AnalysisTraining Camp

Early Candidates for Top Vikings Training Camp Battles

We are roughly two months away from the projected start of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp. This is of course assuming that the NFL will be operating at that time, which seems to be the plan with the league giving teams the ability to open their facilities. If training camp goes as planned, it will be an interesting one for the Vikings, who selected 15 players in this year’s draft, seven of which were in the first four rounds. Here is some of those camp battles to (hopefully) look forward to.

Tajae Sharpe vs Olabisi Johnson vs Justin Jefferson for WR2/3

This is the first battle in camp and probably the most interesting one to watch for the casual fan. Jefferson obviously brings clout being the Vikings first overall pick and coming off a year where he lit up the SEC en route to an LSU national championship. However, the Vikings obviously made a commitment to the new guy Sharpe by signing him in a year where they didn’t have much cap space to maneuver. Throw in Olabisi Johnson who did an excellent job when given opportunities last year, but may not have a high enough ceiling to justify playing over Jefferson, and you have a three god fight that should be a good one.

Personally, my money is on Jefferson and Johnson to get the second and third wide receiver spots respectively. That leaves Sharpe as a possible odd-man out, similar to Jordan Taylor last season. Sharpe’s dead cap hit isn’t enough to save him from a possible cut and with the Vikings stacking young talent, the 25-year old will have to fight for his life to grab a roster spot.

Pat Elflien vs Dru Samia vs Dakota Dozier vs Ezra Cleveland for LG/RG

The Minnesota Vikings biggest weakness on offense the last couple of seasons, or really the last decade or thereabouts, was their offensive line. Although Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill are serviceable tackles, Pat Elflien has been a disaster at left guard and management let Josh Kline go after one fairly good, if injury riddled, season. That leaves two big holes on either side of second year center Garrett Bradbury.

The Vikings could choose to fill those holes with Dakota Dozier, who looked okay in his backup role last season, and hope that year two of Elflien at guard is more successful than the first. However, they have much more compelling and younger options in sophomore Dru Samia and rookie Ezra Cleveland. 

Cleveland played left tackle at Boise State, and is projected to eventually play there for the Vikings, but he could slide inside and get NFL experience while also learning from Riley Reiff in practice. Samia was hyped last year in preseason, but only played in two games during the regular season. However, with a year of watching and learning under his belt, offensive line coach Rick Dennison might just be ready to trust Samia.

In this battle, I’ll have to go with Elflien and Samia starting the season, but not for long. I think Cleveland has a good chance to bump Elflien, and only with an injury do we see Pat back on the field in 2020. Then hopefully the Elflien experiment will be over.

Armon Watts vs Shamar Stephen vs Hercules Mata’afa vs Jaleel Johnson for 3-tech DT

With the departure of Linval Joseph, the Vikings needed to replace his power on the defensive front. Luckily, they seem to have done that by bringing in the massive Michael Pierce from Baltimore. That addresses half of the biggest issue that the team had on defense last season which was that the defensive tackles were constantly manhandled and pushed out of the way.

In fairness to Joseph, he was injured for a good portion of the season and he didn’t have the best counterpart. Shamar Stephen, after a year in Seattle, returned with a contract fit for a good starting defensive tackle. However, Stephen was mediocre in stopping the run and somehow worse in the pass rush.

This will, hopefully, prompt the Vikings to find an answer to compliment the newly signed Pierce. They could stick with the status quo, and try to justify the money they spent, by keeping Stephen playing or they could give a chance to a number of talented players waiting in the wings. Armon Watts and Hercules Mata’afa flashed in the pass rush when used last season, and Jaleel Johnson has been okay in the run game.

This battle may end in a strange tie with Zimmer and company running all these players out in rotation, but my money would be on Watts and Mata’afa being the clear cut winners come week one. They each just have more to offer in the long run than the others.

Hughes vs Hill vs Gladney vs Boyd vs Dantzler for CB

This is truly my favorite battle upcoming. With the departure of Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, and Mackensie Alexander the cornerback position is wide open. You factor in that the Vikings just spent two of their top picks on high upside guys in Cam Dantzler and Jeff Gladney to go with former first rounder Mike Hughes and, oft in trouble but so much potential, Holton Hill and special teams darling Kris Boyd, and you’ve got a recipe for magic. Or it could be that none of them pan out and we’re all left empty inside.

Either way, this should be a good battle. Hill and Hughes have the obvious advantage and are, as of now, my picks to be the team’s starting outside corners when they break camp. That leaves Gladney and Boyd to fight for the slot corner and Nickel spots.

