6 Players On The Vikings’ Cut Bubble

NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks recently released his list of the 10 most talented teams in 2016, and believe it or not, the Vikings made his top five.

Brooks ranks the teams based upon how many “blue-chip players” are on the roster, which are those regarded as “among the top players in the NFL at their respective positions.” He says “championship teams usually have around eight to 10 blue-chip players on the roster.”

Brooks lists Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith as blue-chip players that should help the Vikings be one of the heavyweight contenders in the NFC.

Not only do the Vikings have a solid core of blue-chip players, but GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer are also collecting a growing list of rising young talent.

Acquiring too much talent is never a bad thing for an NFL franchise, that is as long as you’re not a player dangerously close to the 53-man cut bubble.

The Vikings’ coaching staff may need to burn some late-night oil when they begin the process of narrowing this talent-rich team down to the top 53 players. With OTA’s in full swing and the competition process ramping up for training camp, here are six prominent players who might find themselves in peril of losing their roster spots.

1) Shaun Hill

Entering his 15th season in the NFL, the undrafted quarterback from Maryland has carved a nice niche as a quality backup compiling a 16-18 career record. The veteran quarterback has thrown for over 8,000 yards and 49 touchdowns in his career. Hill looked very good in preseason a year ago throwing three touchdown passes and completing 73.5% of his throws. However, rookie Taylor Heinicke was the quarterback that stole the show for the Vikings completing 69.5% of his throws and leading the team with 516 total yards passing. Heinicke will once again get the majority of the work this preseason as well. If the record setting quarterback from Old Dominion can prove that last year was no fluke, he could push Hill for that No. 2 quarterback position. Heinicke’s mobility and natural pocket presence gives him an advantage over the less athletic Hill. If Heinicke can stake his claim as Teddy Bridgewater’s top backup, cutting Hill and his $3,250,000 salary could help offset Harrison Smith’s new monster contract. According to Judd Zulgad, the Vikings are still well under the salary cap, but you can rest assured Rob Brzezinski (executive vice president of football operations) and the other bean counters at Winter Park will be looking for any means available to balance Smith’s new $10 million signing bonus.

2) Audie Cole

Ever since Cole had two pick-sixes on consecutive plays in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills as a rookie, he’s become a fan favorite in Minnesota. The 2012 seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State has been a productive reserve linebacker for the Vikings racking up 74 career tackles when he’s had the opportunity to step into the lineup. The problem is his opportunities have been few and far between under Mike Zimmer’s leadership. Zimmer and the Vikings have been busy adding linebackers via the draft over past three offseasons selecting Anthony Barr and Brandon Watts in 2014, Eric Kendricks and Edmond Robinson in 2015, and Kentrell Brothers this year. The Vikings also re-signed Chad Greenway and added Bengal’s linebacker Emmanuel Lamur during free agency this year. The Vikings have built a talented and crowded group of linebackers which now puts Cole on the bubble.

3) Rhett Ellison

In Week 17 last season, the Vikings’ best blocking tight end tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. It’s a major injury that could mean Ellison spends the early part of this season on the PUP list. Ellison has started 35 games over the last four seasons and has caught 42 passes for 458 yards and three touchdowns in Minnesota. Ellison was the Vikings’ fourth-round pick in 2012 from the University of Southern California. 2015 fifth-round tight end, MyCole Pruitt, and 2016 sixth-round pick, David Morgan, will need to step up and fill Ellison’s role. Zach Line could also get an opportunity to show more of his versatility as a blocker in Ellison’s absence.

4) Scott Crichton

Crichton did not have the breakout year or make the type of leap many thought he would last season. The 2014 third-round defensive end was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a concussion and neck injury in December while only accounting for 8 combined tackles on the year. This season his spot on the 53-man roster is certainly not guaranteed. The Vikings have solid veteran leadership in Everson Griffen and Brian Robison at the top of the defensive end depth chart. 2015 third-round pick, Danielle Hunter, collected 6 sacks and 33 tackles as a rookie flashing an upside that has fans excited to see more. Crichton may struggle winning a final spot on the depth chart as Zach Moore, Justin Trattou and Stephen Weatherly are all in the mix for a roster spot.

5) Antone Exum

Exum had a strong game in his first career start against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 filling in for Harrison Smith (inactive with a knee injury). However, Exum fractured a rib against the Seattle Seahawks the following week to end the season on injured reserve. Exum logged 13 total tackles in the first 12 games as a reserve safety last season. In his 144 snaps, Pro Football Focus gave him a 53.7 grade. In the final four regular season games, safety Anthony Harris was promoted to the active roster and also played surprisingly well. Harris saw action in 148 snaps and collected 15 total tackles and a Pro Football Focus grade of 87.0. Harris made his starting NFL debut against the Arizona Cardinals where he led all Vikings with 76 snaps and recorded 10 tackles (six solo). The Vikings signed free agent safety Michael Griffin and also re-signed Andrew Sendejo. Griffin and Sendejo will probably rotate at the starting spot beside Smith in 2016. Exum, Harris and rookie seventh-round pick Jayon Kearse should all be competing for a final roster spot at the safety position.

The Vikings re-signed cornerback Terrence Newman who can play safety if needed. It’s also worth noting that the Vikings re-signed Marcus Sherels to a two year 4 million contract with a whopping 1.5 million guaranteed. Based on his new contract, I think his roster spot is probably safe. So, the Vikings might choose to carry more corners and fewer safeties by trying to hide a couple the young safeties on the practice squad. At any rate, Exum finds himself among one of the most interesting and competitive position battles to watch this preseason.

