The Vikings’ made final cuts Tuesday to set their roster at 53 players for the regular season, which begins a week from Sunday against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. While more changes will be made in the coming days, Tuesday’s moves gave us a feeling for how new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell felt about many of the players drafted by former GM Rick Spielman.
Let’s just say, Spielman didn’t exactly get a vote of confidence.
Here’s the current roster and depth chart, along with the players who were cut or placed on injured reserve on Monday and Tuesday, and analysis of how each position stacks up.
Quarterback (2): Kirk Cousins and Nick Mullens
Cut: Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond
Analysis: Mannion and Mond’s struggles in training camp and the preseason caused the Vikings to make a late trade to acquire Mullens from the Raiders. Cousins will be the starter for the fifth consecutive season, but what’s clear now is the Vikings’ quarterback of the future isn’t on the roster. It won’t be surprising if the 30-year-old Mannion is signed to the 16-member practice squad. Six veterans can be carried on that unit and it’s no secret that Cousins wants Mannion to stick around.
Running back (4): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler
Cut: Bryant Koback
Analysis: The Vikings reportedly received calls from a dozen teams that had interest in Mattison, who is entering the final season of his contract, but he remains on the roster and is expected to serve as the primary backup to the outstanding but injury-prone Cook. The reason the Vikings are carrying four players at this spot is because Nwangwu, a fourth-round pick in 2021, and Chandler, a fifth-round selection last April, both figured to be claimed off waivers, if Minnesota tried to sneak one through to the practice squad. Chandler, 5-11, 204 pounds, had an impressive training camp, rushing for a team-leading 113 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. Nwangwu has outstanding speed and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season to lead the NFL.
Fullback (1): C.J. Ham
Analysis: Ham’s job was thought to be in jeopardy when O’Connell, the Rams’ former offensive coordinator, arrived but that hasn’t turned out to be the case and the reliable blocker will be back for a sixth season with the Vikings. Ham equaled his career-high with 17 receptions last season and it won’t be surprising to see Cousins direct some passes his way in 2022. Could Ham assume an H-back role? It’s certainly a possibility.
Wide receiver (5): Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Jalen Nailor
Cut: Dan Chisena, Trishton Jackson, Bisi Johnson (injured reserve), Myron Mitchell
Analysis: It won’t be a surprise if the Vikings add a sixth member to this group before the regular season opens. Johnson appeared to have the team made entering the preseason finale, but he suffered a torn ACL for the second consecutive year before the regular season started. Jefferson, Thielen and Osborn are certain to be big parts of the passing game with O’Connell calling the plays, but there also could be a larger role for Smith-Marsette, who had five catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in eight games last season. Jefferson has 3,016 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first two seasons, but his performance in training camp has raised expectations that he could turn into the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Tight end (3): Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson
Cut: Nick Muse, Zach Davidson
Analysis: Smith missed most of training camp after being injured in practice and undergoing thumb surgery. That came after he missed all of last season because of a knee injury. Those issues have stopped Smith from becoming a key part of the passing game since being selected in the second round in 2019. Will this be the season he stays healthy? Mundt followed O’Connell from the Rams and Ellefson was kept for his blocking ability.
Left tackle (3): Christian Darrisaw, Blake Brandel, Vederian Lowe
Left guard (2): Ezra Cleveland, Chris Reed
Cut: Kyle Hinton
Center (2): Garrett Bradbury, Austin Schlottmann
Cut: Josh Sokol
Right guard (1): Ed Ingram
Cut: Wyatt Davis
Right tackle (2): Brian O’Neill, Oli Udoh
Cut: Timon Paris
Offensive line analysis: There are two big question marks with this unit. Can Bradbury provide adequate pass protection for Cousins — something he has struggled to do against elite defensive tackles — and can Ingram, a second-round pick, be a major upgrade over what the Vikings got last season from Udoh? The tackles are expected to be a strength, and Cleveland should take another step in his third season as a converted guard. Bradbury struggled in training camp and is the single biggest concern on offense. The Vikings still plan to start him, but there’s a reason they did not pick up the 2019 first-round pick’s fifth-year option. Schlottmann, who also can play guard, spent his first four seasons in Denver and could end up seeing playing time.
Outside linebacker (3): Danielle Hunter, Patrick Jones II, Luiji Vilain
Analysis: Hunter looked fantastic in training camp after playing only seven games over the past two seasons because of injury. Hunter had six sacks in those seven games and has proven to be one of the NFL’s best pass rushers when healthy. He had 14.5 sacks in 2018 and 2019 and now will be used in a 3-4 alignment that will have him standing up at times and with a hand on the ground in other situations. Hunter and veteran Za’Darius Smith will be moved around the line by coordinator Ed Donatell to create mismatches against interior offensive lineman. Smith is coming off a back injury that limited him to one regular-season game in 2021, but had 26 combined sacks in 2019 and 2020 with the Packers. A healthy Hunter and Smith will keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night.
Defensive end (2): Jonathan Bullard, Ross Blacklock
Cut: Jaylen Twyman, Armon Watts
Analysis: Watts was expected to be a starting defensive end, but instead found himself the surprise cut of the day by the Vikings. That put Bullard, who spent last season with the Falcons, atop the depth chart. Blacklock was acquired, along with a seventh-round pick, from Houston on Tuesday for a sixth-round selection in the 2023 draft. The 24-year-old Blacklock (6-3, 290 pounds) was a second-round pick of the Texans in 2020. He has started only three of the 29 games in which he has played. There is definitely room for improvement at this spot.
