A major goal every off-season is to improve the roster. Those efforts are complicated by salary cap constraints, competing offers, limited draft capital and other factors. But as the high season for making roster moves approaches- free agency and the draft- let’s take a look at the Vikings’ current roster and depth charts – and speculate on how the Vikings may try to fill-in the holes.
We’ll break it up by position group, and include some assumptions/scenarios based on some likely roster moves and losses for the Vikings, detailed in an earlier write-up.
Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Kyle Sloter
Free Agent: Trevor Siemian – probably not re-signed
Potential Draft Picks: Practice Squad guy in late round or UDFA
Cousins is about as locked-in contractually as a player can be, and the Vikings are committed to improving his game, not trying to trade him. This year would be the first in some time with continuity at the QB position, and I’m sure that is welcome among the coaching staff.
The more interesting question here is if the Vikings decide to go with two or three quarterbacks on the roster. In the past they’ve always gone with three, but not without some discussion. The trend across the league is to go with two, and another on the practice squad, and I could see the Vikings choosing this approach.
Last year the Vikings acquired Trevor Siemian to stink it up in pre-season, which fortunately was all we had to see of him. Kyle Sloter clearly outperformed him, and given the commitment the Vikings have made to him as a third QB in terms of salary and roster spot to prevent his going elsewhere, perhaps this year they may decide to promote him to the primary backup behind Cousins.
Siemian has connections to the Kubiaks in Denver, so there is the chance he is re-signed (he’s currently an unrestricted free agent – UFA). But any consideration of his performance would weigh on that decision. The Vikings tight salary cap this year also is a consideration. Even $2 million for a mediocre backup QB has to be paid for with cuts elsewhere, so that may tip the scales a little in favor of going with only two QBs on the roster.
Beyond that, I would not be surprised if the Vikings used a late round or UDFA pick on a practice squad QB.
Running Back / Fullback
Starter: Dalvin Cook
Potential Draft Pick: Devine Ozigbo, RB Nebraska.
I’m going with the assumption here that Latavius Murray is not re-signed, although there is at least some chance that happens. I’m also assuming the Vikings extend C.J. Ham, who is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) that the Vikings can extend at will for cheap. Ham has shown value as both a good pass blocker (84.1 PFF grade) and tied for third best PFF grade on special teams- and also one of the most used in terms of special teams snaps. Given all that, it seems a forgone conclusion the Vikings extend him.
Both Mike Boone and Roc Thomas showed promise carrying the ball in pre-season last year, but need to improve as blockers to increase their value to the team and see the field more often. This is entirely doable with coaching, and I expect both have and will be working on this to improve their game. Overall, both backs appear to have the talent to fill backup roles and hopefully contribute more on special teams as well.
I would also expect the Vikings to draft a running back or two to compete for a committee assignment. One prospect the Vikings have met with is Devine Ozigbo from Nebraska. He looks to be a more direct replacement of Latavius Murray’s skill set. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings used a Day 3 pick on Ozigbo, who looks to be a very good fit into the Vikings zone running scheme and complement to other backs. Keep in mind Rick Spielman also has connections with Nebraska – his son plays there – and so he knows the program, players and coaches.
Starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen
Free Agent: Aldrick Robinson – extended
Trade: Laquon Treadwell
Potential Draft Pick: Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
I’m assuming here that the Vikings trade Laquon Treadwell, most likely for a late-round draft pick. It seems clear that the Vikings have run out of patience with Treadwell, not just because of his lack of production as a receiver, but also because he hasn’t been able to contribute in other ways much either. Despite his big body, he wasn’t that effective as a blocker last year, and has never contributed much on special teams. So, considering all that, I suspect the Vikings may opt to trade Treadwell for whatever they can get, which would free up a little salary cap space and a roster spot.
I’m also assuming that the Vikings opt to extend Aldrick Robinson on a minimal deal – roughly what they save by trading Treadwell. Robinson had some big plays and began to get more reps than Treadwell as the season progressed. He also expressed some interest in returning to the Vikings, so it would be no surprise if a deal a struck for Robinson to return.
Beyond that, backup Chad Beebe has also shown some promise, and could get some rotational reps and compete for the third WR spot this year, along with Brandon Zylstra and perhaps also Jeff Badet, who was on the practice squad last season.
