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Projecting the Minnesota Vikings 2020 Final Roster

Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris
Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY Sports

About a month has passed since the 2020 NFL Draft and many UDFAs are now off the market. The Minnesota Vikings have a good idea of who will be competing to make the roster in 2020. The team has seen a lot of roster turnover, a plethora of free agency departures, and a team record 15 draft selections, giving a lot on uncertainty to who will make the final roster. One thing to note is the additional two roster spots added (53 to 55) in the new CBA. Now, time to get into it.

 

Quarterback – (3)

  • Kirk Cousins
  • Sean Mannion
  • Nate Stanley

The only point of contention for the Vikings at quarterback might be a competition for who backs up Kirk Cousins. Mannion is a player who Mike Zimmer appears to trust a lot as a sturdy backup. Stanley, a seventh-round pick, has a skill set that fits Gary Kubiak’s offense, but likely needs to develop before he can be relied on as a backup. In previous years, Stanley may have been relegated to the practice squad in previous years, but with the extra two roster spots in 2020, he finds his way onto the active roster.

 

Running Back – (4)

  • Dalvin Cook
  • Alexander Mattison
  • Mike Boone
  • C.J. Ham

Here comes the first surprise cut in Ameer Abdullah. Following the 1-2 punch of Cook and Mattison, it gets a bit hazy, but Mike Boone’s Week 17 explosion last year allows him to take the third spot in the backfield. Abdullah’s two main roles last year were as a third-down pass catcher and as Minnesota’s kick returner. A player yet to be mentioned will be taking the latter job and Abdullah doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant being kept just for the former. C.J. Ham also maintains his fullback spot as expected to the surprise of nobody.

 

Wide Receiver – (6)

  • Adam Thielen
  • Justin Jefferson
  • Tajaé Sharpe
  • Olabisi Johnson
  • Chad Beebe
  • K.J. Osborn

Thielen and Jefferson are the clear starters in this offense. Beyond those two, there’s a huge cluster of receivers that the Vikings will have to sort through. First is Tajaé Sharpe, the free-agent acquisition from Tennessee. Sharpe was signed to a one-year contract and will look to earn another one following the 2020 season. Bisi Johnson was a pleasant surprise last year as a seventh-round pick who contributed after Chad Beebe’s early-season injury. Speaking of Beebe, the coaching staff likes him quite a bit and it seems very unlikely that he’s not on the roster when all is said and done. Lastly, K.J. Osborn is the player who overtakes Abdullah returning kicks. It’s unlikely he’ll see the field beyond special teams, but he’ll provide enough value there to make the team.

 

Tight End – (4)

  • Kyle Rudolph
  • Irv Smith Jr.
  • Tyler Conklin
  • Brandon Dillon 

Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith make one of the better tight end duos in the NFL and will see plenty of time together in “12” personnel. It’s possible that Smith ends up playing a “big slot” role on a large number of his snaps, but he’ll line up with his hand in the dirt as well. Tyler Conklin takes the No.3 spot, as he did last year. Brandon Dillon is a benefactor of the increased roster size, as it allows the Vikings to comfortably roster four tight ends as opposed to keeping him on the practice squad another year.

 

Offensive Line – (10)

  • Brian O’Neill
  • Riley Reiff
  • Garrett Bradbury
  • Erza Cleveland
  • Dru Samia
  • Pat Elflein
  • Rashod Hill
  • Dakota Dozier
  • Brett Jones
  • Oli Udoh

The offensive line is a very complex situation for Minnesota due to the lack of talent. Brian O’ Neill and Garrett Bradbury are the two clear starters at center and right tackle. Riley Reiff and second-round pick Erza Cleveland will likely end up as the two players on the left side, though the position each will play is a decision to be made later on. That leaves the right guard spot open with a void left by the recently cut Josh Kline. It is possible that Klein could return on a cheaper contract, but that’s not a prediction that will be made here. Ultimately, Dru Samia was the pick to start at the final spot over Pat Elflein and Dakota Dozier. Rounding out the backups are Rashod Hill as the No.3 tackle, Brett Jones, and Oli Udoh. In addition, three 2020 draft picks find themselves on the practice squad: Blake Brandel, Tyler Higby, and Kyle Hinton.

