Image courtesy of Chris Price

Over the course of the last few weeks, Austin Belisle and myself have asked you to make predictions about how the Minnesota Vikings’ 2016 training camp will play out. Meanwhile, Adam Patrick compiled consensus rankings of the “Top 30” most important Vikings players of 2016, with help from 14 knowledgable Vikings writers. Below is the genesis of all that work.

We’ve used your votes, combined with the rankings, to try and assemble one of the most collaborative roster predictions you’ll be able to find anywhere.

Of course, a few questions remain despite the compilation of input, so Austin and I did our best to fill in the blanks. That leads us to our final installment of “10 Camp Questions” in which the tenth question for you, the readers of Vikings Territory, are invited to answer.

QUARTERBACKS

  1. Teddy Bridgewater
  2. Shaun Hill
  3. Taylor Heinicke

The primary question surrounding the Vikings’ depth chart at quarterback is whether or not Teddy Bridgewater can take that “next step” and better translate his strengths into production. That answer might have more to do with the offensive line than it does Teddy himself, but there is zero question as to who will be the top quarterback rostered this season.

Some potential drama lies instead at the number two spot, where veteran Shaun Hill could conceivably fall behind younger or cheaper options. However, there isn’t exactly an orgy of evidence suggesting that could happen by September. That is especially true given the update that involves Taylor Heinicke showing up to camp with a cast on his leg.

Additionally, there have been recent rumblings that the Vikings could look outside the organization to upgrade their backup quarterback situation.

RUNNING BACKS

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. Jerick McKinnon
  3. Matt Asiata
  4. Zach Line

The workload split between Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon provides some intriguing discussion points — and for some, arguments — but there is no doubt that the Vikings still envision Adrian Peterson as the main attraction in ‘Running Back Land.’ McKinnon deserves to be featured more, though, and the main storyline to follow here is how exactly Norv Turner and company work him into the game plan.

The third spot certainly leaves room for error, as incumbent Matt Asiata isn’t an irreplaceable talent, but his skills inside the five and as a potential workhorse runner are valuable enough that we gave him the nod here.

A firecracker preseason performance, however, could potentially make this an inaccurate choice (keep an eye on Jhurell Pressley, an exciting undrafted free agent out of New Mexico ).

We listed Zach Line fourth here, but that is only because we were too lazy to give the fullback position its own heading. We have plenty of faith that Line will be back doing his part within the offense.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  1. Stefon Diggs
  2. Laquon Treadwell
  3. Jarius Wright
  4. Cordarrelle Patterson
  5. Adam Thielen

Diggs, Treadwell, and Wright are all virtual locks to make this roster on opening day, unless something horrible happens (let’s not talk about things like that).

You all voted and decided that, of the remaining receivers, it’s Cordarrelle Patterson that is most likely to make the final 53-man roster, thanks in large part to his special teams value and upside potential.

Speaking of special teams, Adam Thielen clocked in as 30th on Adam Patrick’s consensus Top-30 countdown, which places him ahead of Charles Johnson. If Johnson possesses any special teams value to the Vikings, we’re not sure what it is, so he is the odd man out in this scenario. Thus, we have the Vikings keeping just five wide outs.

Even if the Vikings kept six receivers, we remain unconvinced that Johnson would be one of them, unless he flat out wins a starting spot. Moritz Böhringer, Terrell Sinkfield, and Isaac Fruechte are all interesting options that could become coaching favorites in Mankato if things play out in their favor.

TIGHT ENDS

  1. Kyle Rudolph
  2. MyCole Pruitt
  3. David Morgan

Despite some of Rhett Ellison’s optimism in the press lately, we are running under the assumption that he will not be ready to go for the season opener and starts on the PUP list. Only 35% of our readers feel like Ellison will make the final 53-man roster after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Week 17 last season. That leaves one spot open behind shoe-ins Kyle Rudolph and MyCole Pruitt.

Rookie David Morgan and free agent pickup Brian Leonhardt are the primary competitors in the battle to fill Ellison’s shoes, even if it is for just a few weeks in an extended audition, and we are giving the job to the rookie. As detailed in our “Welcome to the Big Show” preview of Morgan, he is highly regarded as a blocker, but should have an edge on Leonhardt for the skills he brings to the table as a downfield receiver.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

  1. Matt Kalil 
  2. Andre Smith
  3. T.J. Clemmings

The readers of Vikings Territory voted Phil Loadholt as one of the injured veterans most likely to return to the roster, but that first question was posted at the end of June, and we have since found out that ‘Big Phil’ is hanging up the cleats once and for all.

A lot hinges on Matt Kalil’s ability to regain some consistency at left tackle. The hope — and it is just hope at this point — is that the addition of Tony Sparano will help turn things around for the once-promising lineman.