But what the Vikings really need is a bona fide deep threat to fill out the WR group and complement Diggs and Thielen. Certainly those two can be deep threats, but their skills sets are in their route running, particularly in intermediate routes, over the middle and finding the opening in zone coverage. Aldrick Robinson has some deep threat ability, as does Jeff Badet with his 4.27” 40 time, but neither have the preferred size.
So, perhaps the Vikings could look to complement their receiver group by taking a chance on a guy like Kevin White, who was a #7 overall pick bust with the Bears, in part due to injuries. But with Diggs and Thielen the focus of opposing defenses, and a QB in Cousins who can throw the deep ball well, perhaps White could do better in purple. I would imagine the Vikings could acquire White for around $2 million on a one-year prove-it deal.
Beyond that, the Vikings have also met with draft prospect Deebo Samuel, an explosive receiver out of South Carolina. Samuel is a wide receiver built like a running back at 5’ 11”, 216lbs., and 4.5” 40 time. I’ve seen him ranked as high as a second-round pick, but Samuel is not going to be a featured receiver in the NFL. He’s probably best from the slot – creating a size mismatch with most nickel corners. But Samuel also has some injury history – he broke his leg in 2017 – so even though he has some impressive tape, he’s unlikely to go in the first three rounds. If he slips into the fourth or fifth round, the Vikings could spend a draft pick on him as match-up receiver and potential kick/punt returner as well.
Starter: Kyle Rudolph
Free Agents: Cedrick Lang, Josiah Price
Potential Draft Picks: Noah Fant, Iowa, Kendell Blanton, Missouri, Andrew Beck, Texas.
Kyle Rudolph is entering the last year of his contract, and there has been some talk that his contract may be restructured to save salary cap space. Rudolph has no dead cap left in his contract, and his salary cap is $7.625 million this year. I don’t think the Vikings are ready to part ways with Rudolph at this point, but the fact that they were talking to Noah Fant at the Combine means they probably don’t see Rudolph as worthy of much of an extension, either. The issue with Rudolph is that he has been declining in his blocking ability for several years now, and seems replaceable and upgradeable as a receiver.
The Vikings have been looking for a more dynamic receiving threat at the TE position for a couple years now. Tyler Conklin last year was one attempt, and Bucky Hodges in 2017 was another. Noah Fant is the first top prospect at tight-end they’ve been connected with recently, but even Fant is far from a complete TE at this point. He is seen as a potential 2nd round pick who helped his prospects at the Combine. Fant is 6’4” 250lbs, ran a 4.5” 40 and has a 39.5” vertical jump. He is definitely more of a dynamic receiving threat than Rudolph ever was, but he also needs to improve his blocking ability and toughness and concentration in a crowd.
I’m not sure if the Vikings view replacing Rudolph as worth a 2nd round pick this year- meeting with Fant suggests maybe so- but if they add draft capital by trading Trae Waynes, they may have the draft capital to do so and address other needs on the offensive line.
The Vikings have also met with a couple of late-round/UDFA prospects in Kendell Blanton and Andrew Beck – both of whom look more like blocking TEs primarily. I wouldn’t be surprised if they added them to compete at the end of the depth chart, or if they extended Price or Lang for the same purpose. Special teams ability may be more important here.
Backups: Danny Isidora, Aviante Collins, Cornelius Edison, Adam Bisnowaty, Storm Norton
Released/Traded: Mike Remmers
Potential Draft Picks: Cody Ford, Dalton Risner, Chris Lindstrom, Greg Little, Lamont Gaillard, Michael Jordan, Jackson Barton, Bunchy Stallings, Olisaemeka Udoh, Brian Wallace, Ryan Pope, Trey Pipkins
Obviously the Vikings offensive line is a top priority this season, as it has been the past few years. And with all the moving parts, it’s not out of the question that there will be a new player at every position along the offensive line this coming season.
I’m going to assume that the Vikings part ways with Mike Remmers, one way or another – most likely releasing him, although a late round pick in trade isn’t out of the question.
Adding to the complexity in this position group is who plays what position – nothing seems firm at this point. And then there is a new offensive line coach in Rick Dennison, who will have a new perspective on players and prospects.
