Andy: Right Guard and Safety [Not Named Harrison]
With Fusco shifting to the left side, it’s been a gong show of potential right guard suitors with second-year Papa Yank rotating in with the two rookies Tyrus Thompson and TJ Clemmings. Clemmings seemed to be the favorite before OTAs, but now it’s anyone’s game. What is nice is the depth of young competition at what was a problem position group last season due to injury and ineptitude.
At the safety opposite Harrison, I’m just looking for anyone who passes the BTB (Better-Than-Blanton) Scale (patent pending). Boxscore scouts overrate Blanton because of his high tackle numbers, but we Vikings fans know. It’s easy to pad your tackle stats when your man is wide open and catches it in front of you. I’m not sure if Sendejo is anything more than a good special teamer at this point. Taylor Mays is a Zimmer guy, but he has always been a liability in coverage. But my two love interests are second-year man (and special teams penalty hobbyist) Antone Exum and undrafted free agent Anthony Harris. Like the guard spot, we have some young depth. May the best man win. Or at least pass the BTB Scale.
Brett: Strong Safety
Though there are multiple intriguing position battles as the Vikings prepare to head to training camp, I think the most interesting is at strong safety. I’m higher than most on Robert Blanton but would be lying if I told you I believe he’s the long-term answer opposite Harrison Smith. The Vikings drafted Antone Exum last year and picked up UDFA Anthony Harris this year. Both guys should push Blanton for a starting spot, especially if Blanton continues to be plagued by injuries. The unexpected release of Taylor Mays the morning of the first day of mini-camp means it’s up to one of the two younger challengers to unseat Blanton and break up the Fighting Irish tandem currently at safety.
Brent: Cornerback and Wide Receiver
Both positions are fairly crowded and have some known starters, but there is plenty of opportunity for some depth chat upheaval.
At cornerback, big things are expected from Xavier Rhodes, but we’re not exactly sure who will line up on the other side of the field. Waynes, Newman and Robinson will all battle through camp for that starting role. As for the nickel back, Captain Munnerlyn spent OTAs in a walking boot after coming off a mediocre first season with the team.
Looking to wide receiver, Mike Wallace will lead the charge and hopefully Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright can build off of break-out seasons last year. The real question is how many receivers the team decides to carry. With Patterson, Thielen and Diggs all looking to make the final 53, there will be plenty to watch during camp.
Adam: Wide Receiver
There are a lot of fun competitions to consider on the defensive side of the football, but the willingness and ability to rotate in Mike Zimmer’s schemes rubs some of the gloss away from the “starter” label at a number of positions. I think the most interesting casting choices available are at the wide receiver position. Mike Wallace seems unlikely to be anything other than the number one, but after that things get really interesting.
Charles Johnson was the over-achiever that earned the trust of the coaches in a very short period of time, and it seems like it is his job to lose. Cordarrelle Patterson still has the upside to be one of the NFL’s most dangerous playmakers and has been working hard this offseason to earn back the playing time he saw at the end of his rookie campaign. Jarius Wright has proven plenty capable of making a difference at key moments and he is entering a critical point in his career with plenty of money depending on his ability to progress even more. Stefon Diggs is the exciting rookie with the versatility to ensure he gets a chance to prove himself in year one. Adam Thielen continues to be a local favorite that never seems to be out of position, while rookie Isaac Fruechte certainly wouldn’t mind taking over in that respect.
There are plenty of interesting positions up for grabs, but the depth at receiver just oozes potential in terms of talent and story lines.
Lindsey: Right Guard and Wide Receiver
I’m definitely excited to see Brandon Fusco being utilized at left guard, so of course that leaves the right side open. I loved the TJ Clemmings draft pick, and I still think he’ll probably have the edge to get that starting position, but it sounds like rookie Tyrus Thomas is also getting plenty of reps there during OTA’s. The more competition, the better, as it will spur both guys on to really dig deep and give the position their absolute best.
Wide receiver is also a tricky hand. On paper it might seem like the Vikings have a lot of depth at WR because there are so many options, but I’ll be the pessimist here and say I wouldn’t necessarily call it “depth” as there are a lot of question marks. I’m hoping Mike Wallace proves to be the asset people are saying he will be, but I haven’t been quite as sold on him as most are. I loved what I saw from Charles Johnson last season, and I’m hoping we see even more action from him in 2015. Cordarrelle Patterson could be at either extreme as well, and Adam Thielen hinted at some serious improvements last year.
Austin: Wide Receiver
I was tempted to put middle linebacker here, but the wide receiver position is arguably the most difficult to determine. What was a weak group at the beginning of the offseason has quietly become a conundrum for Norv Turner and staff. In Turner’s eyes, Johnson is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver, and new addition Mike Wallace has been lining up with the first team offense throughout minicamp. In the slot, Jarius Wright has replaced Greg Jennings, who was released and signed by the Miami Dolphins. Behind that group (11 personnel — 1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers), Cordarrelle Patterson has been running with the second-team offense. Fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs could make an early impact on special teams, and fan favorite Adam Thielen may be the odd-man out.
I’ll be interested to see where Patterson lands; he’s a supreme talent who experienced a regression in 2014, but coaches have heaped praise on the third-year player this offseason and expect big things in 2015. I don’t believe he’ll overtake Wright, but Turner will look to get the ball in Patterson’s hands, either through bubble screens, jet sweep, or runs out of the backfield.