4 biggest takeaways from the Minnesota Vikings’ initial 53-man roster
Tuesday’s roster cutdown deadline saw the Minnesota Vikings go from having 90 players to just 53. Even though more roster moves are likely coming, looking at who made the team provides a clearer picture of what to expect this season. Here are the four biggest takeaways from the Vikings’ initial 53-man roster.
Minnesota Vikings love their group of pass-catchers
The Vikings had 11 wide receivers on the roster when they had 90 players. Now that the roster is trimmed down to 53, a total of six made the team. This is one more than the Vikings had at the start of last season, giving coach Kevin O’Connell a treasure chest of skill position players to incorporate into the game plan.
There was a belief that Jalen Reagor and Brandon Powell were battling for one of the final spots on the receiver depth chart, but both ended up making the roster. Teams even called the Vikings, gauging their interest in trading Reagor, but there is no indication of that interest being mutual.
In addition to the two mentioned above, along with the obvious trio of Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, and Jordan Addison, that leaves Jalen Nailor as the sixth receiver. Nailor didn’t even play this preseason after working through a leg injury. Yet, his effort last season, playing all 15 games, mostly on special teams, earned the 2022 sixth-round pick a roster spot again.
The front office also couldn’t bear to part with tight end Nick Muse, who doubles as the team’s emergency long snapper. A strong showing in the preseason, which included seven catches, 72 yards, and a leaping touchdown catch, made Muse the fourth tight end on the roster. Again, this is one more than the team had at the start of last season.
All of this is to say the Vikings didn’t feel comfortable parting with Reagor, who’s still just 24, and they also saw additional value in Powell, Nailor, and Muse too. While players who are cut can still be brought back to the practice squad, the Vikings felt releasing any of the four would have been far too great of a risk.
Andre Carter was never at risk of losing his roster spot
Three rookie undrafted free agents made the Vikings’ final roster (Ivan Pace, Andre Carter, and NaJee Thompson). Aside from Pace, who’s in line for an immediate role on defense, Carter was the most notable undrafted rookie the Vikings signed. That became obvious once Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made one of the biggest commitments ever to an undrafted free agent with a $340K guarantee.
One of the reasons for the large guarantee was thanks to Carter’s impressive pass-rushing profile, which included getting 19 sacks in college. Yet, the belief is that the 6-foot-6, 256-pound sack artist needs more time to bulk up before becoming a reliable contributor on gameday.
However, by making the roster, the Vikings may feel differently about the 23-year-old rookie, thinking he can make an impact at some point throughout the year. With Luiji Vilain cut from the team, leaving four other edge-rushing linebackers on the roster, Carter finds himself buried on the depth chart. He could be looking at a weekly appearance on the team’s inactive list. Yet, releasing Carter would risk another team finding a home for him on their roster instead. Again, that was a gamble the Vikings weren’t willing to take.
Vikings putting trust in youthful secondary
We knew the Vikings would be heading into the year with a lot of youth in the secondary. Yet, seeing a group of five cornerbacks, with only Byron Murphy having more than one season of experience, is a bit jarring.
Offseason signee JoeJuan Williams, heading into his fifth season, could have brought a bit more experience, but the former Patriots cornerback didn’t earn a roster spot. This leaves Murphy, second-year Akayleb Evans, rookie Mekhi Blackmon, second-year Andrew Booth, and undrafted rookie NaJee Thompson.
Aside from Murphy, that group has played a combined 16 games, not even a full season. Yet, even that number is misleading. Of those 16 games, Evans and Booth only combined for a total of 267 snaps, which equates to just 23 percent of the Vikings’ defensive plays last season.
In some ways, being inexperienced gives first-year defensive coordinator Brian Flores a chance to mold the young prospects to fit his aggressive scheme, eliminating bad traits before they become habits. Yet, in other ways, not having the confidence to trust their abilities based on past NFL experiences could come back to haunt the young Vikings too, as fans have seen in the secondary far too often in recent years.
The Vikings are banking on improvement from within, looking to a young trio of defenders. This includes Booth, who’s still 22 and has seen a minuscule amount of snaps (105) after battling injuries during his rookie season. In an ideal world, Flores’ plan to generate more pressure should remove some of the burden from the secondary, but they’ll have to hold up their end of the bargain in coverage too. We’ll find out whether it’s a recipe for success or failure soon enough.
Emphasis on special teams
Another big takeaway from the Vikings’ initial 53-man roster is the front office’s emphasis on special teams. It may not be the sexiest aspect of the three phases of football, but as many coaches say, games can be won and lost on special teams.
The Vikings’ final roster includes several potential high-end contributors on special teams. This is headlined by none other than Kene Nwangwu, who became a second-team All-Pro member for his work as a kick returner last season. Of course, first-team All-Pro long snapper Andrew DePaola can’t be forgotten about either, but every team needs someone who can snap from distance.
More interesting was the fact that players like second-year safety Theo Jackson and undrafted rookie NaJee Thompson made the roster too. Even Jalen Nailor could be looked at as a player who made the team based on his ability as a gunner on punts, thanks to his excellent speed.
These are three players, four, or even five, if we include returners Nwangwu and Brandon Powell, who aren’t expected to have an active role on offense or defense yet still impressed the coaches enough based on their work on special teams to make the roster.
Other special teams contributors will include fourth linebacker Troy Dye and backup safety Jay Ward, among many others. Some teams have several starters making appearances on kickoffs or punts, and the Vikings may still have a few, but from the looks of their roster, they have plenty of depth capable of keeping the starters out of harm’s way.
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