6) Shamar Stephen

Last season, Stephen was carted off the field with a toe injury against Kansas City on October 18th and was place on season-ending injured reserve. A seventh-round pick by the Vikings in 2014, Stephen saw action in all 16 games his rookie season. However, before landing on IR last year, he only had three total tackles and struggled in run support. The Vikings signed defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis (third-round pick by the Jets in 2011) to replace Stephen on the roster. Ellis has 59 career tackles and recorded 8 of those tackles while playing in the final 10 games as part of a defensive line rotation for the Vikings. Ellis is listed as 6-4 346 pounds and his run stopping advantage might help him steal a roster spot over Stephen in 2016.

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Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

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    1. It would be insane to cut Clemmings. He’s too athletic and has 16 games of starting experience. Yes, he needed help but he wasn’t horrible, and Peterson had far more success running behind him and Harris on the right than he did running behind Kalil and Fusco on the left side. By rights, Clemmings should be competing with Austin Sirles to back up or replace Kalil at left tackle.

  1. It’s hard to figure his assumptions. Brandon Watts probably won’t make the team, maybe he didn’t achieve “bubble” status. Ellis has to be bubble if Stephen is. They really needed Stephen last year when DT injuries hit. ..more position flexibility than Ellis. I think Price, Trattou, Easton and Sirles should be on this list also.

    1. I don’t know about Easton and Sirles. The former is considered a possible starting center in the NFL, perhaps for the Vikes if Sully’s body gives out on him and with Berger already in his mid-30’s. And Sirles is currently listed as the starting LT on the depth chart; yes, I know it’s early, but that at least means he’s in the running to be a swing tackle off the bench.

  2. I would be shocked if Shamar Stephen failed to make the 53. Ellis was signed off of the street during the regular season for a reason. He was a nice pick up in a time of need, but is mainly just a run stopper playing behind Linval Joseph. Stephen can play both nose tackle and 3 technique, and Zimmer likes positional flexibility.

    If the roster was not as deep, I could see both Stephen and Ellis making the final 53, but it seems more likely that they will only keep 4 defensive tackles.

    Carl could have crafted a really long list if he wanted to. There are a lot more than 6 guys on the bubble this year, along with even more players who have no realistic hope of making the 53 man roster.

    1. I really wish I knew what Ellis’ PFF scores have been, and position flexibility is all well and good, but if they don’t have anyone else at DT besides Linval Joseph who can stop the run at NT, we’re in trouble if he goes down for any extended period of time. Ellis sounds like he may be better against the run than Stephen, Sharrif Flloyd and Tom Johnson, and that could trump Stephen’s wider range of talents.

      1. 2015 PFF grade… Ellis 65.6 and Stephen 48.2.
        Stephen had surgery in the preseason and didn’t look as good as he did as a rookie.

        I will say that the Vikings must be happy with both because they didn’t draft a DT in a loaded class.

        1. Carl, that is some good info.

          You are right, Stephen was dinged up all last year. As I recall, it started before he even got to training camp. He flew into Minneapolis, and his knee swelled up during the plane flight. He tried to play through it, but eventually he needed to have surgery in October.

          The interesting thing is that Stephen ended up getting almost as many snaps last year as Ellis did. Stephen: 65, Ellis: 89. Of course, Ellis also did not have the benefit of training camp with the Vikings, and probably needed some time to get up to speed.

          Another interesting stat is their ages. Stephen: 25, Ellis: 28. Ellis has likely peaked as a player, Stephen should still be on the rise.

      2. Gaston that was picked up will play NT. He finished the season with the bears. Played 7 games with the bears. He made the packers 53 man roster coming out of training camp with the packers. He is young.big and fast. He will be a pleasant surprise.

        1. I agree Redhawk,Gaston is my dark horse selection to make the roster.Coming out of college scouts tagged him as a rotational guy in a 4/3,but so far he has been in 3/4 defences.In his interview a couple weeks ago he said he was looking forward to playing in a 4/3 as this is his strength,and he realises it’s his best chance to grab a permanent roster spot.Kid sounds like he wants to put in the work to stick with the Vikes.

          1. yeah nose tackle is his original spot, he feels more comfortable in the 4-3, he played the last game of the season on the bears vs lions, he had strafford on the run. he can move for a big guy.i can’t wait to see him finally play.

  3. Yes, the list is long. Stephen and Ellis will be a good position battle to watch. I listed Stephen because he has been on the roster longer (bigger surprise if you will).
    I also agree that Watts could get cut. I didn’t list him because he hasn’t played a big enough roll yet.
    I think the Vikings will keep 6 WRs, so the roster core from last year should be safe.

  4. Sirles and Loadholt got plenty of first team work in at OTA’s… kind of silly to list them at this point… but nobody is really safe I guess.

    1. I tend to think that between Andre Smith and Loadholt, the loser of the battle to start at RT will be cut to save money and, perhaps just as importantly, a roster or practice squad spot for one of the young tackles (Clemmings, Sirles, Shepherd and Bykowski).

      1. I agree. Don’t see them keeping Smith and Loadholt. Cutting whoever loses is also a nice professional courtesy to those guys – let sign elsewhere to get more PT.

  5. Wow! A lot of talent on this roster! Can’t say who should stay and who should go, but with loaded roster and extra pix from Dolphins, look for us to package and move up for then to be determined ‘final piece of the puzzle’ next April.

  6. I don’t think the Vikings woukd cut Hill because they signed Smith. As you stated they are still under the cap and their objective is to out the best team in the field. The decision will be based on which back up QB gives the team the best chance to win.