The start of the 2016 NFL season is getting closer, and soon, fans of the Minnesota Vikings will be able to cheer for their team’s favorite players as they take the field in the Vikings brand new home known as U.S. Bank Stadium. Could this be the year that Minnesota is finally able to get over the hump and capture their very first Super Bowl trophy?

Before the season gets underway, we here at Vikings Territory decided to rank the team’s top 30 players heading into 2016. The rankings are based on submissions from numerous writers that cover the team for various media outlets.

The writers that helped in determining the final results for the Vikings Top 30 includes…

Brett Anderson (Vikings Territory)

Austin Belisle (Vikings Territory)

Carl Knowles (Vikings Territory)

Sam Neumann (Vikings Territory)

Adam Patrick (Vikings Territory)

Adam Warwas (Vikings Territory)

Ted Glover (The Daily Norseman)

Eric Thompson (The Daily Norseman)

Daniel House (Vikings Corner)

BJ Reidell (Vikings Barroom)

Jordan Reid (Vikings Barroom)

Adam Carlson (The Viking Age)

Austin Erwin (Cover32)

Lindsey Young (Vikings.com)

Matt Falk (Draft Season)

The list is split into three parts with the first part being released today while the second and third parts will be revealed during the mornings of the next two Wednesdays in this month.

Enjoy part one!

30: Adam Thielen, WR

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“Thielen has become much more than just a “local boy does good” storyline.”

Brett Anderson (@brettAnderson87): Residing towards the bottom of a crowded receiver unit, Thielen will likely make his impact through special teams contributions and filling in for other wide outs.

Austin Belisle (@austincbelisle): Thielen, the hometown hero, continues to make a difference for the Vikings. He’ll have an impact on special teams, as he does each year and continue to lead by example for the team’s younger contributors.

Adam Carlson (@MNVikingZombie): What can’t this kid do? Thielen is a special teams machine who has also been included on gadget plays. His speed and athleticism make him a valuable contributor, but it’s hard to tell when the team will need him to do that on the offensive side of the ball.

Austin Erwin (@austin_erwin): Thielen gives everyone hope that hard work really does pay off. He’s Such a valuable special team playmaker and has shown spurts of talent on offense.

Thielen 2Matt Falk (@Matt_Falk): Thielen is the fan favorite, and his ability on special teams and on offense (when given the chance) has shown he is worthy of the title.

Ted Glover (@purplebuckeye): He might be a surprise cut, depending on if Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson improve. But he’s versatile, and produced in limited opportunities last year.

Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL): Adam Thielen is such a reliable player and contributes significantly on all of the special teams units. Coach Zimmer even discussed involving him more in the offensive scheme and praised his route running this spring. He is important to keep around on this roster because of his versatility.

“Thielen gives everyone hope that hard work really does pay off”

Carl Knowles (@carlknowles_vt): Thielen got most of his playing time on special teams in 2015 and that doesn’t look to change this season. The standout from Minnesota State made the most of his offensive snaps racking up 87 yards on four carries and 144 yards on 12 receptions.

Sam Neumann (@NeumSamN): The wide receiver group is going to be very crowded, and it will be interesting to see who makes it to the opening day roster. Special teams contributions keep Thielen around another year.

Adam Patrick (@Str8_Cash_Homey): Still improving in the offensive aspect of his game, special teams is where Thielen stands out. His play in this unit should continue to propel the Vikings to some important victories in 2016.

Thielen 3

Jordan Reid (@JReidDraftScout): Known as a special-teams ace, Thielen has carved out his own role on the Vikings roster. Highlighted most with his huge Week 17 game at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. The Minnesota product had a huge 41-yard carry on a fake punt. Look for Thielen to remain as the Vikings fifth receiver and continue to dominate on special teams in 2016.

BJ Reidell (@RobertReidellBT): Reports have surfaced this offseason regarding the progression of Cordarrelle Patterson, improved health of Charles Johnson and increased expectations for Stefon Diggs. It is also highly unlikely Minnesota spent its No. 23 overall pick on rookie Laquon Treadwell to have him pace the sidelines. Adam Thielen is a fundamentally sound receiver and an outstanding special teams performer, but his lack of a significant upside limits his value.

Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson): The “Local Kid that Made the Big Time” story and incredible work ethic make Thielen impossible to dislike. It’s still improbable to think he makes much of an impact outside of special teams this season, but that impact can still swing a game or two.

Adam Warwas (@vikingterritory): The depth chart is getting crowded at receiver, but Thielen is a special teams ace that shouldn’t be dismissed as a viable pass catching threat. Thielen has become much more than just a “local boy does good” storyline and it’ll be interesting to see if he can reach new heights in 2016.

29: Chad Greenway, LB

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“The swan song for an all time great Viking”

Anderson: All indications are that this will be good guy Greenway’s final season with the Vikings. I don’t expect Chad to be a consistently huge contributor on the field in 2016, but he’s reliable, doesn’t make huge mistakes and is a leader on the field and in the locker room.

Belisle: Greenway won’t see much of the field this season, but he’ll help guide the younger linebackers who do earn playing time in Mike Zimmer’s defense. 

Carlson: Expectations shouldn’t be extremely high for Greenway this year, as he should continue to lose snaps to the younger, more athletic players on the roster. However, there is still a valuable place on the team for a veteran who has proven to be a leader and mentor who can still get results when needed.

Erwin: Greenway is a longtime leader in Minnesota. He will forever be a fan favorite and a tackling machine.

Greenway 2Falk: The way I see it Greenway gets to walk off into the sunset in a new stadium with a pretty competitive team … and will most likely still be a starter in his 10th and final season.

Glover: The swan song for an all time great Viking. His situational play allowed him to play some of his best football in 3-4 years, I expect that to continue.

House: Chad Greenway returned for his final season in purple as the Vikings move into U.S. Bank Stadium. With a crowded linebacker room, he’ll be the veteran leader, but his playing time will likely be slashed. Nonetheless, his leadership and reliability as depth are two traits worth keeping him around for.

“Nobody deserves a royal sendoff more than the veteran linebacker.”

Knowles: Greenway didn’t get as much playing time as Anthony Barr or Eric Kendricks, but his 68 total tackles ranked third on the team in 2015. Greenway’s snaps might be limited even more this season, but his leadership and steady production will certainly be a story line to watch in his final season with the Vikings.

Neumann: Well, he’s (technically) the starter (for now). We all love Greenway, but it’s pretty obvious he’ll contribute less in 2016 than in any other season of his career. Still, nice to have him back to finish his career in purple.

Patrick: The time has almost come for Greenway to hang up his cleats, but he has come back for at least one more season to help the Vikings make a push at the title. What’s lacking in his physical abilities at this point in his career, Greenway makes up for it with his experience and knowledge gained from playing nine seasons in Minnesota.

Greenway 3Reid: The unquestioned old, wily veteran of the Vikings defense, Greenway enters what is believed to be his last NFL season. Although asked to play a heavy amount of reps in 2015, the 11-year veteran had one of the best seasons of his career. The Vikings already have a future plan in place after Greenway calls it quits in Emmanuel Lamur.

Reidell: Chad Greenway is set to begin the final installment of an outstanding 11-year professional career in the same purple and gold No. 52 jersey that he initially donned over a decade ago. The exceedingly rare nature of this feat and his intangible impact as a locker room leader makes Greenway a perfect candidate for this list despite his diminished on-field skill set.

Thompson: While it remains to be seen how much Greenway will actually impact what looks to be a stout defense in 2016, nobody deserves a royal sendoff more than the veteran linebacker. Let’s win one for Chad!

Warwas: Greenway won’t see much of the field this season, but he’ll help guide the younger linebackers who do earn playing time in Mike Zimmer’s defense. 

28: Andre Smith, OL

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“The offensive line needs to improve and newcomer Smith has a golden opportunity to be a part of the solution.”

Anderson: I honestly have no idea what to expect from Andre Smith in 2016. Will he start at right tackle? Will Loadholt? Your guess is as good mine, sorry.

Belisle: With Phil Loadholt’s health still a major question mark, the Vikings turned to free agent Smith this offseason. The veteran has a connection to Zimmer from Cincinnati, and he’s talented enough to start Week 1 when the Vikings travel to Tennessee. 