And with Loadholt officially out of the picture, it seems extremely likely that Andre Smith will claim the right tackle position, where T.J. Clemmings struggled last year as a rookie. The ideal situation would be for Clemmings to have progressed enough that he legitimately challenges Smith for the starting gig, but for now, we’ll just file that away in the “daydreaming” section of the Vikings Territory library.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

  1. Alex Boone 
  2. Mike Harris 
  3. Brandon Fusco
  4. Willie Beavers

Heads might roll in Minnesota if the offensive line is as putrid as they were in 2015, so the front office made some crucial investments this offseason. Most notably, free agent guard Alex Boone is as advertised off the field and has high expectations with Vikings fans once he steps on it. The panel of Vikings writers ranked him as the 12th-most important player of the upcoming season, and he hasn’t even played one snap for the team yet. Like we said, the expectations are high.

One common narrative regarding the Boone signing is that Brandon Fusco will be able to slide back over to right guard, where he’s performed much better throughout his career, resulting in two upgrades from one contract.

However, the Vikings writers polled didn’t even place Fusco in their Top 30 Vikings players (the consensus rankings placed him at 34th) and last year’s right guard clocked in at 26th. That guy is Mike Harris, who Austin pegged as a key player right out of the gates last season, and was easily one of the best performers along the unit in 2015.

Since we are basing this projected roster off of your votes and the consensus Top 30 rankings,  we actually ended up demoting Fusco to a backup position. If this really happened, it would put the Vikings in an interesting position, as Fusco has four more seasons on his contract and is set to cost more than $4 million towards the salary cap in 2016.

Lastly, we kept fourth round rookie Willie Beavers, who can learn and (hopefully) develop from a position on the bench. Beavers was not a popular pick with Vikings fans, that is for sure, but the organization seems to be banking on Sparano’s ability to shape the tall and athletic prospect into a worthwhile investment.

CENTER

  1. Joe Berger 
  2. John Sullivan

John Sullivan ranked 20th on our list and Joe Berger, the Pro Football Focus celebrity that he is, pulled in a ranking as the 18th most-important Viking. It could be argued that the list is under-appreciating Sullivan a bit, but we won’t know just how healthy he is until he puts on the pads and starts training with live ammo.

For that reason — and the fact that Berger is a fine option at the center position — we’ve rounded out our nine-man offensive line with these two centers starting the season in that order on the depth chart.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

  1. Linval Joseph
  2. Sharrif Floyd
  3. Tom Johnson
  4. Shamar Stephen

You can really place Floyd and Joseph in whatever order you choose. Floyd ranked lower than Joseph in the Top 30 deal (10th and 2nd respectively), however, so the big man gets the top spot here. Both are key members of this defense and all Vikings fans should be praying to the football gods that they can both stay healthy all season long.

Behind them, Tom Johnson has proven to be a reliable backup, no matter what position he’s played. Last season, he finished with 5.5 sacks and filled in for Floyd as a pass-rushing specialist. Next to Johnson, Stephen returns after missing all of 2015. The 6’5” defensive tackle flashed as a rookie, and Spielman believes he offers the Vikings “significant in-line pass rusher ability.” If he’s healthy, he gives Zimmer another weapon along the defensive line, especially on third downs.

DEFENSIVE END

  1. Everson Griffen
  2. Brian Robison 
  3. Danielle Hunter
  4. Justin Trattou

Griffen finished fifth on our Top 30 list and deservedly so; he’s Minnesota best pass rusher and a top-tier defensive end in the NFL. On the opposite side of the line, depth chart position becomes a bit of a challenge. We asked you to predict if — and when — Hunter would “outmuscle” Robison for the starting job, and a majority believed Robison would finish training camp as the top left defensive end.

However, that same majority also predicted that Hunter would take over for Robison at some point during the season. Hunter is too unique a talent to let sit on the bench, and he showed that last year, piling up six sacks in a reserve role. We like Hunter, and we also think Trattou edges out Scott Crichton, Stephen Weatherly, and any other competition at the position (we do, however, like Weatherly’s chances to make the practice squad).

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

  1. Anthony Barr
  2. Chad Greenway
  3. Emmanuel Lamur
  4. Edmond Robinson

We firmly believe Lamur edges out Greenway as the team’s starting weak side linebacker. Barr is a lock — and already one of the game’s best linebackers — so there’s no need to elaborate on his ranking. Lamur, on the other hand, enters training camp a motivated man after signing a two-year, $5 million contract with the Vikings in free agency. 

In a “Question of the Week” segment in June, however, the readers of VT gave over 50% of their votes to Greenway as the likely front man on the weak side. For that reason, since we are making this as much about you all as we can, we are going against our own better judgement and giving Greenway the starting gig in this mock up.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

  1. Eric Kendricks
  2. Audie Cole
  3. Kentrell Brothers

The common understanding is that Zimmer is running less and less base defense these days. Last season, Zimmer used the Nickel package almost 60 percent of the time, allowing him to swap defensive lineman and try out new personnel packages in the front seven. Eric Kendricks, the Vikings’ team leader in sacks last year, makes that all possible. Heck, he’s already a top-10 Viking in our Top-30 rankings!

