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Vikings 53-man roster projection 2.0: Who’s in and who’s out after minicamp?

The Vikings have wrapped up their spring practices and are now in the six-week lull until training camp. It’s a chance for coaches and players to unwind a bit and catch up with family, especially for Kevin O’Connell, who went from a Super Bowl run to the whirlwind of becoming a first-time NFL head coach with almost no downtime.

But it’s also a time to reset and examine the roster. So we’re back for the second in our series of 53-man roster projections for the Vikings. The next one will come once training camp is underway. Let’s dive in.

Quarterback

In: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond

Out: Sean Mannion, Nate Stanley

Chad: I’m changing my tune here. Last time around, I had Mannion on the 53-man roster because Cousins loves what he brings behind the scenes, and everything O’Connell wants to do is built around Cousins and making his life easier. So it stands to reason that O’Connell would keep an extra backup if that’s what Cousins wanted. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the Vikings should have no trouble getting Mannion onto the practice squad. Mannion is 30 and the league saw the performance he had in Green Bay a year ago. So I’ve got him cut, but added afterward to the practice squad so he can still be in the quarterback meeting room with Cousins.

Arif: OTAs demonstrated that Mannion will continue to compete for the second quarterback job. Mond took a few reps with the second team, but not too many. Still, I think Mond has a better shot of making the roster if only because he’s more valued as a young quarterback, like Chad says. One reason Mond didn’t rotate in with the second team too often may be that Stanley was hurt and didn’t participate much, so there was no one else to take the reps with the third team. Mond’s upside is something the Vikings will want to invest in so they can have a few options available a few years down the road when they need to make another decision on Cousins.

Running back

In: Dalvin Cook, C.J. Ham, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu

Contested: Ty Chandler (Chad has him in, Arif has him out)

Out: Bryant Koback, Jake Bargas

Chad: This might be the position with the least intrigue as it relates to the 53-man roster. It’s pretty safe to say that all five I have will make the roster. Mattison is the clear backup to Cook, Nwangwu is already one of the league’s top kick returners and the Vikings are excited to see what they have in Chandler, a fifth-round pick. Plus, Ham will still get a lot of usage in O’Connell’s scheme.

Arif: I figure Ty Chandler is a pretty safe practice squad stash, so I’m going to take a risk on him clearing waivers. To me, it’s asking a lot to have four running backs in addition to a fullback who can run the ball. I could be wrong here, but given how much depth I want to build elsewhere, I’ll take that shot.

Tight end

In: Irv Smith Jr., Ben Ellefson, Johnny Mundt

Contested: Zach Davidson (Chad has him in; Arif has him out)

Out: Nick Muse

Chad: This is where I’m taking a shot and going a bit unconventional. By cutting Mannion, I had an extra spot on offense and thought about keeping Bisi Johnson on the roster. Instead, I’m going with an extra tight end (Davidson) because of the injury pasts of both Smith Jr. and Mundt. Those two were limited throughout spring practices, so a fourth tight end behind them (especially if O’Connell continues relying on two-tight-end sets) isn’t a horrible idea. So I’ve got Davidson, a fifth-round pick who is a better receiver than blocker, making the team.

Arif: This one was tough, but I’m letting Davidson develop for another year on the practice squad and rolling with three tight ends. We should expect big things from Irv Smith this year, but I don’t think this will be an offense that has too many tight ends on the field at once. When it does, a blocking specialist like Ellefson might be the best way to go. I figure that Mundt’s immediate help will be more valuable at the third tight end spot than Davidson’s long-term upside.

Wide receiver

In: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Jalen Nailor

Contested: Bisi Johnson (Arif has him in, Chad has him out), Albert Wilson (Arif has him in, Chad has him out)

Out: Dan Chisena, Myron Mitchell, Blake Proehl, Trishton Jackson, Thomas Hennigan

Chad: As the Vikings morph into a team that passes the ball more, it would be nice to have six wide receivers. But here’s where I pay the price for keeping Davidson. If they only keep five wide receivers, it probably comes down to a tough choice between Nailor and Johnson. And while Johnson may be better right now, I think Nailor’s upside is higher, so he gets the nod.

Arif: I’m keeping seven receivers, something the Vikings have actually done before, if only for a brief moment. Part of it is that I see a lot of value in these players, and some of it is that they all have special teams roles they can fulfill. This could turn into fodder for a different type of roster improvement down the road, whether that comes with a trade opportunity or something else, but there are a lot of good receivers on the roster and I could see how they might all be able to help.