Nose tackle (1): Harrison Phillips
Cut: Jullian Taylor, T.J. Smith, T.Y. McGill Jr. (injured reserve)
Analysis: Signed as a free agent from the Bills, Phillips (6-3, 307 pounds) will be counted on to play a big role (literally) in stopping the run — something the Vikings struggled to do the past couple of seasons under former coach Mike Zimmer. That was in part because big nose tackle Michael Pierce opted out because of COVID in 2020 and played in only eight games last season before returning to the Baltimore Ravens.
Defensive end (3): Dalvin Tomlinson, James Lynch, Esezi Otomewo
Analysis: Tomlinson enters his second season with the Vikings and will line up at end in the 3-4. Tomlinson is 6-3, 325 pounds and but has 10.5 sacks over the past three seasons, including 2.5 last year. Lynch has 33 tackles and two sacks in his first two seasons with the Vikings and figures to be used in a rotational role.
Outside linebacker (2): Za’Darius Smith, D.J. Wonnum
Cut: Zach McCloud, Janarius Robinson,
Analysis: See the first analysis of the outside linebacker position.
Weakside linebacker (2): Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah II
Cut: William Kwenkeu, Blake Lynch
Analysis: Hicks signed with the Vikings in free agency after spending the past three seasons in Arizona and should provide stability alongside Kendricks. But it’s Asamoah, a third-round pick in April, who has many excited. He had a strong preseason and his 6-foot, 226-pound frame gives him the appearance of being a safety in the linebacker position. Don’t be surprised if Asamoah ends up seeing playing time in certain packages, as well as making major contributions on special teams.
Middle linebacker (2): Eric Kendricks, Troy Dye
Cut: Chazz Surratt
Analysis: Kendricks, 30, begins his eighth season with a fresh start in this defense and plenty to prove after being part of a unit that went from being very good under Zimmer to one of the worst in the NFL. Kendricks, nonetheless, had a career-high five sacks last season and also picked off two passes. Look for him to thrive in this system.
Cornerback (3): Cam Dantzler Sr., Andrew Booth Jr., Kris Boyd
Cut: Nate Hairston, Parry Nickerson, Tye Smith
Analysis: Dantzler fell so far into Zimmer’s doghouse to start last season that he was inactive for the opener in Cincinnati. He ended the year with three fewer starts (seven) than he had as a rookie in 2020. Now, he’s moved atop the depth chart and is coming off a strong training camp in which he was often challenged by being matched up against Thielen. Booth, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, has shown talent at times but also has been slowed by injury issues. The Vikings probably would like to see Dantzler and Booth become their starting corners in 2023.
Cornerback (3): Patrick Peterson, Chandon Sullivan, Akayleb Evans
Analysis: Peterson is no longer the outstanding corner he was during much of his time in Arizona, but the 12-year veterans remains a consistent player and excellent teacher for his younger teammates. The 32-year-old also keeps himself in outstanding shape. Sullivan, who came to Minnesota from Green Bay during the offseason, will serve as the nickel corner. Evans, a fourth-round pick, has potential, but if anything happens to Peterson, look for Dantzler to move to left corner and Booth to take over on the right side.
Safety (2): Harrison Smith, Josh Metellus
Cut: Mike Brown, Myles Dorn
Analysis: Smith is starting his 11th season with the Vikings but the 33-year-old is as driven as ever to prove he’s still a top safety. He and Peterson likely both will have cases to wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. It will be interesting to see what the change in scheme does for guys like Smith and Kendricks, who spent so long playing in Zimmer’s defense.
Safety (2): Cam Bynum, Lewis Cine
Analysis: This one is interesting. Bynum, a fourth-round pick in 2021, was moved from cornerback to safety last season and ended up starting three of the 14 games in which he played. The Vikings’ new staff was so impressed with Bynum in the offseason camps that he hasn’t moved from atop the depth chart, despite the fact Cine was the team’s first-round pick. There will be plenty of pressure on Bynum to produce at a high level, or Cine will be there waiting to take over. You also have to think that if Bynum does keep the job, there will be some three safety looks involving Smith, Bynum and Cine.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker (1): Greg Joseph
Analysis: What kicking curse? Joseph has been fantastic under the far-more-calm demeanor of O’Connell and has been hitting field goals all training camp from various distances. He kicked a 58-yarder against the Broncos in the preseason finale last Saturday in Denver and while the altitude certainly helped, Joseph also booted some impressive field goals at the Vikings’ Eagan facility.
Punter (1): Ryan Wright
Analysis: Wright’s presence in camp seemed to be nothing more than an attempt to push veteran Jordan Berry for the punting job. Only it turned out to be a legitimate competition and Wright, an undrafted free agent from Tulane, won the job. He did nothing to make the coaching staff feel as if it made a mistake against the Broncos, booming impressive punts and doing a good job of holding for Joseph.
Long snapper (1): Andrew DePaola
Analysis: Never heard of him? That’s OK. As long the head coach doesn’t get mad at him and cut him halfway through the season, the Vikings’ group of specialists should be fine.
Kick return (3): Kene Nwangwu, K.J. Osborn, Ty Chandler
Analysis: Nwangwu’s job might have been in jeopardy if he hadn’t proven to be such a good kick returner last season. While most return men are happy to watch the ball travel through the end zone, Nwangwu averaged 32.2 yards on 18 kickoff returns and had touchdown returns of 98 and 99 yards.
Punt return (2): Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Jalen Nailor
Analysis: Smith-Marsette has the speed to make things exciting when he gets the ball in his hands, but making sure he has possession of the ball could turn out to be an adventure. He returned four kickoffs last season but had no punt returns. This is one spot at which there is no margin for error and one mistake can lose your team the game.