 

Defensive Tackle – (6)

  • Michael Pierce
  • Shamar Stephan
  • Jaleel Johnson
  • James Lynch
  • Armon Watts
  • Hercules Mata’afa

Now moving over to the defensive side of the ball. Michael Pierce was the one big addition the Vikings made in free agency. Pierce will be a replacement for the departed nose tackle Linval Joseph and shows striking similarities to Joseph, most notably in his terrific run stuffing. In many ways, this signing is a parallel to when Joseph first came to Minnesota in 2014. The big question is who will be the 3-technique next to him. The safest answer is Shamar Stephan, a veteran of this defense. The safer guess, however, is that the position will be filled by a committee. Jaleel Johnson has seen his share of work in previous years. Armon Watts may take a step in his second year and see a bigger role, and new fourth-round pick James Lynch may even end up with the starting gig. Last, but not least, fan-favorite Hercules Mata’afa will be a popular pick to break out in his second (healthy) season as a pro. Mata’afa was undersized coming into the NFL, but with added weight, he may be able to prove true the wishful thinking of many Vikings fans.

 

Defensive End- (5)

  • Danielle Hunter
  • Ifeadi Odenigbo
  • D.J. Wonnum
  • Kenny Willekes
  • Anthony Zettle

Barring a return of Everson Griffen, the Vikings look to be content rolling into the 2020 season with Ifeadi Odenigbo as superstar Danielle Hunter’s counterpart at defensive end. Odenigbo showed some flashes in a limited role when Griffen kicked inside on passing downs. There are questions, however, as to whether he can be an efficient full-time starter. Thankfully, there appears to be a lot of depth behind him in recent draft picks D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes. Wonnum in particular seems to have caught the eye of defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Wonnum’s athletic profile is shockingly similar to what Danielle Hunter’s was when he was drafted in 2015. Wonnum may be the Vikings long term replacement for Griffen, but Patterson does need time to develop him, as he did with Hunter. Lastly is Anthony Zettle, a free agent acquisition who likely won’t do much other than be a deep rotational piece.

 

Linebacker – (5)

  • Eric Kendricks
  • Anthony Barr
  • Eric Wilson
  • Ben Gedeon
  • Troy Dye

Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr will spend another season as one of the better linebacker duos in the NFL. Mike Zimmer plays only two linebackers at one of the higher rates in the league, but when the team does play base, Eric Wilson will be the third man on the field. Ben Gedeon will provide solid depth. Troy Dye could become an important player to this defense down the line but likely is relegated to mostly just playing special teams as a rookie.

 

Cornerback – (5)

  • Jeff Gladney
  • Mike Hughes
  • Cameron Dantzler
  • Holton Hill
  • Kris Boyd

The position that Minnesota will experience the most turnover in 2020 is cornerback. Both outside corners Xavier Rhodes and Trey Waynes, as well as slot defender Mackenzie Alexander, departed in free agency. This leaves Mike Hughes as the only corner on the roster to have played more than 15% of defensive snaps in 2019. The Vikings will be hoping for a third-year breakout from him. His counterpart on the outside will likely be 2020 first-round pick, Jeff Gladney. Gladney’s physical playstyle should thrive in Mike Zimmer’s press heavy scheme. Cameron Dantzler, another 2020 pick, will likely end up getting a large portion of the nickel corner snaps. Rounding out the room are Holton Hill and Kris Boyd. Hill has shown flashes, and could potentially make a name for himself in Minnesota’s defense, but his off-the-field issues have stopped that from happening to this point. Boyd, a seventh-round pick in 2019 will continue his large role on special teams and likely sees a slightly higher share of snaps on defense in a depth role.

 

Safety- (4)

  • Harrison Smith
  • Anthony Harris
  • Brian Cole II
  • Josh Metellus

The Vikings are extremely fortunate to have the best safety duo in the NFL anchoring the back end of the defense. Unfortunately, the depth took a big hit after Jayron Kearse signed with Detroit. Kearse was often used in nickel packages, especially while Mackenzie Alexander missed time with a broken wrist. The Vikings replacement depth will consist of Brian Cole and Josh Metellus. These Day Three picks (something they have in common with Kearse) will be expected to provide solid depth and contribute on special teams.

 

Specialists – (3)

  • Dan Bailey
  • Briton Colquitt
  • Austin Cutting

There isn’t much to go over here. Bailey and Colquitt have no competition for their kicking and punting jobs. Cutting performed well in his job long snapping well last year and has no new competition either.

 

The Minnesota Vikings will have some difficult decisions to make when deciding on the 2020 roster. A large amount of turnover will lead to a lot of playing time being up for grabs. In the end, the team will end up making the best decisions possible and enter the season with a great roster to compete in the NFL.

Trevor Kinney
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