Vikings' 53-man roster projection: Who will back up Kirk Cousins? (2024)

  • Vikings' 53-man roster projection: Who will back up Kirk Cousins? (1)

    Courtney Cronin, ESPN Staff WriterAug 27, 2021, 11:00 PM ET

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      Courtney Cronin joined ESPN in 2017, originally covering the Minnesota Vikings before switching to the Chicago Bears in 2022. Courtney is a frequent panelist on Around the Horn and host of Best Week Ever on ESPN Radio. She also co-hosts The Chicago Bears Podcast on ESPN 1000. She previously worked at the San Jose Mercury News as a multimedia sports journalist.

EAGAN, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings open the 2021 NFL regular season at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 12 at Paul Brown Stadium. The Vikings finished last season 7-9, which had them third in the NFC North and out of the playoffs. Minnesota has made the postseason every other year since coach Mike Zimmer was hired in 2014. Its last appearance was as a wild card team in 2019.

The focus was on the defense for the Vikings this offseason after the team doled out north of $46.6 million in guaranteed money to the likes of Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Xavier Woods, Sheldon Richardson and Bashaud Breeland, and more. Those additions aim to bolster a unit that ranked 27th in yards and 29th in scoring. On offense, Minnesota spent its top three picks on left tackle Christian Darrisaw, quarterback Kellen Mond and right guard Wyatt Davis, but none of the three is ready to make significant contributions just yet.

The roster will be cut down to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 31. Here is a projection of what the final roster will look like:

QUARTERBACK (2): Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond

Browning didn't do anything to earn himself a roster spot after struggling in each preseason game. Even with Browning's poor play leaving the door open for Mond to enter the QB2 battle, it's clear the third-round pick isn't ready to see the field any time soon. Minnesota does not have a viable backup quarterback on the roster, so expect the front office to parse through other team's cuts to find a No. 2 QB after the deadline on Tuesday.

RUNNING BACKS (5): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu, C.J. Ham (fullback)

Recent injuries to Mattison and Nwangwu gave the Vikings a good look at Abdullah, a reliable veteran kickoff returner and running back who can catch passes out of the backfield. Minnesota has depth behind Cook or Mattison should either miss a game or two this season. Undrafted running back A.J. Rose was one of a few bright spots for the offense this preseason. Minnesota should try to get him onto the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Chad Beebe, Dede Westbrook

This is the biggest change from my pre-training camp 53 projection. Osborn has consistently been WR3 throughout the preseason, though he's been pushed recently by Beebe, who is predominantly a slot receiver. The Vikings signed the best slot receiver available late in free agency in Westbrook, and while he did more in practice recently, it's possible he starts the season on injured reserve while he continues to rehab from ACL surgery. When he's ready to play, the Vikings could adjust their receiver depth chart. Smith-Marsette made strides as a punt returner, which was his ticket onto this roster.

TIGHT END (3): Irv Smith Jr., Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon

Dillon and rookie Zach Davidson have gotten ample reps as TE2 with Tyler Conklin out, and given how often this team utilizes two tight-end sets, I can picture the Vikings keeping three on the active roster and one on the practice squad. Dillon beats out Davidson, who dropped a couple passes against the Colts and has work to do as a blocker.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Rashod Hill, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Oli Udoh, Brian O'Neill, Mason Cole, Wyatt Davis, Blake Brandel, Christian Darrisaw

Udoh won the starting right guard job before the Denver game, which allows the Vikings to part ways with Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia. The former sixth-rounder has the ability to play left tackle, too, but that job is Hill's until Darrisaw, Minnesota's first-round pick, is healthy and capable of protecting Kirk Cousins' blindside. Brandel is in line to be the Vikings' swing tackle while Cole can play both guard and center as a backup. Should anything go awry with the interior pass protection and Davis continues to develop, the third-rounder may actually contribute in games the way that was projected when he was drafted.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10): Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Tomlinson, Michael Pierce, Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson, Armon Watts, Patrick Jones II, James Lynch

Griffen was signed as a situational pass rusher, so it's likely he'll play a big part on third downs. While Wonnum seems to have the edge over Weatherly, the Vikings could still utilize a rotation at the defensive end spot opposite Hunter until they settle on a starter. I'm not sure how many backup nose tackles a team needs, but Lynch drew high praise from Zimmer, and Watts has done a nice job in a reserve role and when Pierce was sidelined with injury.

LINEBACKERS (6): Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Nick Vigil, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, Blake Lynch

A handful of big plays by Dye and Surratt in the Colts game allowed them to stand out among a group of backup linebackers that got called out by Zimmer. Depth is still an issue, as is the injury that has Barr's availability for Week 1 in question, which is why the Vikings opt to keep six linebackers.

CORNERBACKS (6): Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, Mackensie Alexander, Cameron Dantzler, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand

Boyd helped his case the last few weeks and catapulted himself into the second-team defense while Dantzler, who has been inconsistent, dropped to the third team with Hand. Like Zimmer said, the young corners who had to play out of necessity last year will be better served in backup/special teams roles in 2021.

SAFETIES (3): Harrison Smith, Xavier Woods, Camryn Bynum

Bad decision making in preseason games has the Vikings only riding with one backup safety who is still learning how to play the position. Minnesota only had two safeties on the roster at cutdown day last year, so it's possible they roll with Smith, Woods and Bynum until they need to call someone up from the practice squad or elsewhere.

SPECIALISTS (3): Greg Joseph, Britton Colquitt, Andrew DePaola

Joseph went 7-of-11 on kicks during the team's final scrimmage of the preseason, but two of those misses were from 50-plus yards. The young kicker went 45 of 56 field goals in team drills since training camp started and has done enough to earn the job.

Vikings' 53-man roster projection: Who will back up Kirk Cousins? (2024)
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