler Long Snapper
48. Zach Line Running Back
50. Gerald Hodges Linebacker
51. Larry Dean Linebacker
52. Chad Greenway Linebacker
55. Anthony Barr Linebacker
56. Michael Mauti Linebacker
57. Audie Cole Linebacker
60. Jeff Baca Guard
61. Joe Berger Guard
63. Brandon Fusco Guard
65. John Sullivan Center
66. David Yankey Guard
68. Kevin Murphy Tackle
71. Phil Loadholt Tackle
73. Sharrif Floyd Defensive Tackle
75. Matt Kalil Tackle
78. Antonio Richardson Tackle
81. Jerome Simpson Wide Receiver
82. Kyle Rudolph Tight End
84. Cordarrelle Patterson Wide Receiver
85. Rhett Ellison Tight End
89. A.C. Leonard Tight End
90 Fred Evans Defensive Tackle
92. Tom Johnson Defensive Tackle
93. Shamar Stephen Defensive Tackle
95. Scott Crichton Defensive End
96. Brian Robison Defensive End
97. Everson Griffen Defensive End
98. Linval Joseph Defensive Tackle
99. Corey Wootton Defensive End