Prediction for Vikings' 53-man roster
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The Minnesota Vikings preseason came to a close Thursday night with 29 contributors on the sideline as their replacements beat the Tennessee Titans 24-23.
Coaches and team officials have until Saturday at 5 p.m. CT to trim the roster down to 53.
"It is without question, one of the toughest parts [of my job]," Coach Leslie Frazier said. "When you sit down and realize, of all the guys that played [Thursday], they will probably never wear a NFL uniform again."
All the starting jobs appear to be locked up, with the exception of nose tackle, weak-side linebacker and punt returner.
The final 60 minutes of the preseason could have made some decisions easier for the Vikings, but it most certainly complicated others.
"They come by my office and you explain to them their career, in Minnesota for sure, is going to be over. And there's a possibility it may be over for good," Frazier said.
"It can get emotional."
What follows is an educated guess at the final 53-man roster, not including trades or other acquisitions. We want to hear what you, the readers, think the roster should look like for week 1. As always, feel free to join the discussion in the comments section below.
Reasoning: The Joe Webb experiment could potentially be over for good on Saturday, but the Vikings have made it clear their trial with him at quarterback is history. Webb filled in as the fourth gunslinger in the pregame catch circle on Thursday, but team personnel wouldn't let him throw as he was shadowed by a ball boy who threw for him. McLeod Bethel Thompson impressed, completing 19-of-26 for 187 yards. MBT had one touchdown, but made a boneheaded, late throw for an interception. With Webb possibly making the team at receiver, MBT should be in line for another year as the emergency quarterback.
Running backs (3)
Reasoning: Banyard's performance on Thursday night might make this one of the toughest cuts Frazier makes soon. After spending 2012 on the practice squad, Banyard showcased a solid preseason of running and catching the ball, ending with a bang on Thursday when he tallied 116 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for Banyard, the Vikings need Asiata's special teams and pass protection contributions more than they need help moving the football on the ground (see: Adrian Peterson).
With a viable option in Banyard, the Vikings could theoretically test the market for Gerhart while his stock is high.
Reasoning: Line's one-yard catch and 60-yard run for a touchdown in the preseason opener on Aug. 9 put him on the radar. Another touchdown at San Francisco kept him on the radar, but his performance on Thursday night as the starting fullback may have nudged him out of the roster. As normal, Line carried the ball well (4 carries, 18 yards), but looked overmatched at times when trying to move NFL linebackers and linemen.
Felton won't count against the Vikings roster while he's suspended, so Line could be in for a three-game run in the regular season. But Felton's three-game suspension may have people jumping the gun on keeping Line more than that. A policy change now allows players suspended for violating the substance abuse policy to remain around the facility and participate in meetings. Felton will have to take the pads off for a month starting on Aug. 31, but he won't be ostracized from the team. His return should be rather seamless.
Reasoning: There's only been one question: do they keep five or six receivers? With both Webb and Burton qualified for the fifth position, the nod should go to Webb after six catches, 41 yards and a touchdown in the final two games. The Vikings likely elect to keep five receivers to free up room at other problem positions.
The battle appeared to be won by Burton, who flashed in the receiving and return games during the first two preseason contests. Especially over Webb, who is very inexperienced at the receiver position. But inconsistency bit again for Burton, as he forced one of Ponder's interceptions when stopping on a route at San Francisco. A few plays later, a delay of game penalty is called on Burton when he doesn't motion.
The Vikings could use another goal line target like Webb, who stands 6-foot-4, and would be the tallest receiver on the team with this lineup. Burton's inconsistency lands him on the outside looking in.
Tight Ends (3)
Reasoning: One of the easier decisions, the Vikings will likely keep three tight ends after trying out Chase Ford, who was on the practice squad last year, and undrafted rookie Colin Anderson. Rudolph, Ellison and Carlson are all experienced in the system and should also fill in key roles in the backfield with Felton out for the first three games. Rudolph is coming off the Pro Bowl, Ellison is a core member of special teams units and a backup fullback, while Carlson is returning healthy and still claiming a high investment from the Vikings.
