The Minnesota Vikings depth chart on offense has several “if-then” formulas to solve. Most of them revolve around the running game, which is the top priority to improve after a disappointing 2016 season.
Between the offensive line and running back, three positions are far from settled.
Here are the locks and the undecided battles as we see them after attending all the open organized team activities and the three minicamp practices, noting the rotations being used.
Despite the feel-good story of Teddy Bridgewater throwing again after dislocating his left knee and tearing multiple ligaments on Aug. 30, Bridgewater hasn’t participated in team drills, where he would be forced to make more sudden movements. His progress appears very good, considering the severity of the injury, but Sam Bradford is the unquestioned starter heading into the season. His performance last year, setting the NFL single-season completion record with a forced short passing game, earned him that spot now (and likely into the future).
The depth: Although Taylor Heinicke has looked relatively good and has gotten some turns with the second-team offense, Case Keenum has been better and appears to be in position to claim the No. 2 role. Undrafted rookie Wes Lunt is likely nothing more than a camp arm. The most likely scenario, as we see it, is Bridgewater at least starting the season on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list, Bradford being the starter, and Keenum and Heinicke as the backups, respectively.
Kyle Rudolph is the unquestioned starter and the king of the red zone (you know the saying, Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer). But without Rhett Ellison returning, David Morgan has stepped up as the No. 2 tight end and proved to coaches he can be an able blocker and find seams in the passing game. He may have more versatility than Ellison in the passing game and has the ability to move into the backfield as a lead blocker since the Vikings have no fullback on their roster this year. Rookie Bucky Hodges can be a matchup problem with his speed and size, but he is a very raw blocker that will have to prove he is more than a one-trick tight end to see any consistent usage during the regular season.
The depth: Hodges’ job could be challenged by Nick Truesdell and Kyle Carter, and the Vikings also have Josiah Price on the roster. Still, the most likely scenario is keeping three tight ends on the 53-man roster – Rudolph, Morgan and Hodges.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are one and two on the depth chart, no matter how it is sliced right now. Laquon Treadwell, the 2016 first-round pick who had only one reception last year as he recovered from a college ankle injury, has been the No. 3 go-to guy in spring practices and has looked significantly improved. Treadwell has more burst in his cuts, is more confident about his abilities and hasn’t dropped anywhere near the number of passes he did last year during organized team activities and minicamp. His much-improved consistency should keep him as the front-runner for No. 3 duties this year, especially if the Vikings release Michael Floyd after his reported violation of the terms of his sentencing for DUI. If the Vikings release Floyd, it could lead to an interest in free-agent receiver Eric Decker, who would then compete for a starting spot.
The depth: It’s hard to see anyone else being as effective as Jarius Wright is in the slot, but Wright has rarely gotten a sniff with the first team in spring practices. With the additions of Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley in the draft, Wright’s roster spot is precarious, despite his past production. Isaac Fruechte continues to make strides and could challenge for a roster spot with Cayleb Jones impressing as an undrafted guy who could find a practice-squad spot. Moritz Böhringer will have to have a good preseason to make the 53-man roster, and R.J. Shelton’s lost spring due to injury means he will have to make up ground quickly in training camp and preseason to retain employment.
Riley Reiff is the unquestioned starter at left tackle, despite him being moved to right tackle with the Detroit Lions last season. He is unquestioned because of the contractual commitment the Vikings gave him (five years, $58.75 million) and because there don’t appear to be many other viable options there. The Vikings believe he can be the staple there for years to come – for the sake of caponomics, they had better be right. But until the pads go on, it’s hard to tell much with the offensive line, other than that the coaches love Reiff’s tenacity. The same holds true with the free-agent signee at right tackle, Mike Remmers. The Vikings have committed starting money to him (five years, $30 million) in hopes he can plug one of the problem places on the offensive line last year.
The depth: At left tackle, Rashod Hill looks like the top backup, as Willie Beavers has struggled when given a chance with the second team. Beavers has also gotten looks at right tackle with the second team, but Jeremiah Sirles is a more experienced option there, as is T.J. Clemmings. Aviante Collins, Reid Fragel and Austin Shepherd are left to fight for any kind of roster spot.
Jerick McKinnon and Dalvin Cook shared first-team reps in spring practices, but free-agent signee Latavius Murray surely will challenge their status when he returns from ankle surgery. That is expected to happen at the start of full-team training camp or shortly thereafter. The most likely scenario is Murray being relied on for short-yardage and goal-line situations and the more explosive Cook getting increasing action during standard down-and-distance situations. McKinnon could be relegated to No. 3 on the depth chart, although his increased bulk could help him become more than a third-down back.
Alex Boone is the only lock at this position, as one of the top free-agent guards in 2016. He brings the attitude adjustment that he and others believe the offensive needed after 2016. The right guard spot is wide open. To date, it’s been Joe Berger getting the starting reps there, but Nick Easton could slide over if he is beaten out at center.
The depth: Sirles and Danny Isidora could also compete for the starting spot at the right guard position, and Zac Kerin provides some interior line flexibility.
Center could be the domino position on the line. Third-round pick Pat Elflein should eventually challenge Easton for the starting spot, and the Vikings also have Berger as a former starter at the position, as well as Kerin. If Elflein gets the center job, Easton could compete for the right guard spot, where Berger is currently the top man. The top two spots up for grabs on the offensive line are center and right guard, and any number of players could win either of those two jobs.