Quarterbacks (2): Starter: Kirk Cousins. Backup: Kellen Mond.
Analysis: Cousins represents the present and Mond the future. What isn’t clear is what happens if something happens to Cousins this season? The Vikings were hoping that Jake Browning would win the backup job, but he looked terrible in the preseason and is likely headed back to the practice squad after being placed on waivers. The Vikings’ to-do list for the coming days should include trying to find a veteran backup who can sub for Cousins, if he misses time because of injury or COVID issues. The last thing general manager Rick Spielman wants to do is put Mond in a position to fail and ruin his confidence before he gets started.
Running backs (3): Starter: Dalvin Cook. Backups: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu.
Analysis: Cook was second in the NFL last season to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry with 356 touches — Cook’s 1,557 yards rushing also were second to Henry — and his workload isn’t likely to decrease this year. The Vikings’ desire to keep Cook healthy and fresh led them to sit out him for all three preseason games. Mattison, entering his third season, is a quality backup, but there are definitely depth issues at this position. Nwangwu, a fourth-round pick out of Iowa State last April, suffered a knee injury in the preseason opener against Denver and figures to be placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. If Nwangwu had been placed on IR before the deadline for cuts on Tuesday, his season would have been finished. The Vikings released Ameer Abdullah but there’s a chance he could end up back in Minnesota.
Fullback (1): Starter: C.J. Ham
Analysis: Entering his fifth season with the Vikings, Ham isn’t flashy but he’s not supposed to be. Ham has only 25 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown in his career, but he also has caught 43 passes for 399 yards and two touchdowns. His ability to block is key to the Vikings’ ground game and keeps him on the roster season after season.
Wide receiver (6): Starters: Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Backups: K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Dan Chisena.
Analysis: Jefferson and Thielen form one of the NFL’s top receiving duos, although the former missed all three preseason games because of a shoulder injury and the latter suffered a thigh bruise early in the second exhibition game that limited him thereafter. Both are expected to be ready for the opener. Westbrook was signed in late July but has been limited as he returns from an ACL tear suffered while with Jacksonville last season. That enabled Osborn to make an impression in training camp and he appears to have won the third receiver’s spot. Smith-Marsette, a fifth-round pick in April, has the ability to return kicks and punts and brings speed to the position. Chisena stuck around mainly because of his work on special teams. Chad Beebe likely would have beaten out Chisena, but he needs surgery on his left foot that will end his season.
Tight ends (3): Starter: Tyler Conklin. Backups: Chris Herndon*, Brandon Dillon. Injured: Irv Smith, Jr.
Analysis: With Smith set to undergo surgery on his meniscus, the Vikings made a trade with the Jets on Tuesday for Herndon. Conklin, who set career-highs with 19 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown in 16 games last season, will move atop the depth chart. Herndon doesn’t count against the 53-man roster at this point but the Vikings will have to make a move to fit him in.
Offensive line (9): Starters: LT Rashod Hill, LG Ezra Cleveland, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Oli Udoh, RT Brian O’Neill. Backups: C Mason Cole, G Wyatt Davis, T Blake Brandel, T Christian Darrisaw.
Analysis: The Vikings drafted Darrisaw in the first round thinking he would be the opening day starter at left tackle, but after undergoing core muscle surgery to repair a groin injury in January, Darrisaw had to have another procedure during training camp. He has yet to practice since camp opened and it’s unknown when he will return. That means Hill, a veteran backup, will open the season protecting Cousins’ blindside. O’Neill is the one sure thing on the line, while Cleveland moves from right to left guard and Udoh continues to adjust to playing guard after being a tackle. Bradbury enters what might be a make-or-break season. A first-round pick in 2019, Bradbury has struggled in pass protection and must show he’s made strides in that area. The backup who could find himself moving into a starting role at some point would be Davis, a third-round pick from Ohio State who is expected to be the Vikings’ right guard of the future.