Reasoning: The starting lineup will not change, but the reserves will. Rookie guard Jeff Baca and veteran guard Seth Olsen should serve as the team's backup centers and rotational guards should the Vikings release 31-year-old Joe Berger. Baca played nearly every snap at center on Thursday and only had one noticeable mishap on a sack to Bethel-Thompson. Berger was the culprit for two bad snaps, one that led to a touchdown at the Buffalo Bills after missing the preseason opener for a family matter. Tackle Brandon Keith may have won the swing tackle position by default as rookie guard Travis Bond didn't receive any serious looks at the position and tackles Kevin Murphy and Troy Kropog continue to look pedestrian.
Keith has never played left tackle before this offseason and that was evident at the Bills, when he was caught out of position and allowed a sack on Cassel. He's the best option for what the Vikings have, but still a work in progress.
Love's four-game suspension on Aug. 1 for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy might as well have been his exit from the team. Bond should make the practice squad, as he's a player with a lot of upside who is just not there yet.
Defensive linemen (9)
Out: Christian Ballard, Everett Dawkins, George Johnson, Anthony McCloud, Spencer Nealy, Collins Ukwu
Reasoning: The last two in Baker and Reed were splitting hairs with their counterparts who likely won't make the cut. Baker gets the nod because Ballard has been off the practice field or away from the team since their preseason opener on Aug. 9. Ballard was the rotational guy along the inside, but now it looks like Floyd will be forced into that role sooner than most rookies. Frazier had said there was "no timetable" for Ballard's return, but the Saturday deadline forces the team to either give him a roster spot, cut him or place him on the reserve/left squad list.
Guion has gained the lion's share of reps as the starting nose tackle, but Evans has done mostly everything in his power to make that a tough decision. Both will make the team, but it's an unstable battle that has leaned on either player's side at times this offseason.
Reasoning: The Vikings' draft revealed where they wanted new blood and unfortunately for Dean and McKenzie, one of those positions was linebacker. Dean made the team last season and excelled on special teams, but his size (6-foot, 226-pounds) isn't fit for NFL linebackers and the additions of Mauti and Hodges hurt his chances. The pair of rookies have stepped in and contributed early on special teams, Mauti even starts on kickoff. If the Vikings choose to take eight linebackers, look for Dean to be the first one in. But with three new faces in the mix, it looks like he'll be squeezed out.
Defensive backs (11)
Out: Darius Eubanks, Brandan Bishop, Brandon Burton
Reasoning: If the Vikings go with 10 defensive backs, it will likely be six cornerbacks and four safeties as they cut Raymond for being so injury prone. Raymond won the starting job over Sanford after last year's training camp and figured to be a candidate this offseason. But he lost the job after a dislocated ankle in week three and whether it was a hamstring injury or his now-sprained AC joint in his shoulder, Raymond hasn't been able to stay on the field this preseason. However, the Vikings likely hold onto him since he should return in a month depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
The team likely keeps six cornerbacks after Sherels' performance on Thursday night, where he returned a kickoff 109 yards for a score and grabbed an interception shortly thereafter. Cornerback is one of the shakier position groups on the entire team, not just the defense, so look for the Vikings to keep a high number of them in the hopes someone has a break-out year.
Felder's impressive preseason ended with an ankle injury. X-rays turned up negative and it was just a sprain, so Felder should remain the team's backup nickel cornerback when the regular season opens on Sept. 8 at the Detroit Lions.
Reasoning: Simple decisions here. Vikings roll with a new punter for the first time since 2005.
The Vikings will gain a roster exemption for receiver Greg Childs, who will be barred from practice and games for the first six weeks of the seasaon as he's on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If Childs is not active after week six, the Vikings have a three-week window to decide to make room for him, cut him or place him on injured reserve.
Also: The Vikings should have one roster spot available during Felton's three-game suspension. That opening creates a lot of possibilities, one speculation being they give Ballard another three weeks to return and cut someone like Baker in week four.