The Minnesota Vikings have announced their roster cuts, and there’s only one surprise among the group of them, though we’ll get down to it in a second. At the same time, they have activated Chase Ford from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Who's going to prove themselves in the game's third phase?
The bottom of the roster is shaping up

Cut outright:

  • Pierce Burton
  • Erik Lora
  • Tyler Scott
  • Jake Snyder
  • Brandan Bishop
  • Andy Cruse
  • Ty Walker
  • Kamar Jorden
  • Robert Steeples
  • Kevin Murphy
  • Kheeston Randall
  • Derek Cox
  • Kory Sperry

They also waived Mistral Raymond with an injury designation, allowing them to put him on injured reserve if he clears waivers. We can break down their camp performances below.

 

Pierce Burton was an undrafted free agent from Ole Miss, who trafficked mostly in having a lot of size and strength. Unfortunately, buried at the bottom of the offensive line chart, he only saw seven snaps in the preseason. During training camp, he struggled with nearly every defensive end in one on ones, though he did somewhat better in the scrimmages. He moved better than his 40-time of 5.25 seconds suggested, but he still had issues with speed rushes while not performing well enough against power moves to justify further development.

A perennial practice-squadder, Kevin Murphy didn’t do enough with the Mike Zimmer to justify a further spot. Murphy has improved his technique, but his slide in pass protection still leaves some to be desired, and against the speed rushers in the NFC North, that’s a big issue—especially because his run blocking isn’t ideal, either. Better than Burton, it seems like the Vikings are at least content with their backup tackle situation, even though Austin Wentworth didn’t look good at all in the preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. While I’m not confident there’s a significant talent gap at tackle between Wentworth and Murphy, there exists the likelihood that the Vikings view Wentworth as a swing option as a backup tackle and guard.

Something I would not have expected before camp, Erik Lora‘s cut makes sense with the context of camp performance. From Eastern Illinois, he benefited from Jimmy Garoppolo’s presence in college, though he did make his own way on both the outside and inside. At camp, he didn’t showcase precise route-running or deceptiveness in route, making it difficult to create separation. Given how the receiver battle is shaping up, it makes sense to get rid of a number of receivers to give more snaps to Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen to get more information. With rough route-running, he didn’t have much to his name, especially as he couldn’t find ways to get open with raw speed or power (I once described his route-running as “lumbering”). With only one snap in the preseason, this is hardly a big surprise.

Three other receivers were cut with him, Andy Cruse, Ty Walker and Kamar Jorden. Neither Cruse nor Walker saw the preseason. The two of them were signed after the Vikings waived Matt Hall and Josh Cooper on July 25, on the first day of training camp. It’s not a big surprise that they were in the first wave of cuts, given how little time they had with the team in minicamps and so on, with late exposure to the playbook. It’s also clear that they weren’t huge priorities, but it did give the cornerbacks different looks.

Andy Cruse had never been able to use his size or speed as an asset as a receiver, always playing slower and smaller than his measurables. Previously a member of the Houston Texans, he couldn’t catch on with their limited receiver corps. His reputation for soft hands did express itself at camp, but not overly much, and he didn’t have highlight catches to save himself from limited separation. Ty Walker was probably a better candidate of the two to do well, with a solid preseason and training camp with the Green Bay Packers the previous year. But in some ways, he was the opposite of Cruse, with better on-field play than his poor measurables. Still, that’s not enough and he could generate the quickness in route or burst off the line of scrimmage to give himself even a small advantage against man coverage.

Kamar Jorden was far better than either of the two in camp, with crisper route-running and solid hands-catching. He didn’t often do well on contested catches, but it’s clear that this was a significantly improved camp for him over his 2012 showing. Jorden had some highlight plays against defensive backs higher on the depth chart throughout camp, but that wasn’t enough to keep him on the roster. His attempts at play-fakes weren’t very successful and when a corner stuck to him off the line of scrimmage, they usually stayed there.

Tyler Scott and Jake Snyder were the fourth-string defensive ends, and it’s likely that we didn’t see a “fourth-string defensive tackle” cut alongside Kheeston Randall because of Linval Joseph’s injury (this keeps three intact defensive lines with Joseph out). Tyler Scott had issues getting into the backfield, in particular not having the requisite speed to get around the edge, or the flexibility to dip under offensive tackles. That’s a big issue, as speed may have been his only asset. Listed at 250 pounds by the Vikings (seven pounds lighter than his Northwestern weight), he was a full 20 pounds lighter than a typical 4-3 defensive end, and 30 pounds lighter than the defensive ends Mike Zimmer employed last year in Cincinnati. He was blown off the ball fairly easily in the run game, something that didn’t show up often in the preseason because he only took 17 snaps, 16 of which were against a pass play.