One thing that seems relatively certain is that the Vikings will spend at least one top draft pick on an offensive linemen. It may not be at #18, but definitely somewhere in the first two rounds – and perhaps later rounds as well. And then there is free agency as well.
I would not be surprised if the Vikings prioritized landing center Matt Paradis in free agency. Based on the number of centers they’ve acquired in the past couple years, the Vikings don’t seem to be enamored with Pat Elflein’s perfomance at center. PFF ranked him the worst center in the league last year, and his rookie wasn’t much better. The other factor in pursuing Paradis in free agency vs. drafting a starting center is that apart from Riley Reiff, the Vikings are unlikely to have much veteran experience along the offensive line going forward. Brian O’Neill is coming off his rookie year, Elflein may be replaced at center and may or may not be a starter next season, Remmers looks to be cut, and the others are basically career backups. So landing Matt Paradis, provided his foot checks out, could be more of a priority to complement and lead the rookies and 2nd year guys who may start at other positions. Paradis had his breakout year under Rick Dennison, and is familiar with his and Kubiak’s scheme. The Broncos seem to want Paradis back, but don’t seem likely to outbid other teams for his services either. The current “standard” for a top veteran center is the $10.5 million/year, 4-year, $22 million guaranteed that Tampa paid last year. If Kubiak and Dennison get on the phone with Paradis and Spielman offers a similar deal – provided his foot checks out – they should be able to land Paradis. Cutting Remmers clears about half the cap space necessary to acquire Paradis in that scenario, so other cuts would need to be made as well. But having a solid, veteran leader and top performer at center who is familiar with Kubiak and Dennison’s scheme would go a long way to getting the Vikings offensive line on track this season.
But more needs to be done in the draft. I’m hoping the Vikings prioritize the offensive line to the tune of taking two offensive linemen in the first two rounds or so – assuming they have more draft capital by trading Trae Waynes.
All of the top guys the Vikings are looking at appear likely to be available at #18, and a couple may be there at #50 as well. Indeed, there are guys the Vikings have met with that could be available in every round, at every pick. But getting immediate starters should be the priority. The Vikings already have too many backup-caliber linemen and adding to the list doesn’t make sense.
What does make sense is using draft capital to acquire two immediate starting-caliber offensive linemen who are well-suited for a zone-blocking scheme. My hope is that the Vikings are able to draft both Chris Lindstrom out of Boston College and Dalton Risner from Kansas State. My guess is that both of these guys go somewhere between the Vikings #18 pick and their #50 pick, so that implies some trading would be necessary to get them both. According to some rankings, these are both second-round picks. We’ll see. Not every team drafts according to best-player-available philosophy, and teams rank players differently as well. But in terms of allocating draft capital to most help the team overall, it’s difficult to argue prioritizing any other position group over offensive line.
But even in the best case scenario laid out here – landing center Matt Paradis in free agency, and drafting both Chris Lindstrom and Dalton Risner, there still remains a question of who plays what position. One possibility is to have Lindstrom and Risner start on the right side as guard and tackle, respectively, have Brian O’Neill move to left tackle, and Riley Reiff inside to left guard, with Matt Paradis at center. This would result in this starting lineup:
LT: Brian O’Neill
LG: Riley Reiff
C: Matt Paradis
RG: Chris Lindstrom
RT: Dalton Risner
There was some talk among the Vikings coaching staff of Reiff potentially moving inside, depending on acquisitions and Brian O’Neill’s ability to play left tackle, so that’s a possibility. Also possible is Risner moving inside and Reiff and O’Neill playing tackle – one way or another. Reiff has less than ideal arm length to play tackle, and that has hampered him on occasion in that position. Whether he’s well suited to play inside at guard is another matter. It didn’t work out with Remmers, I suspect in part because he lacked adequate quickness off the snap, but there may have been other reasons. In any case, those five guys together in some fashion could send the Vikings offensive line rankings considerably higher next year.
If the Vikings were only able to draft one immediate starter, say Risner, but still acquire Paradis in free agency, then I would look for a similar arrangement but instead of Lindstrom at right guard, a competition among all the other guys on the offensive line roster for the right guard position.
