4 ‘Surprise’ Players That Could Start for Vikings in September

Mike Zimmer
May 26, 2021; Eagan, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from adding a free-agent defensive end or third wide receiver, the Minnesota Vikings roster is relatively ‘set’ from a depth standpoint. It’s nearing July, and general manager Rick Spielman has pulled off a studious mission in fortifying the depth chart, especially on the defensive side of things.

Onlookers to the team have theories as to who will start and where, firming up plans for the superstars like Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Justin Jefferson, Harrison Smith, and Adam Thielen to assume their roles.

Yet, other spots aren’t crystal clear. The training camp and preseason events — which will actually happen this year, unlike last summer — will determine the fate of some wait-and-see position battles.

These are the four men that could surprisingly ascend the depth chart, landing starting gigs before the first month of the season caps.

Patrick Jones II (DE)

Patrick Jones II

Sep 12, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Patrick Jones II (91) rushes at the line of scrimmage against the Austin Peay Governors during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 55-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Write this down: Patrick Jones II is the direct replacement for Yannick Ngakoue via trade. Late last summer, Spielman sent a 2nd-Round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Ngakoue, shoring up the other side of the defensive line opposite Danielle Hunter. Well, Hunter was lost for the season, and Ngakoue never really fit inside Minnesota’s defense. Resultingly, Spielman flipped Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2021 3rd-Round draft choice — and that turned out to be Jones II.

Stephen Weatherly is the presumptive RDE, but his career resume indicates he is not an ironclad specimen for the job. The Mike Zimmer-led Vikings rarely start rookie EDGE rushers out of the gate. However, that’s generally because men like Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, and Danielle Hunter already own(ed) a stranglehold on the job. Weatherly is more vulnerable. With a good training camp, it is feasible that Jones II could rise to power.

Bashaud Breeland (CB)

Bashaud Breeland

Jan 12, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland (21) reacts against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This brash man doesn’t fill the role of backup anything amid career stops with the Washington Football Team, Green Bay Packers, or Kansas City Chiefs. Breeland is a starter, no matter the destination.

If he started with the 2019 world champion Chiefs — hint: he did — why in the hell wouldn’t he start for the Super Bowl-less Vikings? Stuff to think about.

The “problem” is that Zimmer already has a potpourri of players that also hope to start. Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, and Mackensie Alexander come to mind. Even a theoretical exoneration of Jeff Gladney would thicken the plot.

Breeland signed on the dotted line with Spielman to start at CB2, probably next to Patrick Peterson. This battle will be among training camp’s most interesting.

Chazz Surratt (LB)

Chazz Surratt

Nov 27, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) passes the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt (21) pressures in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr will start at Cincinnati in Week 1 — you can just jot that down in blood right now. After those two Bruins, though, the weakside linebacker projection is murky. Nick Vigil, a free-agent addition from the Los Angeles Chargers, is the frontrunner.

But teammates are high on Chazz Surratt, a rookie linebacker from the University of North Carolina. Kendricks said recently said about his teammate Surratt:

I feel like oftentimes that shows the kind of athlete the player is and just their football IQ and their football comfortability. … I also played quarterback in high school. … You’d think it would be a tougher transition, but you’re actually very in tune with the game.

And that’s high praise from one of the team’s most esteemed leaders — a soundbite that certainly wasn’t required for Kendricks to fling out of the general public.

If “all Surratt has to do” is dethrone Vigil, perhaps the Tar Heel will see early starting action.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette (WR)

Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette returns a 98-yard kickoff for a touchdown in the second quarter against USC during the Holiday Bowl on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, at the SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
20191227 Holidaybowl

Believe it when you see it on this one. The Vikings — like clockwork — opt for a WR4 or WR5-like caliber WR3s heading into a given season. They do it every year. From Laquon Treadwell, Bisi Johnson, to Chad Beebe, Zimmer is content with a serviceable WR3, not an exciting one.

Because of speed, Smith-Marsette is a tantalizing option should he climb the ranks at training camp. This gig will be the easiest to win among suspect starting jobs as the team vividly knows what it’s getting in Johnson and Beebe.

Smith-Marsette was chosen in the 5th Round of the 2021 NFL Draft — the same round as Stefon Diggs six years ago — so emotional parallels can be drawn to the now-departed-to-Buffalo former Viking.

Fans would celebrate a breakout party from Smith-Marsette because Vikings history used to fancy good WR3s — like Jake Reed.