Carlson: Minnesota may have been grasping for straws a bit when hoping that Andre Smith could be insurance for Phil Loadholt, but he hasn’t ever blocked for a running back like Adrian Peterson. Smith has a shot to win the starting right offensive tackle job, which means he could be one of the most important players on the field in 2016.

Erwin: Smith just signed with the Vikings earlier this Spring. He has always been a consistent run and pass blocker. Hopefully he can transition that same talent over to Minnesota.

Smith 2Falk: Look for Smith to give Loadholt a run for his money to start at right tackle. This will be one of the more interesting battles to watch come training camp.

Glover: Brought in to provide competition and more consistency on the right side of the line. Has a solid chance to beat out Phil Loadholt and T.J. Clemmings

House: We don’t know where Phil Loadholt is at or if he’ll be the same player until he starts handling some live contact. Smith is very good as a run blocker and will challenge to earn the starting nod in training camp and the preseason. I quietly think he may win the job at right tackle this season.

Knowles: Smith signed a one year, $3.5 million deal this offseason with $500,000 guaranteed. The offensive line now becomes one of the fiercest position battles to watch and ESPN staff writer Ben Goessling thinks Smith has the advantage over Phil Loadholt to win the starting right tackle position.

Neumann: Smith has a sizable lead in the competition to start at right tackle. By far the most talented of the players in the mix, especially considering Loadholt’s injury.

Smith 3Patrick: Brought in this offseason to help solidify the atrocity that was Minnesota’s offensive line in 2015, Smith should be a significant improvement over last year’s starting right tackle in T.J. Lemmings.

Reid: In what I believe to be tied as the biggest Vikings free agent acquisition, I fully expect to the former no. 6 overall pick of the 2009 draft to be the starting right tackle in 2016. With multiple questions surrounding the often injured Phil Loadholt, it would not shock me to see him fail to make the final 53-man roster.

Reidell: There is a reason the Cincinnati Bengals allowed Andre Smith to hit the free-agent market, but the old combination of a prove-it contract and change of scenery often acts as a launch pad for a rebound year. If Smith replaces the injury-ravaged Phil Loadholt at right tackle, the former No. 6 overall pick possesses more than enough talent to produce a comeback season comparable to Donald Penn’s rebirth in Oakland last season – assuming he is able to keep his weight in check.

Thompson: It would be great if Smith was able to earn a starting gig in his first season in Minnesota. Not only would it solidify one of the team’s biggest flaws from last season, but perhaps it would make me think of something else than Smith’sincredibly jiggly 40 at his pro day when I see his name.

Warwas: The offensive line needs to improve and newcomer Smith has a golden opportunity to be a part of the solution right in front of him. Phil Loadholt is his main competition, but even the simple fact that there is a competition should lend some reason for optimism.

27: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR

Patterson 1

“Right now, Patterson is just a good kick returner.”

Anderson: Over the past couple of weeks, the Vikings front office and staff have gone out of their way to throw praise at Patterson. Has Cordarrelle turned a corner? Or are the Vikings building him up to boost whatever trade value lingers? Either way, it all feels like deja vu.

Belisle: Like Kalil, Patterson has one shot to prove he’s worth another contract in Minnesota. He may be one of the league’s most prolific kick returners, but Patterson was drafted to be a wide receiver, and he’s failed miserably in that department.  

Carlson: Right now, Patterson is just a good kick returner. The coaches and staff have been talking up about how hard he has worked on his pass catching game, but that has yet to be shown to fans on the field. Having “Flash” as an offensive tool could really help the team, but Patterson needs to want it.

Erwin: Patterson has as much skill with the ball in his hands as anyone. He is a scoring threat every time he gets a touch. Hopefully he’ll mix in better fundamentals to have a strong year in 2016.

Patterson 2Falk: Patterson is getting quite a bit of run this offseason, but until he starts doing something during the regular season, he is just a glorified kick returner. 

Glover: Patterson is teetering on the edge of being labeled a permanent bust. He can make the frustrations of the past two seasons largely go away if he can step up and be a big part of this receiving corps.

House: All of the praise and reports coming out of spring practices has me extremely positive about Patterson this season. If he has slightly improved, it could be a huge difference-maker for the Vikings offense. However, I don’t want to buy into the hype until I see him practice in training camp. Patterson has talent and if he groomed any of it, watch out.

