The Minnesota Vikings are a rather short 20 days away from starting their 2020 training camp. That means we are also 60 days away from final roster cuts, assuming that they keep the same September 5th deadline. We will also, for the purposes of this article assume that roster rules remain normal, a 53-man active roster, 10 player practice squad, and the top 51 contracts apply to the cap.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a fun exercise to speculate on some possible strategies that Rick Spielman and the Vikings front office could apply. I’ll be doing this in multiple parts, so keep an eye out for parts two and three!
This first strategy is all about picking experience and familiarity over new players. So, you’ll see some pretty weird things that I’m not agreeing with, just throwing out for the sake of the exercise.
Backup- Sean Mannion
Practice Squad- Jake Browning
Cut- Nate Stanley
Quarterback will be one of the easiest to decide positions for this exercise. Kirk Cousins is the starter, obviously, and the decision is made to keep Sean Mannion as chief clipboard holder/extra coach. Nobody is going to unseat Kirk, but this is the most boring and, in my opinion, worst option for a backup QB. In this scenario especially, if Kirk Cousins ever gets hurt, the season is over.
Starter- Dalvin Cook
Backups- Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah
Fullback- CJ Ham
Cut- Mike Boone, Tony Brooks-James, Jake Bargas
This strategy assumes that the Vikings can work out an acceptable contract extension with star running back Dalvin Cook. If Cook stays on the roster, and plays this season, he’s the obvious starter with his spell being second-year-man Alexander Mattison.
Ameer Abdullah brings veteran leadership and pass catching ability and the Vikings move on from both preseason darling Mike Boone and former Steeler Tony Brooks-James due to lack of space on the practice squad. Pro-bowler C.J. Ham stays as starting fullback and rookie Jake Bargas just gets a cup of coffee before getting the boot.
Starters- Adam Thielen, Tajae Sharpe
Backups- Justin Jefferson, Olabisi Johnson, Chad Beebe, K.J. Osborn
Practice Squad- Dillon Mitchell, Quartney Davis
Cut- Dan Chisena, Davion Davis, Bralon Addison, Alexander Hollins
With the departure of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen becomes the undisputed number one pass catching option in the Vikings offense. In this strategy, the Vikings also give the start to newly acquired veteran free agent Tajae Sharpe.
First round pick Justin Jefferson is the first wide receiver off the bench followed by Olabisi Johnson, who saw extensive work last season with the injury to Thielen. Preseason darling Chad beebe and mid-round rookie K.J. Osborn round-out the active roster receivers.
The Vikings try to stash Dillon Mitchell on the practice squad for a second straight season while also keeping Undrafted free agent Quartney Davis in the building. This strategy also has the team cutting speedster Dan Chisena, journeyman Bralon Addison, Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins, both of whom I confuse for the other all the time.
Starters- Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr
Backups- Tyler Conklin,
Cut- Brandon Dillon, Nakia Griffin-Stewart
Not much is new in the tight end room for this one. Rudolph and Smith Jr are going to be the starting tandem. Tyler Conklin is the backup. The only slight difference is that Brandon Dillon is going to be cut instead of placed on the practice squad. Undrafted rookie Nakia Griffin-Stewart doesn’t get a chance to stick with the Vikings in this one.
Starters-Riley Reiff (L), Brian O’Neill (R)
Backups- Ezra Cleveland, Oli Udoh
Practice Squad- Blake Brandel
Cut- Rashod Hill, Brady Aiello
Again, it’s status quo for the most part here. Reiff and O’Neill hold down each side of the line while newly drafted rookie Ezra Cleveland and second-year man, and stopper of Kalil Mack, Oli Udoh learn under both of them.
The biggest change here would be the cutting of longest tenured offensive lineman Rashod hill. Hill has been with the Vikings since 2016 and held down a spot by being versatile and available as a backup swing tackle. However, even in a roster strategy where we prioritize experience over youth, it’s hard to justify keeping Hill on the roster when you have talent like Cleveland and Udoh waiting in the wings.
Undrafted free agent Brady Aiello gets cut while Blake Brandel finds his way onto the practice squad. It’s still unclear if Brandel will play tackle at the next level as he seems more suited to guard, but for the purposes of this exercise we’ll keep him in the tackle group.
Starters- Pat Elflien (L), Dakota Dozier (R)
Backups- Aviante Collins, Dru Samia
Practice Squad- Kyle Hinton
Cut- Tyler Higby
This one should scare Vikings fans as it is pretty likely to happen. Pat Elflien gets to hold onto his starting spot due to a lack of options with experience. Dakota Dozier takes Josh Kline’s vacated spot where he looked okay in limited time last season, but bad after a while.
Behind them, veteran jack-of-all-trades Aviante Collins gets to stay with the team as he has versatility to backup (not necessarily well) every position on the line except center. Second-year man Dru Samia gets to sit to start another season despite having the most potential of all the guards. It is also possible that Oli Udoh gets slid inside at some point after taking all his snaps at right tackle last season.
Seventh rounder Kyle Hinton gets to go to the practice squad while undrafted free agent Tyler Higby gets sent out the door to find a new team.