Jake Snyder was the better of the two, and he did very well against the third-string offensive linemen he was put up against, a distinction Scott couldn’t share. Snyder is closer to the athletic profile of a defensive end from a strength, size and speed perspective. Though he has flexibility, he didn’t usually find ways to dip underneath the offensive tackle in camp once he won his way upfield, though he definitely did it during the preseason. What holds him back the most is his first step, though his run defense was not as good in Minnesota—he was too easily controlled by blocks—as it was in Virginia.

A former Mike Zimmer defensive tackle, Kheeston Randall, couldn’t make much of his previous relationship. Like Scott, he also had 17 snaps in the preseason, but more importantly Randall saw his place on the roster drop from the third line to the fourth line in camp. Neither a significant presence as a pass-rusher or run defender, Randall’s issues that kept him off the roster more likely had to do with his inability to create big plays than his weaknesses or liabilities. Not often blocked well out of the play, he was still walled off often enough to be a less-than-useful as a run defender. Without significant penetration against the likes of Jeff Baca or Mike Remmers, his cut was predictable, especially as he would only have been eligible for one of the two new practice squad spots.

Late signing tight end Kory Sperry was not a surprising cut—it is not often that an extremely late addition to camp makes it through the first round of cuts, much less the final roster. Sperry’s performance is difficult to grade; he had six snaps in the preseason. Four of them were run-blocking snaps, and they weren’t particularly spectacular, especially for someone who enters the league with a reputation as a “blocking tight end.” He did get his run in camp with the twos on occasion, but mostly to create a reasonable rotation for a tight end corps lacking a clear third-best player.

In the secondary, there were three cuts, the least surprising of which was Brandan Bishop. Without a lot of looks in the secondary in the preseason or camp, it wasn’t likely that Bishop was even going to last to the practice squad. With a slew of safeties to choose from as potential starters, the backup spots were almost entirely locked up by those that didn’t win the starter battle. Bishop didn’t have the physical range of the other safeties, but it is difficult to say more than that. His only game was against Oakland (where he took 40 snaps), but he wasn’t targeted very often, a result of either great coverage or the Raiders’ game plan. An intelligent player, it’s unlikely that his performance int he meeting rooms doomed him, though it could have played a role. He had some issues with run fit responsibilities, but for the most part may have struggled to rise up the depth chart because of his athletic capabilities.

Robert Steeples was clearly the bottom of the roster and there were more than a few highlights from receivers against him, from Greg Jennings to Jerome Simpson to Rodney Smith. While he could play physically, he didn’t have the agility of the other corners on the roster and found himself a step behind. He also was prey to deception from receivers more than most corners.

The biggest surprise of all the cuts was probably Derek Cox, with his cut perhaps better symbolizing Zimmer’s commitment to process over outcome more than anything else. Cox has had a number of plays in camp, perhaps leading the Vikings corners in both interception total and pass breakups. But Zimmer had indicated several times that the way in which he worked these plays was a bigger issue; Cox wasn’t particularly tight in coverage and the plays he made in camp may have been a result of reading the specific receiver in front of him rather than playing with a sustainably good technique.

Still, his camp play and preseason was extremely good, and his cut still comes as a surprise. Perhaps he had a tendency to make plays when he wasn’t asked to, and that—for what it’s worth—is similar to not buying into the coaching process. In all likelihood, the Vikings were worried that the type of play he was getting away with in camp would not hold up at the NFL level with good receivers. Cox is the only cut that I expect to be picked up by another team. He’s a veteran, so he won’t have to go through the waiver process and can choose his team.

For me the biggest surprises were the cuts of Derek Cox, especially over Julian Posey or Kendall James, both of whom have had far worse camps (but are eligible for the practice squad, unlike him). More minor surprises include Donte Foster’s inclusion with Jorden out, Kevin Murphy’s cut in relative favor of Mike Remmers, and the complete lack of linebacker cuts. Cox’s cut makes the path far easier for players like Josh Robinson, who fans have seen him as a candidate to start or be cut—a wide range of possibilities.