Beyond that, there is a question of who would be swing tackle and the primary interior backup. Rashod Hill is a restricted free agent (RFA), but I’m not sure he’s worth bringing back for the $3 million or so that goes with a 2nd round tender offer. I suspect that Aviante Collins, who got a lot of reps in pre-season last year before breaking his arm a week or so before the regular season, could emerge as the top swing tackle candidate. He was played all over last August – including guard spots – but ultimately ended on IR for the season. Rashod Hill seems to have topped out at his current level of play, which is not ideal even for a swing tackle. Collins has more upside, and a friendlier price tag.
On the interior line, if Pat Elflein doesn’t get a starting job, he could compete as the interior backup – along with a few others like potentially Brett Jones, Nick Easton, Cornelius Edison, and perhaps a later round draft pick like Lamont Gaillard if he is drafted by the Vikings.
Bottom line, there is a lot of complexity in this position group, and therefore a lot of different ways things could play out. But ultimately there needs to be at least two, and preferably three, new starting caliber players added to this group to make a significant difference in performance next season. Matt Paradis should be a top priority for the Vikings in free agency.
Potential Draft Picks: Charles Omenihu
I’m going with a few assumptions here, which may or may not come to pass. The first is that the Vikings restructure Everson Griffen’s contact down by about $4 million or so, but keep him. The second is that the Vikings are able to re-sign Sheldon Richardson. The third is that Tom Johnson is also re-signed on a minimal deal, although he may not make the final roster.
But before getting into player detail, let’s understand where each player on the roster plays, as that’s changed since they were drafted. Going forward, I expect Danielle Hunter to play mostly as the right defensive end, rather than the left as he has mostly done since becoming a starter. He has been transitioning there in Everson Griffen’s absence last year, and as the Vikings premier pass rusher, that is where he should play in Mike Zimmer’s scheme. Griffen would also rotate behind Hunter at RDE and start at LDE.
Sheldon Richardson, Tom Johnson, and Ifeadi Odenigbo are at 3-technique. Odenigbo moved inside last year.
Stephen Weatherly and Jayln Holmes are at LDE.
Tashawn Bower and Ade Aruna are backup RDEs.
Depending on how the Vikings coaching staff feels about the development of guys like Weatherly, Holmes, Odenigbo, Bower and Aruna will determine just how interested they are in retaining Everson Griffen and Tom Johnson.
It could be that the coaching staff feels that Hunter and Bower in an 80/20 combination can play at a high level at RDE, and Stephen Weatherly and Jayln Holmes in rotation at LDE can do the same, making the need for the high-priced Griffen unnecessary – or at least not the best use of limited salary cap.
Similarly, if the Vikings are able to re-sign Sheldon Richardson, and are comfortable with Ifeadi Odenigbo rotating about 20% or so of the time, then the need for Tom Johnson is not so much and they may choose not to re-sign him or let him go at some point before the regular season.
It would seem that Linval Joseph and Jaleel Johnson are set as the 1-2 combo at nose tackle, although to date Jaleel Johnson has been underwhelming. Hopefully that will change this season.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings spent a draft pick on the defensive line, although if they re-sign Richardson it may not be a top one. One guy the Vikings have met with is Charles Omenihu out of Texas. At 6’6”, 275lbs. and 36” arms, he looks like a DE – but he also plays inside. He’s got a lot going for him and is the type of prospect that with a little coaching from Andre Patterson could contribute sooner rather than later. Similar in that respect to Danielle Hunter, and looks to be a 3rd round or so prospect just like Hunter.
Free Agents: Anthony Barr – not extended.
Potential Draft Picks: Cody Barton, Utah
I’m assuming here that Anthony Barr signs elsewhere, leaving Eric Wilson as the incumbent SLB. Eric Kendricks remains as the MLB and 3-down LB, and Ben Gedeon the base LB.
Kendricks is easily the leader of this group without Barr, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up play calling duties. He stills struggles in coverage, but improved this past year with his tackling.
Eric Wilson was mediocre filling in last season when a starter went down, and in rotation. He struggled for several games with his tackling, and has yet to show anything more than average in coverage or against the run. He’s a little small for a SLB, but has shown some good instincts.
Ben Gedeon continues to be an outstanding special teamer – like Brothers – and solid as a base LB against the run. His coverage ability is limited, however, which is why he’s out on passing downs most of the time.
