Depth has been a premier issue for the Minnesota Vikings over the course of the offseason. They entered the offseason with problems among their starters and depth and naturally focused on the former. That leads to a concerningly top-heavy roster that could fall apart with the right injury. But which injury specifically? Are there any injuries the Vikings can sustain without the wheels coming off?
To answer, let’s go through every major position group, and rank the depth. We’ll order it from the deepest groups to the most precarious.
1. Running Back
While the Vikings’ running backs are a little banged up right now, they seem to have an endless well of serviceable ball carriers. Dalvin Cook‘s health has always been a concern, sure, but you could do worse than Alexander Mattison. Both Mattison and Cook are unvaccinated, though, so what if there’s a COVID outbreak? No problem. A perfectly suitable Ameer Abdullah is sitting on the practice squad, where he often wouldn’t join the rostered running backs in meeting rooms. He could be activated for gameday at a moment’s notice. None of this mentions Kene Nwangwu working his way to a clean bill of health and preseason standout A.J. Rose waiting on the practice squad as well.
2. Defensive Tackle
The Vikings will likely use some sort of rotation to squeeze value out of their three recent free-agent defensive tackles. Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Sheldon Richardson will all get significant in-game action. An injury to one? No problem. Just tweak the rotation, put a little more on the shoulders of the other two “meaty boys,” and maybe work in Armon Watts or James Lynch if you feel like you need to spell someone. It would take two injuries to make the Vikings rely on Watts, a perfectly backup quality tackle.
3. Offensive Tackle
It’s a bit of an upset to have an offensive line position this high, knowing the history of the Vikings. At first glance, only one healthy backup in Blake Brandel would be cause for concern, but would he really go in if Rashod Hill or Brian O’Neill? The Vikings have two tackles starting at guard for the time being in Ezra Cleveland and Oli Udoh. If you prefer, you can consider them double-duty tackle depth and keep Brandel to the side. Eventually, Christian Darrisaw will return from his groin injury to further bolster this group. That’s five viable tackles without turning to Brandel, even if it means some shuffling on the inside.
4. Defensive End
Even the deepest imaginable pass rush would take a hit if it lost a behemoth like Danielle Hunter, and his greatness shouldn’t reflect on the strength of his backups. The top-end of the pass rush is still a bit suspect, with D.J. Wonnum earning a starting role over Stephen Weatherly. But this is a ranking of depth, not the position’s strength as a whole. Replacing Wonnum with Weatherly because of injury wouldn’t be so bad. The Vikings considered doing that on purpose. Lose both, and you have rookie Patrick Jones and whatever Everson Griffen has in the tank. That’s still better than some teams’ starting units.
5. Wide Receiver
There’s no question about Minnesota’s top end of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, but both are nursing minor injuries from the summer. If Jefferson or Thielen go down, the Vikings will probably turn to K.J. Osborn, who set training camp on fire, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, whose slow ascendancy inspires its own confidence. If it comes down to it, longtime WR3 Dede Westbrook can step in and hold the operation together. All five of Minnesota’s receivers seem to be viable options, a thing they couldn’t have hoped to convince you of just a year ago when Chad Beebe was the next best option.
6. Offensive interior
The interior depth is a bit suspect, if only because it is under so much additional pressure. Mason Cole had a strong preseason alongside Wyatt Davis, whose ups were as eye-popping as his downs. Any injury on the whole offensive line will pull from this group. If a tackle goes down, and you prefer Ezra Cleveland or Oli Udoh to Blake Brandel, one of these backups has to go in. If Cleveland, Udoh, or Garrett Bradbury go down, it pulls even more directly. Personally, I feel okay about these two guys, but the likelihood of needing them is potentially concerning.
This is higher than I thought quarterback would land, which says more about the groups below them than it does the quarterbacks themselves. QB2 is on the practice squad in Sean Mannion, who couldn’t inspire the Seattle Seahawks enough to keep him around. For all intents and purposes, Kellen Mond is incubating in the background. Perhaps he takes the backup job later in the season as he progresses, but it’s Mannion for the foreseeable future. That’s not particularly comforting, but Mannion has been a backup for a long time in the league. That’s more than we can say about the depth further down this list.
Should starters Bashaud Breeland or Patrick Peterson go down, the Vikings’ options wear thin. They could kick Mackensie Alexander outside where he hasn’t played in half a decade. They could throw in Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, or Cameron Dantzler, who had mighty struggles in the preseason. An injury to this group doesn’t unlock an opportunity for an up-and-comer or established backup. These young players are rosterable, but only barely.
Last Christmas, the Vikings defense suffered a 52-point beatdown that still tastes bitter in Mike Zimmer’s mouth. The main culprits of that debacle are either Vikings backups or practice squad players for the very New Orleans Saints team that perpetrated it. Blake Lynch was a punching bag for Alvin Kamara and the Saints’ running game. According to the Vikings’ unofficial depth chart released Tuesday, he’d be in line to take the base package linebacker reps if Anthony Barr isn’t ready to go. He looked better this preseason but by how much? Troy Dye will likely step in if the Vikings sustain another injury, followed by primarily special teams players Chazz Surratt and Ryan Connelly. Nick Vigil is the third linebacker in the chart, but how much confidence does Paul Guenther’s pet project inspire?
10. Tight End
If I had written this two weeks ago, tight end might be higher. But the top end is no longer Irv Smith, Jr. Now, the top end is Tyler Conklin, and according to the Vikings, Brandon Dillon. If the second guy on the group is the type to bounce on and off the roster, the next two will be a concern. The Vikings purchased eternal breakout candidate Chris Herndon from the New York Jets, who is coming off of “one of the worst seasons I’ve ever seen from a tight end,” per Locked On Jets host John Butchko. Ben Ellefson could not make the Jacksonville Jaguars as a blocker. It’s bleak.
A comforting thing about the preseason is that a poor result can be explained by mistakes by players who won’t play. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus were the primary culprits of their meltdown in Kansas City. None of the young safeties seem comfortable with the defensive calls, and nothing can sink an otherwise good defense faster than a busted coverage. Bynum busted coverages all summer, and he still ranked ahead of Metellus, who will mostly be a special teamer. If Harrison Smith or Xavier Woods sustain an injury, things could get ugly fast, even if it’s just for a series or two.