Evening Judd: Why the Vikings roster is far from set.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) September 1, 2021
Defensive line (10): Starters: LDE Danielle Hunter, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, NT Michael Pierce, RDE D.J. Wonnum. Backups: DE Jalyn Holmes, DE Patrick Jones II, DE Stephen Weatherly, DT James Lynch, DT Sheldon Richardson, DT Armon Watts.
Analysis: The Vikings will have a new-look line in 2021, in part because they are getting back one of their best players. Hunter, who had 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019, returns after sitting out last season because of neck surgery. Tomlinson was the Vikings’ key free agent addition in March and Pierce was their key free agent acquisition in 2020. Pierce, however, opted out last season because of concerns about COVID-19. Those two will give the Vikings a combined 665 pounds in the middle of their defensive line. That should be enough to fix the team’s inability to stop the run last year. Wonnum and Weatherly competed for the starting job in training camp, but Wonnum appears set to start the opener. Everson Griffen, who returned to the Vikings last week after spending 2020 with Dallas and Detroit, was released but reportedly could be in line to return. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had expressed a desire to use Griffen as a pass-rush specialist on third down. Richardson will have that role inside.
Linebackers (7): Starters: SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Nick Vigil. Backups: Ryan Connelly, Troy Dye, Blake Lynch, Chazz Surratt.
Analysis: Barr reportedly has been dealing with a knee injury and his status for the opener isn’t certain. Kendricks, one of the Vikings’ top players on defense, and Vigil have locked up starting jobs but it will be interesting to see who plays in the base defense, if Barr isn’t ready to go on Sept. 12. Dye and Connelly are the top candidates, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings look to the waiver wire for more quality depth at backup linebacker. Surratt, a third-round pick in 2021, is a work in progress but will see extensive playing time on special teams and could be a key part of the future.
Cornerbacks (6): Starters: LCB Patrick Peterson, RCB Bashaud Breeland. Nickel: Mackensie Alexander. Backups: Kris Boyd, Cameron Dantzler, Harrison Hand.
Analysis: The Vikings have a new look at the corners with Peterson, Breeland and Alexander all signing as free agents. Alexander returns after one season with the Bengals, while Peterson arrives after putting together a potential Hall of Fame resume in Arizona and Breeland is fresh off a trip to the Super Bowl with Kansas City. Dantzler, a third-round pick in 2020, saw extensive playing time last season but struggled for much of training camp. It will be interesting to see if he has a role in any defensive packages.
Safeties (4): Starters: SS Harrison Smith, FS Xavier Woods. Backups: Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus.
Analysis: Smith is one of the best in the NFL and was rewarded with a four-year, $64 million extension on Sunday. Woods was signed as a free agent from Dallas in March after Anthony Harris departed for Philadelphia. While the two veterans should provide stability, the Vikings might be looking to add more veteran depth behind them. Bynum was a fourth-round pick in April and Metellus was a sixth-rounder in 2020. Both can contribute on special teams, but will the Vikings want them on the field if something happens to Smith or Woods?
Kicker (1): Greg Joseph
Punter (1): Britton Colquitt
Long Snapper (0): ??????
Punt return: K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Kickoff return: Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Analysis: Joseph made 4-of-6 field-goal attempts in the preseason, missing wide right from 51 and 52 yards. He also missed from 55 and 59 in a scrimmage situation in practice last week. Nonetheless, Joseph survived Tuesday’s cut and, for now, is the replacement for Dan Bailey. Will that last? Joseph hasn’t attempted a field goal in the regular season since 2018 and Zimmer’s patience with kickers, or lack of it, can make every game an adventure. Colquitt had a terrible game in the preseason opener against Denver, drawing Zimmer’s ire, but showed enough after that to stick around. One of the Vikings’ biggest surprise cuts was long snapper Andrew DePaola. The Vikings signed DePaola last season after Austin Cutting struggled. Will DePaola be brought back? It’s unclear what the Vikings backup plan is at this point. Osborn or Smith-Marsette figure to be the return men, unless Abdullah returns.