Among the backups, Kentrell Brothers was the highest graded special teams player for the Vikings last year, and is a decent backup to Gedeon, but doesn’t have the coverage skills. Devante Downs did get much playing time last season, so still kind of unknown, as is Hercules Mata’ Afa, who went down early in training camp with an ACL tear.
Mata’ Afa is the more intriguing of those two, based on his skill set. He’s got a traditional linebacker build, but played along the defensive line at Washington despite his small size in that role – particularly on the inside. But he excelled at getting to the ballcarrier. He may not be a 3-down linebacker – he hasn’t much experience in coverage – but he could be very effective as both a run-stopper and a blitzer. He also has a great skill set for special teams coverage units.
Be that as it may, the Vikings are still lacking a good cover linebacker. One draft prospect that could fill that hole, and the Vikings have met with, is Cody Barton out of Utah. He has shown strong coverage ability and while a bit small for a SLB, could potentially replace Anthony Barr. He isn’t high on a lot of draft charts, so the Vikings could land him with a day 3 pick. Still, he has the skill set the Vikings need at the SLB position.
Trade: Trae Waynes
Free Agent: Marcus Sherels – not re-signed.
Potential Draft Pick: Derrick Baity, Kentucky
I’m assuming here that Trae Waynes is indeed traded, and also that Marcus Sherels is not extended. Perhaps Mike Priefer will push to have him sign with the Browns. I’m also assuming that Holton Hill wins the LCB job that Waynes held last year, and that Mike Hughes is the primary backup at all CB spots.
Even with Trae Waynes being traded, this group still looks pretty solid through the top four CBs, who will see 95+% of the snaps barring multiple injuries. Still, the CB group has had multiple injuries at times, so I suspect the Vikings may spend a day 3 pick to improve depth beyond the first four CBs.
One corner the Vikings have met with is Derrick Baity out of Kentucky, who’d likely go late in the draft. He’s got some talent to work with, but would be something of a project to improve his skills.
Overall, this group looks to remain pretty strong- given the additions of Holton Hill and Mike Huges last year- even if Waynes is traded.
Starters: Harrison Smith
Backups: Jayron Kearse
Released/Restructured/Traded: Andrew Sendejo
I’m assuming here that Anthony Harris is indeed extended as a restricted free agent (RFA) and perhaps beyond that with a longer-term deal, and given the starting job opposite Harrison Smith. I’m also assuming that Andrew Sendejo is either released or restructured (most likely the former), or less likely traded.
I’m also going out on a limb and assuming George Iloka is re-signed. You will remember Iloka was signed for the veteran minimum from Cincinnati – and old Zimmer guy – but didn’t get much playing time with Anthony Harris blossoming last year. Jayron Kearse also had a decent year. But I suspect Zimmer may want to keep Iloka not only because he knows Zimmer’s scheme well, but he could also be moved into the SLB role. At 6’4”, 225lbs, Iloka weighs almost as much as Eric Wilson or Eric Kendricks, but has the added height and coverage skills to match-up better against tight-ends in coverage. He’s also been good as a tackler and in run defense, so he could be that Cam Chancellor-type SS/SLB hybrid Zimmer has talked about having in the past. Jayron Kearse is also a possibility in that role, although he would need to add a little weight beyond the 215lbs. he’s listed as.
Overall, although there is some turnover in this group, it looks likely to remain a strength of the defense, as Smith and Harris were the two highest graded players on defense for the Vikings last year, according to PFF.
Long Snapper: Kevin McDermott
The Vikings kicker and punter are both free agents, but Matt Wile is an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA), meaning the Vikings can extend him if they want for a bargain basement price. Wile did reasonably well last year as punter, and I do see why they would not extend him for at least another year.
Dan Bailey is an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and he may get competing offers from other teams. I suspect Mike Zimmer is leary of experimenting with another rookie kicker, so I’d think there is a good chance Bailey is extended. But new special teams coach Marwan Maalouf will weigh-in on that decision as well. Perhaps there is a veteran available he favors, which could lead the Vikings to go another way. Zimmer has also said he may employ a kicking coach, which makes sense given the Vikings problems with kickers in recent years. Perhaps with the adding coaching he may be more willing to look at a rookie kicker. Who knows. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings retained a veteran like Bailey and also used a late draft pick or UDFA pick on a rookie kicker to compete with him.