“Has Cordarrelle turned a corner? Or are the Vikings building him up to boost whatever trade value lingers?”

Knowles: Patterson is getting good reviews from head coach Mike Zimmer heading into training camp. He is a dynamic playmaker with enough talent to be listed much higher than this if he can continue to put it all together in 2016.

Neumann: The “Cordarrelle gets cut” projections have quieted with Zimmer and Spielman going out of their way to praise him in minicamp. Who knows what the real motive is, but I bet Patterson has a role on offense this year.

Patrick: So this is the year that Patterson finally blossoms into the wide receiver Minnesota hoped they were getting in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft right? Nope.

Patterson 3Reid: The hottest debated topic of OTA and mini-camps have been the surprise improvement of the fourth-year receiver. With the Vikings declining the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, has the light bulb finally turned on in his head? I’ve labeled Patterson as “the most explosive player in the NFL once the ball is in his hands”. If the Tennessee product can figure it out, it would give the receiving core a huge boost.

Reidell: There isn’t a correct way to rank Cordarrelle Patterson heading into the 2016 season. If the recent flurry of reports concerning his maturation and development bear fruit, he has elite physical tools to silence all of his doubters immediately. On the other hand, expecting a career-defining breakout season based on reports from OTAs sets the stage perfectly for the most disappointing year of his career to conclude his tenure in Minnesota. Still, Patterson’s unparalleled kickoff return ability warrants consideration on this list even if he doesn’t see the field on offense.

Thompson: He’s saying all the right things this offseason. The coaches are telling us that he’s doing all the right things this offseason. Will it actually translate to wide receiver production on the field? Or is Flash simply a one-trick pony who’s only trick (kick returns) is getting slowly phased out of the game? Maybe all we’re hearing is a sly attempt by the Vikings at increasing Patterson’s trade value. But if he actually can get his [expletive] together and be a productive wideout, suddenly this Vikings wide receiving corps looks pretty formidable.

Warwas: Lack of talent? Nah. Lack of motivation? That’s a theory. Lack of opportunities under the Zimmer regime? No matter what mixture of reasons exist for Patterson’s downward spiral since his rookie season, count me among those that believe he will turn some heads this coming season.

26: Mike Harris, OL

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“Harris was the most consistent lineman not named Joe Berger last year.”

Anderson: Despite having a great 2015 season, it’s unclear whether or not Mike Harris will even begin the upcoming season as a starter on a suddenly crowded offensive line group.

Belisle: The Vikings made signing Harris a priority this offseason, and he’ll compete with Brandon Fusco at left guard. Expect the veteran to reclaim his starting spot from 2015, where he was one of the team’s best lineman. 

Carlson: Harris shouldn’t see the field much at all during the 2016 season unless the team is decimated by injuries. Still, when given opportunities last year, he proved that he could be a reliable guy when called upon.

Erwin: Harris became a bright piece in a shaky group along the offensive line last year. He’s a great run blocker and should start for a long time at guard.

Falk: Harris is one of the Vikings most underrated offensive lineman, adds depth and could push for a starting job in 2016.

Glover: With all the changes expected on the o-line, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harris keep the starting right guard job. Fusco will push him, but Harris was the most consistent lineman not named Joe Berger last year.

House: Mike Harris was one of the biggest surprises last season as he won the right guard job out of training camp. Harris will battle for the starting job on the right side with Brandon Fusco and could give him a run for his money. He exceeded all expectations in 2015 and might do more of it this season.

Harris 2Knowles: Harris is entering his fifth year in the NFL and has performed well in his 21 starts for the Vikings over the past two seasons. The versatile offensive lineman from UCLA can play tackle or guard but will have added competition for a starting job this season.

Neumann: The frontrunner for the starting right guard spot. Even if someone else wins the job, he’ll play in spots.

Patrick: As part of unit that was one of the weakest for the Vikings in 2015, Harris was one of the few bright spots. It will be interesting to see if the competition with Brandon Fusco for a starting spot will bring out the best in Harris.

Reid: One of the most under-rated bright spots among an offensive line that surrendered the ninth-most sacks (45) last season, Harris had an above average 2015. Entering training camp, Harris is a sleeper to supplant Bradon Fusco at right guard.