The spot is Kendricks’ to lose, but Cole and Brothers make the list because of their special teams value. Cole has proven to be a capable starter when given opportunities, as sparse as they’ve been, and he’s a fan favorite every year in Mankato. Brothers, meanwhile, enters camp as one of the most productive linebackers in NCAA history with a knack for blocking kicks on special teams.

CORNERBACK

  1. Xavier Rhodes
  2. Trae Waynes
  3. Captain Munnerlyn
  4. Mackensie Alexander
  5. Terence Newman
  6. Marcus Sherels

This may be the toughest position to predict, as it’s a unit suddenly loaded with starting-level players. The right side of the field is Rhodes’s to lose, but opposite, it’s anyone’s game. Newman was ranked 21st by our group of Vikings writers, but he’s another year older in a league that isn’t slowing down. He’ll face stiff training camp competition from Waynes, who flashed late last year when asked to step on the field.

In our fourth camp question to you, the fans, 78 percent of respondents felt Waynes would have a superior year to Alexander, Minnesota’s second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Alexander can play either inside or outside in Zimmer’s defense, but he’s currently slotted behind Captain Munnerlyn. After a solid 2015 outing, Munnerlyn is the least likely candidate to lose a starting spot to an up-and-coming rookie.

The shock and surprise may come from keeping Sherels, who continues to scrape onto the roster despite his lack of playing time. But given the fact that the Vikings are only keeping five receivers (in this scenario), it’s unlikely Diggs returns punts in 2016. He’ll see the field more on offense as a full-time starter, limiting the possibility that he replaces Sherels. Add to that Sherels’ new two-year contract, and he’s a surefire lock to “return” as the team’s punt returner.

SAFETY

  1. Harrison Smith
  2. Michael Griffin
  3. Anthony Harris 
  4. Andrew Sendejo
  5. Jayron Kearse

Harrison Smith is locked up for the long term, but none of the Vikings’ past efforts to find him a running mate have really come to fruition. The hope is that this trend changes in Mankato this year, with someone emerging as a clear-cut high quality starter at strong safety.

You all bought into my case for Michael Griffin, it appears, as he won the reader vote that awards the veteran the starting position on opening day. He nearly doubled the third-highest vote-getter, Anthony Harris, who is a strong candidate for this year’s Mr. Mankato award. Harris won over fans after his performance against the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 and looks to make a push when training camp practices begin today.

Joining the gang are Sendejo and Kearse. By signing a four-year contract this offseason, Sendejo is almost guaranteed a roster spot. His value on special teams, much like Thielen, can’t be overstated. And Kearse, with all of his athleticism and raw potential, has the chance to become a Zimmer project much like Danielle Hunter last season.

KICKER

  1. Blair Walsh

After missing the biggest kick of the Vikings’ season, and the biggest of his career, Blair Walsh felt the hatred burning from every angle immediately following Minnesota’s playoff exit.

However, in somewhat typical Minnesota fashion, it didn’t take long for Walsh to be showered with support and love. The stories became a little nauseating for a while there, but there is no denying that Walsh should not (arguably can not) let one kick define his career.

Instead, he needs to accept the gift that is now eight indoor home games, and move forward looking for increased consistency. Walsh is still one of the NFL’s strongest boots that deserves the contract he earned, has given us plenty of great performances, and seems committed to improvement.

With all of that being said, a repeat performance in this year’s postseason will result in Walsh finding out exactly what Minnesota not-so-nice is. Still, there is no reason to foresee any training camp drama at the kicker position for 2016.

PUNTER

  1. Jeff Locke

As indicated by your votes, Locke is widely believed to be one of the most likely to be replaced in the preseason by an outside signing. Right now, however, he is the only punter on the roster and we have no choice but to give him the nod until and unless something comes out of a nearly empty free agent market.

Locke either has the confidence of powerful voices within the front office and coaching staff or the front office and coaching staff are great at keeping up appearances. If he is indeed going to be the Vikings punter for the 2016 season then fans better stop hoping he is replaced and start hoping he improves.

LONG SNAPPER

  1. Kevin McDermott

There are not any real reasons to think McDermott won’t be the Vikings long snapper of choice this season. Predictions to the contrary are nothing but a true shot in the dark.


CAMP QUESTION #10 – What Do You Disagree With?

Again, the above prediction of the opening day roster was largely based off of the consensus opinions of you readers and some very intelligent Vikings writers (you can decide privately which ones deserve that praise), but I know you… I know you Vikings fans… I know you disagree with at least one part of our projection.

And we want to know it!

In the comments section below please weigh in and answer this question: “What about this projection of the opening day roster do you most disagree with?”