One veteran alternative to Dan Bailey under age 35 is Jason Myers, who played for the Jets last year and is a UFA. He looks to have a stronger leg than Bailey, judging by his much higher touchback % on kickoffs and more 50+ yard field goal attempts. He made 91.7% of his field goals last year, and 90.9% of his extra-point attempts. He’s always had a good (@ 90%) average making field goals inside of 50 yards, but has been inconsistent over his four years beyond 50 yards, which led to his release from Jacksonville. He went 6/7 from 50+ last year, however. He has missed around 3 extra-points a year, the past few years, which isn’t great, but not a deal killer either. Myers has kicked outside mostly in his career-to-date – playing at Jacksonville and the Jets – so perhaps an indoor setting for most games would benefit him.
This doesn’t seem like a very good draft class for kickers. The top names include Matt Gay, Cole Tracy, Austin Selbert, John Baron and Justin Yoon – but they all seem to have some disconcerting flaws in their game.
That being the case, it may be more likely the Vikings pursue a veteran and hope for the best.
While there will be more turnover- especially on defense- this year among starters, including some well known names and Pro Bowlers that have played well for the Vikings in the past, there is also the possibility for improvement.
For example, while Anthony Barr has managed to make the Pro Bowl the past four years, his performance has been less than award-worthy most of those years. His overall PFF rating, beginning with last year, has been 71.4, 63.7, 50.5, and 89.6 in 2015. I think most would agree that the last three years were somewhat undeserving, and leaves open the possibility of improvement. The main weak point in Barr’s game as an SLB is that he hasn’t covered that well. And that was his primary responsibility on half his snaps. He excelled as a pass rusher, but in Mike Zimmer’s scheme he was only called on to do so about 10% of the time. He improved as a run defender this year, but he struggled in that area the previous two. I think Barr has been out of position as a SLB in a 4-3 front, and will likely flourish in a 3-4 scheme. And that may lead to more legit Pro Bowls for him. But unless Mike Zimmer is planning a scheme change, Anthony Barr’s performance can be replaced and even improved upon in coverage.
Similarly, while Trae Waynes has emerged into a solid CB, he’s never had a PFF coverage grade above 70. And Holton Hill had a 75.9 coverage grade his rookie year.
And while Everson Griffen had a monster year in 2017, that was the exception and not the rule. Last year’s performance was very much in-line with his career average, and was about the same as what Stephen Weatherly did. That’s what leads to salary cap casualties when cap space is tight and individual cap numbers are high.
Andrew Sendejo has been having his best years the last couple before he got hurt, but Anthony Harris did even better in relief of him last year.
Lastly, while the interior offensive line may be in for a complete overhaul, each of the starters were either dead last (Elflein) or nearly so among starters at their position according to PFF. So the potential for improvement, given that low bar, is pretty good.
But more than the replaceability of departing starters, there is also the question of how well returning starters will do. Most of the Vikings defensive starters had their best years in 2017. But just about all of them declined in 2018, which overshadowed good performances by guys like Anthony Harris, MacKensie Alexander, Sheldon Richardson and Holton Hill.
A lot of energy has been spent on QB performance, as the new QB was supposed to deliver a Super Bowl victory. Here are the simple facts:
The Vikings starting QB completed 425 of 606 passing attempts (70.1%) for 4,298 yards, 30 TDs and 10 INTs for a 99.7 passer rating. The QB that won the Super Bowl this year completed 375 of 570 passing attempts (65.3%) for 4,355 yards, 29 TDs and 11 INTs for a 97.7 passer rating.
You can interpret that however you like.
But overall both the Vikings offense and defense declined about 10 spots in league rankings for points and points allowed, and that led to around a 10 point drop in draft order as well. This with very little roster turnover, particularly on defense.
And so, with declining performance last year, maybe some roster turnover is a good thing – despite the sense of loss – as ascending players replacing potentially descending players bring new life and chemistry that can change the performance trend.
Besides offensive line, what is the Vikings weakest position group?
Special Teams (K, P, LS)
549 votes total