Two aspects of roster prediction hold the greatest challenge for the Minnesota Vikings: the knowledge that one or two positions are likely to be filled by players released by other teams and some uncertainty on the numbers at each position.
Last year, the Vikings ended the season with 25 players on offense, 25 players on defense and three on special teams. That last number isn’t going to change, but the dynamic of the first two numbers could change. With head coach Mike Zimmer admitting he might lean more toward defense, we slanted our predictions to include 26 defensive players and 24 on offense.
Here goes, with a reminder that nearly half the cuts could end up back on the 10-man practice quad:
Making the cut: Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder. More than likely, the Vikings won’t find a suitable trade for Ponder and it makes the most sense to keep him and see how a new coaching staff might benefit his development. The reality is that he isn’t likely to see the field anyway. The other two are easy: Cassel is the starter and Bridgewater appears to be a very capable backup that could challenge for the starting spot by midseason, depending on how the season plays out.
Feeling the cut: None.
Practice squad possibilities: None.
RUNNING BACK (4)
Making the cut: Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Jerome Felton. If the Vikings keep a fullback, this lineup seems pretty set.
Feeling the cut: Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams, Zach Line.
Practice squad possibilities: Any of the three players not making the 53-man projection have a decent chance at the practice squad as they each showed solid potential in the preseason. The most likely to make the practice squad, however, if forced to choose, is Banyard, and that was even before his 100-yard game Thursday night. After an ankle injury in the preseason finale, Line could be waived-injured and end up on injured reserve.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Making the cut: Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith. Did you notice the numbers? How does five receivers kept equal six listed? In this case, we’re making the leap that Jerome Simpson will be suspended for at least the first game of the season, meaning he stays with the club but doesn’t count against the 53-man roster. It would give the team another week or three to evaluate Thielen and Smith against NFL competition, too, assuming Smith’s neck is healed enough to participate in some form.
Feeling the cut: Kain Colter, Donte Foster.
Practice squad possibilities: Colter is just the type of raw prospect that makes sense for the practice squad. Trying to work him from a multi-purpose player in college to a technique-sound receiver in the NFL would seem natural with a year or two on the practice squad.
TIGHT END (3)
Making the cut: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford. Ford is the most precarious of the three, given his foot injury.
Feeling the cut: Allen Reisner. Reisner had a very solid preseason, but if the Vikings keep only three tight ends, it could come down to him or Ford. Ford was hurt badly by not being able to take part in training camp or the preseason game because of a fractured foot, but he showed a lot of potential in the offseason.
Practice squad possibilities: It’s possible the Vikings could bring back Mike Higgins, who was released in the cutdown to 75, but they could also look outside the organization if they wanted a tight end on the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Making the cut: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, David Yankey, Antonio Richardson, Austin Wentworth. It’s possible the Vikings could cut this number down to eight, in which case Wentworth might be out and headed for the practice squad, if they need to add another defensive back with all the injuries there and their contributions on special teams.
Feeling the cut: Jeff Baca, Vladimir Ducasse, Zac Kerin, Mike Remmers.
Practice squad possibilities: Baca would benefit from another year on the practice squad, and the Vikings surely will have one or two linemen stashed on that list. Going to the waiver wire is also a good option. Remmers’ four penalties in the preseason likely killed his chances.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Making the cut: Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Corey Wootton, Scott Crichton, Fred Evans, Shamar Stephen, Tom Johnson. If the final number is nine defensive linemen, it should be these nine. If it’s eight, then it will be interesting to see if Evans, Stephen or Johnson ends up going. Evans is used more in the base defense behind Joseph, so the thinking here is either Stephen or Johnson goes because ends like Robison and Griffen can also contribute inside in the nickel defense.
Feeling the cut: Chase Baker, Isame Faciane, Justin Trattou.
Practice squad possibilities: Faciane could make a good case for the practice squad, and with practice squads increased to 10 players there is room for someone else to join him there. We think it’s a longshot that Stephen gets cut, but if he does and clears waivers, he should be a shoo-in for the practice squad.
Making the cut: Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, Anthony Barr, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Brandon Watts, Michael Mauti. If they only keep six linebacker, it will likely come down to the health of Mauti (foot) vs. Watts (leg).
Feeling the cut: Larry Dean, Justin Jackson, Mike Zimmer.
Practice squad possibilities: Jackson hardly had a look with the Vikings, getting only one preseason game with the team. If Watts doesn’t make the active roster, he is a very good possibility for the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE BACK (10)
Making the cut: Captain Munnerlyn, Harrison Smith, Chris Crocker, Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Shaun Prater, Marcus Sherels, Jabari Price, Robert Blanton, Kurt Coleman.
Feeling the cut: Antone Exum, Kendall James, Julian Posey, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo. No doubt, this is the most difficult position to project, especially with all the training camp and preseason injuries at safety. How difficult is it? Consider that Crocker could be anywhere from a starter to a potential cut and that gives you an idea. Head coach Mike Zimmer often referenced Crocker for his leadership abilities, but does he have enough left in the tank to release a younger guy like Sendejo that could benefit from more grooming from technique-savvy coaches? And would Jamarca Sanford really go from a starter in 2013 to a roster casualty in 2014? Safety and cornerback are very much up in the air.
Practice squad possibilities: Exum is an ideal practice squad candidate, and guys like James and Posey could also benefit from more development.
Making the cut: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Cullen Loeffler.
Feeling the cut: None.
Practice squad possibilities: None.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.