Former Vikings GM’s Depth Chart and Camp Observations

6 Winners from
Aug 5, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) takes the field during training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

In perusing the Vikings initial depth chart, several things jumped out at me based on my observations at training camp practices and thinking about the Vikings salary cap while understanding not to read too much into a depth chart at this juncture in training camp (which was Coach Kevin O’Connell’s message in his Monday media session). Here are the positions and situations that caught my eye:

Former Vikings GM’s Depth Chart and Camp Observations

Running Back: This is an interesting area, as I’ve watched the backs in training camp practices. Third-year man Kene Nwangwu is listed as the No. 2 running back behind Alexander Mattison, who is running well in camp and will replace the departed Dalvin Cook as the starter (Mattison actually was the better short-yardage back last season but not the home run threat that Cook was). 

Nwangwu has the speed to make long runs, as he has shown with his excellent kickoff returning. But he’s been out with a minor injury recently. I like the shifty Ty Chandler — last year’s fifth-rounder who was impressive last year in preseason and looks good in camp — to win the No. 2 spot. Rookie seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride also will have his chances to impress the coaches with lots of preseason playtime. 

Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) carries the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings run game ranked 28th, while the passing game was sixth best last year. There is a lot of emphasis at camp practices on improving the rushing attack to balance the offense better, and the No. 2 running back spot is essential to give Mattison relief (and Mattison has had a few injury issues over his first four seasons).  

Wide Receiver: It seems like the Vikings are bringing in a new wide receiver every other day, with former Patriots first-rounder N’Keal Harry signing this week. He has 64 career catches and played in seven games for the Bears last season with only seven catches. 

Jalen Reagor, a backup receiver and the punt returner for the Vikings last season, is currently listed as a third-team wide receiver behind Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, Jordan Addison, and Jalen Nailor. Ex-Ram Brandon Powell (who played for O’Connell in L.A.) also is in camp, and he had 24 catches for 156 yards last season for the Rams, along with being their punt returner. Powell has a 9.6 career punt return average compared to Reagor’s 8-yard average over his three-year career and only 6.4 yards per return last season. 

Vikings 2022 Trade
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Reagor (5) celebrates a catch against the New York Jets during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

This spells trouble for Reagor, who has a $2.4 million salary compared to Powell at $1.08 and Harry at that same $1 million level. The Vikings could make Reagor a cap casualty if he doesn’t have a very good camp along with performing well in preseason games and joint practices, and if he doesn’t outshine Powell in the return game and as a fourth or fifth receiver.

Right Guard: Last year’s second-round pick Ed Ingram started every game and was fine as a run blocker but shaky in pass protection as he allowed the most pressures among the Vikings O-linemen. The coaches hope he makes a big step forward in his second season, as often occurs with young players. Blake Brandel was a 2020 sixth-round pick who has been a backup tackle and started three games last season when Christian Darrisaw was hurt. Brandel also played some as an extra lineman in short-yardage situations. He is now listed as a backup to Ingram and could be a possible starter if Ingram does not step up his game—especially in pass protection–this season. 

Tight End: Johnny Mundt was the second tight end behind T.J. Hockenson last season until Irv Smith (now in Cincinnati) returned from injury late in the year. With the arrival of Josh Oliver, Mundt is back to No. 3 tight end and could be cut to save money on the cap (with his $1.23 million cap hit vs. second-year tight end and last year’s seventh-round pick Nick Muse). 

Defensive Line: It’s a similar situation here as the Vikings may look to save some cap room that will be needed after the final cut when all players count vs. Top 51 in preseason. Current third-team defensive ends Jaquelin Roy (2023 fifth round) and ex-Golden Gopher Esezi Otomewo (2022 fifth round) would both be less costly than Jonathan Bullard and Ross Blacklock, who are both over $1 million in salary and are second string currently behind Dean Lowry and Harrison Phillips at DE. 

Inside Linebacker: Harrison Smith said in an NFL Network interview that an under-the-radar player to watch at camp and in preseason games is undrafted Ivan Pace, Jr., who is currently a third-teamer on the depth chart. Special teams are where a player like Pace can make a significant impact and earn a roster spot as he perhaps becomes a bigger contributor at linebacker in the future. He’s undersized at 5-10 but stout enough at 230 pounds. He can run and make plays, as we’ve seen in camp, and he was a great tackler in college at Cincinnati, so he’s a player to watch, as Smith suggests.   

Mar 1, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr. (LB23) speaks to the press at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Cornerback: Listing Akayleb Evans ahead of Andrew Booth as an outside corner starter with Byron Murphy is unsurprising. Evans played better than Booth last season until he was sidelined with concussions. Booth already has missed time in camp with a minor injury, and he was often hurt in college and last season as a rookie. It was mildly surprising to see third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon listed as a third-stringer behind Booth and Joejuan Williams when Blackmon has consistently lined up as the third corner with the starting defense in recent practices. 

Safety: It appears as if last year’s top pick Lewis Cine will not take Cam Bynum’s spot as a starting safety with Harrison Smith. Currently, Cine and Josh Metellus are the backups; either or both may see action in specific packages employed by DC Brian Flores. 

The three preseason games and the joint practices with Tennessee and Arizona over the next couple of weeks are of utmost importance to the players mentioned above who are battling for starting positions and roster spots. 

Other Observations from Training Camp leading into preseason opener Thursday in Seattle: 

1. Murphy is getting plenty of work in one-on-ones against the league’s best receiver in Jefferson, and he’s doing ok, which is great for the defensive coaches to see and good for Murphy’s preparation and confidence for the season ahead. 

Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; USC wide receiver Jordan Addison reacts after being selected by the Minnesota Vikings twenty-third overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. | Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) looks on during warmups before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

2. Addison has been impressive in early camp with his route running and catching ability. Jefferson and Cousins praised his progress, and both say he’s doing a “great job learning the offense.” Cousins also called the 2023 first-round pick a “natural” catcher of the football and said he is strong in the critical area of making contested catches. 

O’Connell said Addison would play in the Seattle game, so he will be a player to watch on Thursday when almost all starters are likely to be held out or maybe play one series (except players such as Jefferson and Hunter, who should never play in preseason) as was O’Connell’s approach last preseason. The starters will be in action next week on Wednesday and Thursday in the joint practices with the Titans (with the possible exception of Brian O’Neill and Danielle Hunter, who are being eased back in, O’Neill as he comes off his Achilles injury from late last season and Hunter due to his hold-in the first week of camp after missing OTAs and minicamp due to his contract). 

3. In the Seattle game, I’ll focus on the quarterback play of backup Nick Mullens and rookie fifth-rounder Jaren Hall. The coaches and Cousins have praised Hall’s work ethic and progress in camp, so seeing him in game action will be fun.

The cornerbacks also will be a focal point to see how they perform as their competition for starting roles and roster spots ramps up in preseason games and upcoming joint practices. And the running back and wide receiver play will be of high interest.

Around the NFL Observations:

1. A couple All-Pro defensive linemen and an All-Pro offensive guard are making news with their holdouts—San Francisco’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year/DE Nick Bosa, Kansas City’s DT Chris Jones, and Dallas guard Zack Martin. They’re being fined $50,000 per day that they’re not in camp, and all are seeking deals at the top of their position groups, which for Bosa and Jones would be $30 million or more per year, and Martin wants over $20 million per year.    

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl