The Minnesota Vikings roster is now set and the first unofficial depth chart has been released, as we prep for week one at US Bank Stadium, vs the Green Bay Packers. Some players and position groups look ready to take on the world, while others are… as good as they’re going to get.
In a salary cap world, it’s impossible for an NFL team to be strong at every single position. Which groups you build up and who you leave in charge of your weaker spots, will decide your fate as a franchise and as a general manager. The Minnesota Vikings are no different, and now that the roster has been cut down to its “final” form, I wanted to rank the roster construction, from the weakest position group, to the strongest one.
Which positions can we expect to win their matchups week-in and week-out vs the groups that will give us constant headaches? Let’s dive into it.
In making these rankings, I focused on starters and players who will be consistently rotating into games. I used backups to help round out the rankings, but heaviest consideration went into the starting groups. I don’t care about special teams and fullback is considered a running back.
Weakest: Offensive Line
Shocker alert…. the offensive line is the Minnesota Vikings’ worst position group, heading into the 2020 season. How did we get here? Call it a lack of funds or qualified candidates, but results are what GM’s are judged on and Rick Spielman has found it impossible to build a competent offensive line, since the team moved on from Adrian Peterson, after the 2016 season.
Luckily, Riley Reiff chose not to call Spielman’s bluff last week, and agreed to a pay cut over being cut. Reiff is one of two players on the 2019 o-line, who you could grade as “competent” or better. Unfortunately for the Vikings, teams have five players who start on the offensive line. Kirk Cousins was also elated to see Reiff return.
Kirk Cousins said he’s thrilled to have #Vikings LT Riley Reiff back:
“So grateful that’s he’s back because he’s obviously a great player but he’s also a key piece of the dynamic in the locker room, offensive line room and being a leader on our football team.”— Sean Borman (@SeanBormanNFL) September 2, 2020
On the right side of Riley Reiff, is Dakota Dozier at guard. No comment. Garrett Bradbury will be a sophomore center and the jury is still out on him. He wasn’t very good as a rookie, but he was also surrounded by swing-gate guards like Dakota Dozier and…. Pat Elflein, who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, to be a key piece of the interior OL. Since then, he has mostly sucked.
There is one ultra-bright spot on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line and his name is Brian O’Neil. Picked in the second round of the 2018 draft, O’Neil has not only proven himself as (easily) the best player on the Vikings OL, but one of the better RT in the NFC. I am thankful for Brian O’Neil. So is Rick Spielman.
Ezra Cleveland was scooped up in the 3rd round of this year’s draft and the Minnesota Vikings need him to develop quickly. If he can, and Bradbury bounces back in his Sophomore year… who knows where we rank the OL next season. Those are some big “if’s” though, and recent history isn’t on our side.
The Vikings lost all of their starting cornerbacks from 2019. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander were all released into free agency. They are replaced with Mike Hughes, Holton Hill plus two rookies, Cam Dantzler and Jeff Gladney.
Mike Hughes and Holton Hill have shown how good they can be, as long as they can stay on the field. We haven’t seen a lot of that from either guy. Hughes has struggled with injury issues while Hill has struggled with drug suspensions. If both guys can play to their potential and stay on the field, the CB position could shoot up this list.
The unknowns pile up quickly in 2020, though. Behind Hughes and Hill, are rookies Gladney and Dantzler. Gladney was drafted higher but Dantzler has been the one who splashed in training camp. Gladney was listed ahead of Dantzler on the first unofficial depth chart, which was released by the team on Monday.
"I feel pretty good about it really. I think these guys have done a nice job. All of the corners have shown strides. They've all improved, I think they're all gotten coached well and I think they're trying to do things the way we want them done." – Coach Zimmer on CB depth— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 4, 2020
To add to the confusion, Mike Hughes is expected to slide over to nickel when the Vikings play with five defensive backs. With all of these changes and movement, Zimmer didn’t have a preseason game to test anything.
No matter who plays where and when, the Vikings will need to heavily rely on on two rookies in Mike Zimmer’s system. That is a scary thought. It took Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander years, before they conquered it. There are just a lot of unknowns at CB in 2020.
Decisions are starting to get more difficult now. I don’t necessarily worry about the Vikings wide receiver group, especially if Justin Jefferson can live up to his 1st round draft pick expectations. But once you look past Adam Thielen, who has proved himself as one of the league’s premier pass catchers, the Vikings have a lot to prove.
We assume Jefferson will become a starter at some point this season, but he hasn’t won that job for week 1. He does his best work from the slot too, so Jefferson would have to gain WR2-status on the outside, where he isn’t as strong, to be on the field as often as possible.
Bisi Johnson is currently listed as the WR2 and Chad Beebe rounds out the top-4 at the position. For both, staying on the field will be key. One thing the Vikings clearly lack at WR after Stefon Diggs departed, is a big downfield threat. As a run-heavy team with a careful QB, expect teams to force the Vikings to beat them deep.
Spielman and Co. did keep SEVEN wide receivers on the 53-man roster for whatever reason. Tajae Sharpe is immediate depth, (rookie) KJ Osborn will return both punts and kicks, and Dan Chisena must make really good coffee.
Of the seven wide receivers on the #Vikings roster, two have are on it for special teams: Dan Chisena and K.J. Osborn. If Osborn were to falter as the possible top kickoff returner, Ameer Abdullah remains on the roster.— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 5, 2020
Mike Zimmer was known for two things when he started with the Vikings. He’s a defensive backs guru and he will fuck your shit up with the AA-Gap linebacker blitz.
Teams figured out that blitz scheme eventually, and we’ve seen a lot less of it in recent years. The consistency at the linebacker position seemed to go with it… or it goes with Anthony Barr.
We all know how rock-solid Eric Kendricks is. He is one of the best middle linebackers in all of football and by-far the most undervalued. Anthony Barr, Eric’s college roommate who was drafted by the Vikings out of UCLA one year before Kendricks, lacks the same consistency.
Whether you believe he’s forced to play his position with handcuffs on or you think he lacks consistent effort, the result is the same. When Anthony Barr is playing with an edge, he can ruin entire game plans. If not, you forget he’s on the field.
In their base 4-3 defense, the Vikings will play Eric Wilson next to Kendricks and Barr. Wilson is… ok. He’s just ok.
The D-line has jumped up my rankings over the last couple of weeks. They addressed a weaknesses at Right DE, by trading for Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue is one of the only young defensive ends in the league who can compare to Danielle Hunter, who will hold up the other side of the DL. That’s if he ever takes the field.
Does Mike Zimmer expect Danielle Hunter to practice and play versus Green Bay after a "tweak" has kept him out of practice since August 14?— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) September 7, 2020
"Yeah, I expect so. We’ll just have to see."
Hunter is one of the most feared men in the league but hasn’t touched the practice field yet, beyond some stretching drills. With their first game just five days away, that’s scary, but makes the Ngakoue trade that much more important.
At the defensive tackle positions, you have Jaleel Johnson and Shamar Stephen. Those two are far cries from the “Williams Wall” Minnesota Vikings fans got so used to a decade ago, but they are suitable. The DT group took a big hit when Michael Pierce opted out but, if he hadn’t, Ngakoue isn’t here.
The QB position sits near the top of this ranking list because the Vikings have a guy named Kirk Cousins. If Kirk Cousins isn’t afraid of coronavirus, then you can be damn sure he isn’t afraid of playing behind another shitty offensive line.
While everyone tries to save Kirk Cousins’ “good guy” reputation, let’s not forget that on a scale of 1-10, my man is afraid of COVID at a level .00001.— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) September 2, 2020
“If I die, I die.”
That’s my QB1.
Kirk has a bunch of haters but he’s yet to play on a good team that has a competent offensive line. It’s TBD on whether he will have that during his 2020 campaign… but Cousins will take advantage of what he is given and he certainly won’t be the cause of a tanked year, should it happen.
He could, however, be the difference between a playoff team and a Super Bowl team.
Backups don’t matter here. If you follow Kirk Cousins or know anything about his history in the NFL, you know why. Only one QB can take the field at at time. I won’t jinx anything while writing this blog, though.
This may not be the sexiest position to be really strong at, but the Minnesota Vikings are, nonetheless. Kyle Rudolph is still on the squad and looking good enough at his old age, to hold the starting spot while Irv Smith Jr. starts garnering the attention of coaching staffs and reporters, alike.
Because this is such a strength for Gary Kubiak and his run-heavy, play-action offense, expect to see a lot of two-tight end sets. That doesn’t mean we won’t see spread formations. It just means spread formations… that include TE’s. Bill Belichick salivates when he looks at the Minnesota Vikings’ tight end group.
Honestly, I had this as my strongest position group before cut day. Why? You can’t get a better safety duo than Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. Both guys are considered to be elite, by anyone paying attention.
Anthony Harris doesn’t get the respect he deserves but Pro Football Focus sees him every time they break down safety numbers. Unfortunately for Smith and Harris… there wasn’t another safety on roster behind them after cuts were complete so they dropped down a spot.
Highest graded safeties in coverage this season— PFF (@PFF) January 10, 2020
1. Anthony Harris (91.6)
2. Harrison Smith (91.4) pic.twitter.com/5V4DycOJ7i
I can’t put a position without any backups, at #1. Can we please get a couple guys in so our two star safeties can take a breather or two at practice?
Strongest – Running Back
At the running back position, the Vikings have what they don’t at safety: Depth. Dalvin Cook is one of the best backs in the NFL even if the Minnesota Vikings don’t want to pay him like one.
Dalvin is still without a new contract but says he will play no matter what. If he can stay healthy and continue his career path, the Vikings will regret not paying him sooner.
Behind Cook, is Alexander Mattison. Many fans would rather see Mattison start than Cook get paid, but that’s a blog for another day. It does show how good Mattison is, though.
The Vikings actually kept four total running backs and all of them can (and have) handled starting reps. Ameer Abdullah made the roster for his special team prowess but Spielman couldn’t part with Mike Boone, either, which shows how much they like the youngster out of Cincinnati.
Don’t forget about CJ Ham, either. He gets the Dalvin Cook train rolling and is one of the only remaining full backs left in the league.
I'm a little stunned by Vikings fans readiness to dismiss Dalvin Cook. He's one of the best running backs in the game.— Paul Charchian (@PaulCharchian) August 30, 2020
One week until dalvin cook plays football pic.twitter.com/EMjmbVKqUz— Gianni (@Gianni2225) September 7, 2020
Overall, the Minnesota Vikings have another shot to conquer the NFC North but their biggest threat will come to the doorstep on Sunday. We’ll quickly get answers for many of the questions that come up in this blog.
Mostly, will the offensive line be able to hold up well enough for Cook to find holes and Cousins to find receivers? Can Ngakoue and (hopefully) Hunter get enough pressure to take some off our new cornerbacks?
If the answer to those two questions are both “yes”, then it will ge a very good season to be a Vikings fan. If not, anything could happen…
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan