Vikings' 53-man roster projection includes heavy depth up front

The Minnesota Vikings open training camp on July 26 at the team’s facility in Eagan, Minnesota. Here’s a 53-man roster projection at the beginning of the preseason.

QUARTERBACK (2): Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion

The Vikings have too many other positions of need to keep a third quarterback. Cousins has proven his durability with 65 consecutive starts and played every snap in his first season in Minnesota. Mannion is a viable backup and the only other QB in camp with NFL playing experience. It’s hard to see the Vikings wanting to part with Jake Browning after guaranteeing the former Washington State quarterback $140,000 on his UDFA contract, including a $15,000 signing bonus, so it’s likely he ends up on the practice squad. After two seasons, Minnesota moves on from Kyle Sloter, who could have a better shot to earn a backup job elsewhere.

RUNNING BACK (4): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone

Minnesota wants to have a more balanced attack in 2019 which starts with creating a dynamic run game. The Vikings loved the 1-2 punch they had with Cook and Latavius Murray and hope Mattison can step in and fulfill that role. Keeping four running backs also helps alleviate pressure on Cook, who is going into training camp fully healthy for the first time in his NFL career. Abdullah is expected to contribute heavily on return teams and also serves as a change-of-pace back. The Vikings didn’t get to utilize Boone much last season but should be able to find a role for him as a complementary piece.

FULLBACK (1): C.J. Ham

An offense that aims to use heavier personnel groupings is reliant upon the tight end and fullback position. Ham is that guy.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Bisi Johnson

The No. 3 receiver might be the most intriguing position battle in camp, but its impact isn’t going to overwhelm the offense given the Vikings boast one of the top pass-catching duos in Thielen and Diggs. Beebe has shown flashes that he can be that guy in the slot with some big third-down catches last season. Taylor, formerly of the Broncos, took advantage of increased playing time this spring. Johnson impressed early in his rookie campaign and may be the deep-ball threat Cousins needs if he’s able to beat out speedster Jeff Badet for one of the last spots. The Vikings decide to move on from former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell after training camp.

TIGHT END (4): Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., David Morgan, Tyler Conklin

Cousins needs to improve his play in the red zone. That’s where Rudolph’s impact has been felt the heaviest throughout his career in Minnesota. The Vikings haven’t had a dynamic F-tight end like Smith at their disposal in recent years and can now utilize frequent multiple tight end sets and not just rely on those players for their blocking.

OFFENSIVE LINE (10): Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline, Brian O’Neill, Rashod Hill, Aviante Collins, Dru Samia, Brett Jones, Dakota Dozier

The interior of the offensive line is improved after the Vikings drafted Bradbury to start at center (moving Elflein to left guard) and picked up a steal in Samia, who could push Kline for the starting spot at right guard. The depth appears better, too. Collins can play both guard and tackle while Hill, who re-signed as a restricted free agent, is a feasible backup should Reiff or O’Neill miss time.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata’afa, Ifeadi Odenigbo

Coach Andre Patterson’s group is stacked up front with good depth behind their starting four down linemen. The Vikings are excited about what Mata’afa can provide as a rotation 3-technique tackle. After almost cracking the 53-man roster last year, Odenigbo cements himself as part of the D-line rotation this fall. Sixth-round pick Armon Watts secures a spot on the practice squad.

LINEBACKER (6): Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Eric Wilson, Ben Gedeon, Kentrell Brothers, Devante Downs

It’ll be interesting to see how Barr’s role continues to evolve (possibly with even more pass-rushing assignments) in Mike Zimmer’s defense after he re-signed with the team in free agency. Most of these linebackers not named Barr and Kendricks hold important roles on special teams where they’ll be evaluated most in training camp. Cam Smith, the Vikings’ fifth-round pick, could find his way onto the roster by beating out Brothers, who is in the last year of his deal, or Downs if he carves out a role for himself as a special-teamer.

CORNERBACK (5): Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd

Zimmer is pleased with his depth at cornerback, though it’s uncertain when Hughes, who is coming off an ACL injury, will be ready to play. Holton Hill is suspended for the first eight games of the season, which paves the way for Boyd, a rookie, to find his way onto the active roster.

SAFETY (4): Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Marcus Epps

Harris continues in the role he had last year when former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo got hurt, and he will start opposite Smith. Kearse did well in his "big nickel" role last season and has the versatility to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Epps, a rookie, provides Minnesota with depth.

SPECIALIST (3): Dan Bailey, Matt Wile, Austin Cutting

It’s Bailey’s job unless the Vikings determine the need for a kicking competition in training camp. No team needs two long snappers and given Minnesota used its last pick in the seventh round and was the only team in the NFL to draft a long snapper, it seems likely that Cutting will be on the roster over Kevin McDermott.