However, I think there is a good chance that the surprise of camp, and possible steal of the draft, is Cam Dantzler. Dantzler has the ability to be a shutdown guy and gave some of the best receivers in the college game trouble last season. He’s got issues, but if anybody can get his technique cleaned up and turn him into a gem it’s Zimmer.

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Kirby O'Connor

Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.

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9 Comments

  1. Hill over Gladney? Then why did we take Gladney? No way I see this happening. I do think Dantzler could be very good and that later in the year they might battle to see who starts and who plays the nickel. One way or another, we have a lot more talent and depth at DB now which is refreshing. One other thing, if we took Cleveland OT to slide into the OG position and if Eflein is that bad, why didn´t we take an OG that was ranked in the top 300 players in the draft? That has to be the biggest head scratcher from a draft where we had 13 picks, that and not using a pick on a second WR other than on the kid from Miami who is a punt return specialist.

    1. I think Hill has the upper hand given Zimmer’s reluctance to give too much responsibility to rookie defensive backs. Gladney is certainly the future, but history tells us the coaches are very likely to sit him. Also, this draft was thin at the guard position which may have been the reason that Spielman didn’t get one. Likely they didn’t see “their guy” at any of their draft positions and Rick has already stated that Cleveland has a chance to slide around while learning the NFL game. I do agree that they should have somehow leveraged those picks into another true guard instead of spending picks on players who will only be utilized on special teams, and likely just kickoffs at that.

  2. Good read. Was wondering why you don’t have the Lynch kid from Baylor in the 3 tech mix. He is a tweener on measurables but has 3 tech size w DE pass rush skills. I think he plays in pass downs at 3 tech. Remember Vikes are not deep at DE anymore so Lynch is a way to get pass rush skills vs offensive guards Vikes will need since Watts & Griffen are gone. battle for WR 2 & 3. Is really a battle for 3 & 4. Jefferson is getting and will earn WR 2. WR 3 should go to highest ceiling. Neither Sharp nor Johnson has Cathedral ceilings but clearly Sharpe has more upside & measurable s and experience than Johnson. Johnson is never a mismatch but will always catch the ball. That generic solidity is classic #4 but he should beware of RAC specialist Quartney Davis. Good read. Love Vikes discussions & tseting opinions.

  3. Would add Oli Udoh to the guard battle. Both Spielman and Zimmer praised his performance where he held up against Kalil Mack. And given there is not really space for him as an OT now and as well (somebody had an article on it before but I forget the player) Dennison once had a potential tackle move to guard because the team he was coaching had solid tackles and the guy was a stud.. Not saying Udoh will win a starting job but I would bet he gets a chance to win it. Also it was telling that the Vikings really did not feel they needed to draft IOL when they easily could of… This kind of implies they have 2 names penciled in and unless one of them gets beat they are in.. Obviously Samia is a probable starter but I think Udoh has a good shot as well. Lets face it, Dozier is a back up but no more and Elfein has been a disappointment.

  4. Once again Oli Udoh is left off these stupid ass list. What is it. The Black guy isn’t smart enough. Because he is clearly bigger stronger faster and nastier than the rest of them yet he is left off the list. It makes ne sick. I don’t get. If he is smart enough to play tackle he sure as hell can play Guard.

    1. Race has nothing to do with it and I never questioned his intelligence. As far as I know Udoh is considered a tackle and not in the competition for the guard spot. That’s why I left him off. I also think he holds more value at tackle and should stay learning there.

    1. I just went back and watched every snap he played in 2019 on Gamepass. He played exactly zero snaps at any position that wasn’t right tackle. I have faith in the guy and hope he can compete for a spot, but I didn’t include him because as far as I know he is purely a tackle. It was perhaps an oversight as another comment said because there isn’t an immediate spot for him to compete for at tackle, but I think he will likely be competing with Rashod Hill for the backup swing tackle position. You don’t need to defend him, but I feel the need to defend myself when somebody casually suggests that I’m not including somebody based on their race.

  5. Co-sign.

    And including race?

    We cover the NFL, if we didn’t like black guys we’d cover hockey or get some 1950’s version of game pass.

    That says more about YOU than him or us. And you’re better than that. Dude. You’re one of our bigger supporters, give us some credit and stop using wedge issues BS everywhere.

    Please?

    I have worked with A LOT of people in this industry. Kirby is my editor because he’s a decent human being and I started my own company because I was sick of working with assholes all the time (did high level corporate b2b sales).

    Cut us some slack. This isn’t as easy as people think and there’s little reward … especially with the covid impact on ad sales.

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