Vikings: 53-man, practice squad projections

A nervous couple of days are ahead for dozens of players. Here is how we see the Minnesota Vikings’ 53-man roster and even the practice squad shaping up when it’s all done.

Welcome to a tortuous 40 hours of nervous waiting for probably a dozen Minnesota Vikings players on the fringe of making the roster and practice squad, or being told their past five months of work weren’t enough to continue wearing the uniform.

The Vikings staff will be closely monitoring the waiver wire while giving final, private evaluations of players on the roster bubble before Saturday’s 3 p.m. Central deadline. Many decisions have already been made; others are left open to debate in a room full of coaches and scouts.

Here is how we see it shaking out, with several questionable calls and realizing that players who make the cut initially might not last long with outside free agents looking to find a way in.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Starter: Teddy Bridgewater
Reserves: Shaun Hill, Taylor Heinicke
Missing the cut: None
Vikings coaches have said it is more likely they will keep three quarterbacks, so Taylor Heinicke is given the nod after a preseason in which he completed almost 70 percent of his passes and looked more comfortable as an undrafted rookie than Christian Ponder did as a first-round rookie.

RUNNING BACKS (5)
Starter: Adrian Peterson
Reserves: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Dominique Williams, Zach Line
Missing the cut: DuJuan Harris, Blake Renaud
The final two we have making the roster are far from certain. We don’t know if the Vikings will keep a fullback like Line, but he also has the ability to play tailback in a pinch and can contribute on special teams. If they keep a fullback, it’s easily Line over Renaud. Williams was on the practice squad at the end of last year and showed good burst in practice and preseason games and could end up there again this year if the Vikings keep the more experienced Harris over him or simply roll the dice on four running backs/fullbacks.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Starters: Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson
Reserves: Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs
Missing the cut: Donte Foster, Isaac Fruechte, Ryan Whalen
Honestly, there seems to be a pretty clear line of demarcation in this group. The first six should all clearly make the team, unless one is traded. The others have only a chance at the practice squad.

TIGHT ENDS (4)
Starters: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison
Reserves: MyCole Pruitt, Chase Ford
Missing the cut: None
Ford is the only one with a chance at not making the team and there’s a chance the Vikings keep just three tights, especially if they keep a fullback. This is clearly a numbers-game decision, and if Ford doesn’t make it, it’s because he was unusually inconsistent with his hands in the preseason and doesn’t seem to draw much confidence from the coaching staff with his blocking ability. Still, he clearly has ability in the passing game.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Starters: Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, John Sullivan, Mike Harris, T.J. Clemmings
Reserves: David Yankey, Joe Berger, Zac Kerin, Austin Shepherd
Missing the cut: Babatunde Aiyegbusi, Isame Faciane, Tom Farniok, Tyrus Thompson, Bob Vardaro
After a head injury Thursday night, it will be interesting to see if Thompson is waived/injured, but it appears the sixth-round pick won’t make the active roster. It’s a distinct possibility that guys like Yankey, Kerin and Shepherd could be passed over for offensive lineman found on waivers. Expect the Vikings to be looking hard at free-agent options at this position. Yankey still has a lot of work to do with his consistency, but Berger offers a solid interior veteran swingman.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Starters: Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen
Reserves: Scott Crichton, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen, Danielle Hunter
Missing the cut: Chigbo Anunoby, B.J. Dubose, Greg Hickman, Leon Mackey, Justin Trattou
This is a deep group that offers a lot of flexibility. The biggest question is if Stephen (knee) will be ready to practice next week or whether he goes on the physically unable to perform. If that’s the case, or if the Vikings keep nine defensive linemen, Trattou has a good shot. There is a lot of practice squad possibilities among the others we have not making the cut (see below).

LINEBACKERS (6)
Starters: Chad Greenway, Gerald Hodges, Anthony Barr
Reserves: Eric Kendricks, Audie Cole, Brian Peters
Missing the cut: Michael Mauti, Edmond Robinson, Brandon Watts
If the Vikings keep only six, the final spot will be a tough call between Peters and all three we have not making the cut. Despite a blocked punt and recovery Thursday night, Mauti didn’t stand out in the preseason and he needed a big training camp and preseason to make the team. Robinson has raw potential, and if he doesn’t make the 53-man, then the practice squad if very likely.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (9)
Starters: Terence Newman, Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Xavier Rhodes
Reserves: Antone Exum, Captain Munnerlyn, Andrew Sendejo, Marcus Sherels, Trae Waynes
Missing the cut: Anthony Harris, Shaun Prater, Josh Thomas
Exum didn’t help his cause during the preseason and likely isn’t a threat to Blanton for a starting spot. Sendejo might be. Prater didn’t have a good preseason finale, although he offers versatility in the defensive backfield, like Exum. The coaching staff seems to like Thomas, but it’s a crowded position and he’s likely on the outside looking in. Harris, a high-priority rookie free agent, wasn’t helped by missing much of the offseason until training camp started.

SPECIALISTS (3)
Starters: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Kevin McDermott
Reserves: None
Missing the cut: None
Zimmer said “Blair is our kicker,” so there is little debating the decisions at this position.

NOTES
CB Jabari Price starts the season with a two-game suspension and CB Josh Robinson starts on the active/physically-unable to perform, meaning he will miss at least the first six weeks. Neither was counted above and neither counts against the 53-man roster.

INJURED RESERVE
LB Casey Matthews, T Phil Loadholt, T Carter Bykowski, QB Mike Kafka

PRACTICE SQUAD (9)
Babatunde Aiyegbusi, Tyrus Thompson, Isame Faciane, B.J. Dubose, Chigbo Anunoby, Edmond Robinson, Anthony Harris, Brandon Watts, Outside player.
The Vikings get an extra practice squad spot with an international exemption if they keep Aiyebusi, and that’s the only shot the massive but raw blocker stands at sticking around. Thompson was too inconsistent to make the 53-man roster, and Faciane is making the transition from defensive line to offensive line and flashed road grader ability at times. Dubose got a late start to his preseason because of injury but shows some potential, as does nose tackle Anunoby.

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