Starter- Garrett Bradbury
Backup- Brett Jones
Cut- Jake Lacina
This is a position that isn’t going to change much. Bradbury as the one and Jones as the two is all but guaranteed and they have the most experience. Jones can also potentially play a guard position in a pinch. Rookie, and Vikings legacy player, Jake Lacina gets the training camp experience and nothing more.
Starters- Danielle Hunter (L), Ifeadi Odenigbo (R)
Backups- Anthony Zetttel, Eddie Yarbrough, D.J. Wonnum
Practice Squad- Kenny Willekes
Cut- Stacy Keely
Hunter and Odenigbo are no-brainer moves here with one of them being an absolute star and the other being a solid backup for the Vikings the last couple of seasons. Odenigbo finally gets his chance to shine after making a few big splash plays last season, including a touchdown, and collecting seven sacks.
Behind those two, it’s going to be a heavy rotation between Anthony Zettel, Eddie Yarbrough, and new rookie Wonnum. Mike Zimmer will give ample opportunity to both the newly acquired veteran Zettel and late season pickup Yarbrough. Wonnum will need to flash quite a bit to start with a big role in the rotation, but he could have a very similar start to his career as Hunter did and be an energetic pass rusher off the bench.
Seventh rounder Kenny Willekes gets a practice squad spot due while Stacy Kelly leaves Minnesota for a new opportunity.
Starters- Michael Pierce, Shamar Stephen
Backups- Jaleel Johnson, Armon Watts, James Lynch
Cut- Jalyn Holmes, David Moa, Hercules Mata’afa
Defensive tackle is quite possibly the biggest make or break position on this roster and this configuration is the most conservative, and problematic option. Newly signed Michael Pierce is going to be Linval Joseph’s replacement. Shamar “I can’t rush the passer” Stephen gets to start at the other defensive tackle spot.
After that, you get veteran Jaleel Johnson, Amon Watts who flashed quite a bit last season, and Baylor’s all-time sack leader James Lynch. That rotation should be pretty fierce, but could potentially break down.
Unfortunately, this plan has the Vikings cutting a lot of people’s favorite Hercules Mata’afa. Mata’afa would be another casualty of roster size and this strategy prioritizing experience over potential. Jalyn Holmes can’t fight his way onto the roster and undrafted rookie David Moa gets sent away to find another home.
Starters- Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon
Backups- Eric Wilson, Cam Smith, Troy Dye
Cut- DeMarquis Gates, Blake Lynch, Jordan Fehr
Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are obviously going to be kept in their starting positions. Ben Gedeon also gets to keep his starting spot due to experience compared to Eric Wilson. Wilson has a chance to unseat Gedeon, but in this instance doesn’t.
Second-year player Cameron Smith gets to hang around for awhile longer and uber athletic rookie Troy Dye gets to learn under some of the NFL’s best while playing special teams. XFL recruit DeMarquis Gates, athletic Blake Lynch, and small school Jordan Fehr all see the door with no extra room on the practice squad for them.
Starters- Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd
Backups- Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, Harrison Hand
Practice Squad- Nate Meadors, Mark Fields
Cut- Nevelle Clarke, Marcus Sayles
This is the position that I really disagree with this strategy on. Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd all get starting jobs due to experience. This is also in-line with what Zimmer loves to do with his cornerback, seasoning them behind players with more experience regardless of talent.
That means that rookies Jeff Gladny, Cam Dantzler and Harrison Hand all have to sit and fight for snaps. I disagree with this because I think the greatest learning experience, especially at a position like corner, is on the field. At the very least, I’d want to see Gladney play over Boyd, whose experience is mostly on special teams.
After the rookies, Nate Meadors and Mark Fields get to be on this practice squad, ready to be activated in case of injury. While undrafted rookie Nevelle Clarke gets sent home along with second-year man Marcus Sayles.
Starters- Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris
Backups- Kemon Hall
Practice Squad- Josh Metellus, Brian Cole II
Cut- Myles Dorn
The starting safeties aren’t in question as the Vikings have the best safety tandem in the NFL in Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. However, after that it gets silly. Kemon Hall gets to play the third safety with a year of NFL practice squad experience.
That leaves late-round picks Josh Metellus and Brian Cole II on the practice squad. I don’t agree with this strategy at all. Both Metellus and Cole are pretty high upside guys and at least one of them should get the chance to backup some of the NFL’s best. Myles Dorn also gets cut before getting his chance, but I don’t necessarily dispute that, yet.
Starters-Dan Bailey (P), Britton Colquitt (P), Austin Cutting (LS)
This group won’t change for any of these plans and that feels so great. As solid a snap, spot, kick trio as the Vikings have had in a long time.
Although I don’t think this is the worst option, and I think it gives them the chance to “win now” with the players who have the most NFL level experience. In a year where you just brought in 27 new rookies, why cut a good majority of them and give starting jobs to zero of them? Well, you wouldn’t. At the very least, Justin Jefferson and Jeff Gladney should be starting and Ezra Cleveland should get some serious looks. This strategy feels like taking three steps forward with an excellent offseason and then taking two steps back by cutting away that young talent and potentially stunting growth of the rookies you do keep.