Offensive line

In: Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Jesse Davis, Brian O’Neill, Oli Udoh, Ed Ingram, Chris Reed, Austin Schlottmann

Out: Vederian Lowe, Wyatt Davis, Kyle Hinton, Josh Sokol, Blake Brandel, Timon Parris

Chad: Four of the five starting spots are secure here with only the battle at right guard up in the air (I still see Jesse Davis as the favorite). With that final spot on the offensive side, I think you could make an argument for Lowe if only to have an extra offensive tackle. Perhaps that’s something to consider instead of keeping a fourth tight end.

Arif: Chad and I agree on this one. Udoh is a swing tackle in this scenario, while Jesse Davis provides further depth there. Ingram and Reed provide guard depth, and Schlottman serves as the backup center.

Defensive line/edge

In: Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts, D.J. Wonnum, James Lynch, Esezi Otomewo, Patrick Jones, Jaylen Twyman, Janarius Robinson

Out: T.Y. McGill, T.J. Smith, Tyarise Stevenson, Jullian Taylor, Zach McCloud, Jonathan Bullard, Luiji Vilain, Andre Mintze

Chad: I changed things up here from our last projections: I’m keeping Robinson this time. He’ll be one of the most intriguing players to watch in training camp as he returns from a season-ending injury. But he was a 2021 fourth-round pick for a reason. If he’s fully healthy, he’ll have a good shot at making the team.

Arif: I did not expect to agree with Chad here, if only because there were so many players with solid cases to make the team. One reason I kept Lynch is his incredible production in a similar system in college. He and Robinson will be good to have while Otomewo figures out his best position and develops into a more well-rounded player. One person to keep an eye on is the recently signed Mintze, who could challenge Robinson for that final spot.

Linebacker

In: Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah

Contested: Blake Lynch (Arif has him in, Chad has him out), Troy Dye (Chad has him in, Arif has him out), Chazz Surratt (Arif has him in, Chad has him out)

Out: Ryan Connelly, William Kwenkeu

Chad: It seems weird to keep only four linebackers, which could present additional problems on special teams. But it was too hard to cut any of the edge rushers above, so this is the price you pay. Dye should fit this defense nicely, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he or Asamoah gets the first crack to fill in for Kendricks or Hicks.

Arif: I’ve kept five linebackers once again, despite the fact that it’s a bit unusual for this type of defense to do so. Surratt has yet to see the field, but he still has long-term potential because of his athleticism and may be a good fit for a defense emphasizing run-and-chase linebackers. I also went with Lynch over Dye because they’ve both had time to prove their worth, and Lynch has done more on defense and special teams.

Cornerback

In: Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan, Andrew Booth, Akayleb Evans

Contested: Kris Boyd (Chad has him in, Arif has him out)

Out: Harrison Hand, Parry Nickerson, Tye Smith, Nate Hairston

Chad: For all the talk about Booth’s potential, I think Dantzler should be the heavy favorite to win the starting job opposite Peterson. That would give Booth time to both fully recover from injury and learn the speed of the NFL. And perhaps I was spooked by my own special teams comments above and wanted to make sure I kept Boyd, who has performed well on special teams in the past.

Arif: I don’t know what to do with nickel depth, and it seems like the Vikings don’t have a solution either. Hopefully, nothing happens to Sullivan. But if injury strikes, they may have to see how versatile Booth or Evans are or keep someone like Nickerson on the practice squad for a quick call-up. As for Boyd, I just don’t think he has much upside. Though he has been helpful on special teams, he could be replaced by one of the seven receivers I’m keeping.

Safety

In: Harrison Smith, Lewis Cine, Cam Bynum, Josh Metellus

Out: Myles Dorn, Mike Brown

Chad: There’s a chance Dorn could push Metellus for the final spot here, but I think Metellus has a decent cushion for that job entering training camp. It’ll be fun to watch how Ed Donatell deploys defensive schemes with three safeties in an attempt to get Smith, Cine and Bynum on the field at the same time.

Arif: Metellus has a pretty good hold on the fourth spot given his special teams play — he’s probably the best special-teamer on the roster — and how much the Vikings have valued his play thus far. They put him on the first team over Cine whenever Smith was absent from offseason activities, and he appeared in a few of their three-safety looks as well. The Vikings clearly like him, so he should have a good shot of making the roster.

Specialist

In: Greg Joseph, Jordan Berry, Andrew DePaola

Out: Ryan Wright

Chad: Joseph won the Vikings’ kicker competition in OTAs and training camp, easily outperforming rookie Gabe Brkic. Now the only competition among the specialists is at punter. For now, I’m taking Berry, the incumbent.

Arif: I see no reason to move beyond the incumbent at punter, even though I like what Wright has to offer. I think his chances of making this a genuine competition are good, but he is the clear underdog.

(Photo: Matt Krohn / USA Today)

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