Reidell: Mike Harris undoubtedly exceeded expectations in his first true opportunity as a starter last season. But, the honeymoon is over now, and Harris’ starting role is in jeopardy with Brandon Fusco switching back over to the left guard position that he appeared to be more comfortable playing. It is also difficult to place high expectations on Harris given that he was a career backup until his age-27 season.

Thompson: Hopefully Harris can back up what was a surprisingly effective season at right guard last year and retain his starting spot. Because if he can’t, there are no sure things behind him.

Warwas: With any luck, Harris will be the third best guard on the 2016 Vikings, because that would prove they really did improve this offseason. Harris was the best offensive lineman this team had last season, in my opinion, and I’m thrilled he is returning whether it be as a starter or critical reserve option.

25: Jarius Wright, WR

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“Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite third down target.”

Anderson: Wright, who is now the veteran leader in a very young receiver group, is reliable in the slot and at times shows a good rapport with Bridgewater. However, with the addition of Treadwell, Digg’s development, and the potential emergence of Patterson (if the praise he’s received in OTAs and minicamp are honest indicators), Wright will be fighting for time on the field in 2016.

Belisle: Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite third down target, Wright should continue to get his looks from the slot. With Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs set to start outside, Wright will benefit underneath — Bridgewater’s favorite area of the field.

Carlson: Wright’s role shouldn’t change much from the 2015 season and his production should remain the same. Despite the addition of Laquon Treadwell, the team should remain fairly constant with how they use the dynamic young pass catcher as Minnesota also released Mike Wallace earlier this offseason. 

Erwin: Wright has been extremely valuable as a slot receiver for Minnesota. He became a trustworthy third down target for Teddy Bridgewater and hopes to get more opportunities in the future.

Wright 1Falk: Wright should nestle into his third receiver role again in 2016 and snap up his usual 40 receptions along with a few big plays. While Wright hasn’t been a huge play-maker over the years, he has been the Vikings most consistent receiver. 

Glover: Wright is going to make some huge plays in the middle of the field this year, as defenses spread out to stop guys like Diggs, Treadwell, and (hopefully) Patterson.

House: Jarius Wright is one of the most dependable players the Vikings have in the passing game. He can get open and make tough catches in traffic. I expect the Vikings to spread the field often and I think we’ll see Wright utilized frequently when Norv Turner runs four wide receiver sets.

“Wright has been the definition of ‘reliable’.”

Knowles: Wright didn’t make my top 30, and I just don’t see him topping 34 receptions for 442 yards (2015) this season. The Vikings have too many weapons and I look for his number to decline once again after a great 2014 season where he caught 42 balls for 588 yards.

Neumann: Firmly entrenched as the slot receiver and a favorite target of Teddy’s.

Patrick: For the amount of loyalty the Vikings organization has shown to Wright during his career, his play on the field has been quite underwhelming. Wright’s spot on the team could be in jeopardy soon due to the quantity of young receivers in Minnesota looking to take away his targets.

Wright 3Reid: Wright has been the definition of “reliable”. The 2012 fourth-round pick seems to always make critical third-down catches for QB Teddy Bridgewater. Look for Wright’s role to remain the same as the Vikings fourth receiver in 2016.

Reidell: For as reliable of a target as Jarius Wright has been in third-down and short-yardage situations, his four-year career resolves very little room for improvement. He is essentially non-existent in the red zone –Teddy Bridgewater has targeted him seven times in 29 games – rarely find success with intermediate and deep routes and ranked fourth in target percentage both in 2014 and 2015. Wright is a very solid player, but his physical limitations restrict him to being more of a situational threat than a high-volume target.

Thompson: Every time Wright makes a big play for the Vikings offense, I find myself thinking, “Wow, that was great. Why don’t we do that more often?” After signing a rather sizable extension last year, it’s time for Jarius to be a more consistently viable option in Norv Turner’s offense.

Warwas: Dependable and versatile. The Vikings showed Wright that they value him highly with his contract extension, and I would expect him to own his fair share of snaps this season, especially as the younger and more raw talent continue to develop.

24: Tom Johnson, DL

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“If Johnson was on nearly any other team in the NFL, he’d be a starter.”

Anderson: Johnson was dominant at times in his rotational and backup role in 2015. With question marks consistently seeming to surround both Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph, it’s possible the Vikings could be required to lean on him again.

Belisle: Though not a household name, Johnson is vital to Zimmer’s rotation along the defensive line. His abilities as a pass rusher make him a key on third downs next to Sharrif Floyd.

Carlson: Johnson proved to be one of the cogs in an efficient defensive tackle rotation that helped get pressure on quarterbacks from inside. While he still needs to be stronger against the run, Johnson is a guy that could likely be a starter on many other teams.

Erwin: What an underrated free agent pickup Johnson has been for the Vikings. He makes the most of his opportunities when Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd aren’t in.

Johnson 2Falk: Johnson has quietly become one of the best signings the Vikings have had in the past few years. Look for him to continue to add depth and rack up over five sacks.

Glover: Johnson is arguably the best backup defensive lineman in the NFL. He’s not Linval Joseph, but when used in a constant rotation, the level of play from the line as a whole has very little drop off.

House: People don’t realize the value that Tom Johnson provides on the Vikings’ defensive line. Johnson notched 5.5 sacks in 2015 and gives the coaches so much flexibility up front. His contract doesn’t break the bank and he is an under-the-radar contributor for this team.

“Johnson has been one of the most underrated players for Minnesota during the last two seasons.”

Knowles: Johnson is coming off a 6.5 sack season as a rotational pass rusher a season ago. His new $7 million three deal is an indication the Vikings are hopeful the 31 year old defensive tackle will continue to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Neumann: I’ve always loved what Johnson brought to the defense, and think his role as a rotational pass-rusher is underrated.

Patrick: Quietly, Johnson has been one of the most underrated players for Minnesota during the last two seasons. It should be no different for 2016, as he will look to sack even more quarterbacks than the six he has averaged for the past two years.

Johnson 3Reid: A player who rarely says much, Johnson just shows up, plays his role and is consistently productive. At 31-years-old, Johnson thrives in a back-up defensive tackle role behind Sharrif Floyd.

Reidell: Tom Johnson doubled down on his career-year in 2014 with an even better showing this past season. But, one has to wonder when the now-31 year old will begin to run out of gas. His pass-rushing consistency both in a rotational role and as a spot-starter has made Sharrif Floyd’s issues with nagging injuries over the past two seasons far less apparent.

Thompson: If Johnson was on nearly any other team in the NFL, he’d be a starter. Thankfully he remains the best backup D-lineman in the league and one of the best kept secrets of a lethal rotation up front.

Warwas: Johnson is always struggling to get playing time it seems, but opponents are always struggling to account for his sudden burst off the line, it also seems.

23: Matt Kalil, OL

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“Hopefully he can make a new Vikings contract worth discussing this year.”

Anderson: I’m probably one of the few people who feel that Kalil had a pretty decent 2015 campaign. Considering it was his first season where he was supposedly healthy and not dealing with lingering injuries, I’m hopeful that his trajectory is pointed in the right direction and we won’t have to blow up the left tackle position and start over.

Belisle: It’s a make-or-break year for Kalil in 2016; the left tackle will make $11 million in guaranteed money for the Vikings this season. Many believe he’s not worth the money, especially after another disappointing outing in 2015. 

Carlson: Expect to see a driven and focused Kalil for the 2016 season. This is a contract year for the offensive tackle and he could cash in big with a contract extension if he has a dominating season.

Erwin: Kalil has had a couple of shaky years but has the most talent of anyone on the offensive line. However, he needs to put a pattern of consistency together in order to protect Teddy Bridgewater.

Falk: Sad to see Kalil ranked this low, but unfortunately he deserves the ranking. With Boone next to him in 2016 it should only help and Kalil will still be an average NFL tackle, but will continue to not live up to his draft selection.

Kalil 2Glover: It’s make or break for Kalil in 2016. He’s had one good year, one bad year, and one okay year. Which Matt Kalil shows up?

House: This is a huge year for Matt Kalil to prove he can return to a serviceable form at left tackle. This is likely his last shot with the team and the leash will be short if he struggles during the season.

Knowles: Kalil is finally heathy and entering a contract year. The 4th overall pick in 2012 is ready to take a step forward in 2016.

Neumann: I’m surprised he’s this far down. Whatever your opinion on Matt Kalil, he’s the team’s starting left tackle, and that makes him one of the more important players on the offense. For better or worse.

Patrick: It is truly hard to find anything positive to say about Kalil other than the fact that his contract is up with the Vikings after the 2016 season.

“Kalil needs this season to prove to the NFL that he deserves a job in this league, or else he’ll be doing the pizza gig full time earlier than planned.”

Reid: After a stellar rookie season in which he made the Pro-Bowl, the fourth-overall pick of the 2012 draft has steadily declined. Entering a contact year, the addition of new offensive line coach Tony Sparano and free agent left guard Alex Boone, I believe we will see Kalil play at a high level in 2016.

Reidell: Matt Kalil and Cordarrelle Patterson have all the wrong stuff in common entering their final seasons under contract in Minnesota. Once thought to be the league’s next great left tackle, injuries and confidence issues have made Kalil’s incredible rookie season has become a distant memory. Contract years have a way of bringing out the best in every athlete, and playing alongside Alex Boone should give him every opportunity to find his mojo, but Kalil will still need to find an answer for athletic outside pass-rushers or begin studying up for his Pieology final …

Thompson: C’mon. Admit it. He wasn’t THAT bad in 2015, especially compared to the two previous seasons. That said, you’re still completely justified in your outrage that a middling (at best) left tackle is making $11 million this year. Before you go wishing Kalil was off the team, make sure there’s someone more competent that could fill in for him–I’m not sure there is right now. Hopefully he can make a new Vikings contract worth discussing this year.

Warwas: With a new neighbor moving in to his east, Kalil needs this season to prove to the NFL that he deserves a job in this league, or else he’ll be doing the pizza gig full time earlier than planned. It isn’t ideal to have money be the only motivator when talking about a player, but it would certainly benefit Kalil’s bank account if he can pull it all together this season.

22: Trae Waynes, CB

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“All eyes will be on Waynes in his second year in hopes of him making the big leap into the starting lineup.”

Anderson: When Waynes was on the field towards the end of the 2015 season, he performed well and instilled some confidence amongst Vikings fans that with another year, he could develop into a strong piece of the Vikings secondary. Training camp will be telling with regards to what his role will be this season but I personally believe that he will be the starter opposite of Rhodes.

Belisle: Waynes flashed late in 2015, playing his best game against the Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. If he can take that momentum into training camp, he has a real shot to validate his status as a first round draft pick and start the season at left cornerback. 

Carlson: This is a massive year for Trae Waynes and he should finally make the move to take over a starting cornerback gig. He had the benefit of sitting behind Newman for season, but also shined at times during the end of last season. There is no reason to think he’ll regress, which is why he’ll be one of the most interesting to watch this year.

Erwin: When Waynes was called upon in his rookie year, he answered the bell. He shows great consistency in defending the pass and breaks on the ball quickly. He will be an important future piece to the Vikings’ secondary.

Falk: All eyes will be on Waynes in his second year in hopes of him making the big leap into the starting lineup. He showed glimpses in his rookie year, but in 2016 we’ll see what we actually have in the former 1st round pick.

Waynes 2Glover: I expect big things out of Waynes this year. Namely, he’s going to start opposite Xavier Rhodes, and he’s going to lead the team in interceptions.

House: Early last year, Trae Waynes was too grabby and relied on his speed. As the season progressed, he improved and after more work in camp, it’s hard to believe he won’t push for starting snaps this season.

Knowles: Waynes hopes to get more opportunities to start opposite of Xavier Rhodes at the boundary cornerback position for the Vikings this season. However, with Terence Newman, Captain Munnerlyn and Mackensie Alexander all in the mix, Waynes will need to prove he is ready to compete.

Neumann: I’d be surprised if he doesn’t end the year as the starter, and think this ranking is at least a few spots too low. No reason Waynes shouldn’t take a big step forward in year two. If he doesn’t, it’s time to worry.

“It’s hard to believe he won’t push for starting snaps this season.”

Patrick: Virtually M.I.A. for all of last season, the hope is that Waynes will step up and become a starter in Minnesota’s 2016 defense. If not, well then that is a whole different problem.

Reid: A player that I think is in for a big season is Trae Waynes. From the Hall-of- Fame game to the playoff heartbreaker against the Seattle Seahawks, Waynes showed vast improvement. He has demonstrated that he’s getting better with every rep. Look for the former first-round pick to take over as a full-time starter for Terence Newman mid-season.

Reidell: There are a number of volatile players on Minnesota’s roster this season, and Trae Waynes likely represents the pinnacle. He has the potential to be in the starting lineup Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans or watch a cornerback nearly twice his age do his job for a second consecutive year. Waynes’ encouraging finish to the 2015 season and reportedly top-notch work ethic argue in favor of a much better sophomore campaign, but he must first answer the bell during training camp to move up this deep and talented list.

Thompson: Time to see what the Redshirt Rookie has to offer this season. Last year he wasn’t ready; this year we’ll see what he learned. If he can’t justify Zimmer giving him more snaps in 2016, Waynes could be close to joining the David Yankey All-Stars (players that came in with a lot of hope but never got out of Zim’s dog house).

Warwas:I predict Waynes will silence all of the doubters eventually. I’m a patient person, but it sure would be nice if he broke out sooner than later.

21: Terence Newman, CB

Newman 1

“Newman proved that age and leadership can be a nice asset in the backend of the defense.”

Anderson: If Trae Waynes develops like we all hope he does, it’s not likely Newman begins the season as a starter. However, having his level of experience, talent and leadership on the bench speaks volumes to how good the Vikings cornerback group can be.

Belisle: Old faithful; Newman may start the season opposite Xavier Rhodes, but he’ll face stiff competition from second-year corner Trae Waynes.

Carlson: Much like Greenway, Newman should see the field less this year. With Trae Waynes looking to grab a starting job, Newman may turn to becoming a rotational or backup player…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a cornerback who will turn 38 this season and is coming off a powerful 2015 season.

Erwin: Newman is another example of smart play in free agency by the Vikings. He played solid in 2015 and has been extremely helpful in mentoring Trae Waynes.

Falk: The old man is still putting up numbers even at the age of 37. The hope is for Waynes to transition into Newman’s spot, but don’t look for the former 5th overall selection to just hand it over.

Newman 2Glover: Like Greenway, probably his last season. I think he’ll lose his starting job but be as much of a coach in pads as a player, and that’s not a bad thing.

House: Terence Newman proved that age and leadership can be a nice asset in the backend of the defense. The team decided to bring him back and if Trae Waynes isn’t ready, he still has some gas left in the tank.

Knowles: Newman won’t play the 981 snaps he did in 2015, but he is a good corner who is still playing at a high level at the age of 37.

Neumann: The starter at corner opposite Xavier Rhodes for now, Newman probably has one more year left in him.

“Let’s hope whatever fountain of youth he was drinking from last season doesn’t run dry.”

Patrick: A pleasant surprise for the Vikings last season, it would not come as a shock to see Newman as one of Minnesota’s two starting cornerbacks when the team opens the season in Tennessee. Like Greenway, Newman makes up for any skills lost over the years with the vast array of knowledge he has gained during his NFL career.

Reid: The biggest surprise of the 2015 season was the stellar play of Newman. Known as the defensive coach on the field having previous experience with Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, the veteran went on to lead the Vikings in interceptions (3). Being that he will turn 38 this upcoming season, I expect Newman to be the Week 1 starter but his reps will decrease as the season goes on to pave the way for 2015 first-round selection Trae Waynes to become a full-time starter.

Reidell: It is remarkable that 38-year-old Terence Newman will enter the 2016 season vying for a starting cornerback role in a top-tier defense. His ability to play bump-and-run with 22 year olds remains a significant asset, but the best-case scenario involves Newman joining the staff at Chad Greenway Leadership and Motivation, LLC and watching Trae Waynes realize his potential from the sidelines … or 12 yards deep in zone coverage?

Thompson: You know what they say about cornerbacks: as soon as they hit 38 years old, their production falls off a cliff. Wait, nobody says that. How is Newman still good at football? Let’s hope whatever fountain of youth he was drinking from last season doesn’t run dry, because the Vikings could definitely use him in the secondary again.

Warwas: You can never have too many good cornerbacks and Newman is a good one. Without any preseason injuries, Newman’s job may not be secure given his age and the younger talents on this roster, but it is hard to argue that he was not a valuable part of the 2015 run to the Division crown.

All images courtesy of Vikings.com.