8 Vikings Players with Do-or-Die Seasons Ahead

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Minnesota Vikings roster battles will gain more clarity in about three weeks when training camp heats up.

8 Vikings Players with Do-or-Die Seasons Ahead

The franchise is expected to win around seven games, which is the same forecast as last summer — and Minnesota later won seven games.

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And heading into the 2024 season, several players have do-or-die stakes. These are those players ranked in ascending order (No. 1 = most on the line).

8. Garrett Bradbury (C)

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This man has quietly already spent five seasons in Minnesota.

Bradbury could be cut in nine months to save cap space, so he needs a productive 2023 campaign in which he improves his pass protection. His run-blocking never falters, but his reputation as a mark for ferocious defensive tackles is well-established.

If it’s same-ol-same-ol from Bradbury via pass-blocking in 2024, Minnesota will probably sign or draft a new center in 2025.

7. Jerry Tillery (DT)

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This man was the Vikings’ DT solution this offseason.

Tillery fired up a 67.7 PFF grade in 2023. That little factoid flies under the radar. As a former 1st-Rounder, he’s supposed to play substantially better than a 67.7 PFF grade, but that mark is still decent.

With the Vikings in 2024, Tillery may experience his last best chance to preserve a starter’s job for the duration of his career. If he takes off with Brian Flores’ tutelage, he’ll find staying power in the league. A quiet year would probably suggest bench duties in 2025 and beyond.

6. Ed Ingram (RG)

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Ingram calculated a 59.9 Pro Football Focus grade in 2023, up narrowly from his rookie season. In fact, the young lineman only really played poorly in his first handful of games as a rookie. Because it was a first impression — and Vikings fans often don’t have patience for rookies’ development, in general — some wrote him off.

Yet, Ingram played well in Year No. 2, and he might take the leap in Year No. 3 as many young players do. On the whole, though, this is the season where Ingram must determine if he’s a forever starter or a replaceable guard.

He has also been plopped into a summer roster battle with Dalton Risner and Blake Brandel, so the stakes are elevated right away for Ingram.

5. Jalen Nailor (WR)

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His nickname is Speedy, and 2024 is the year to show the moniker is legitimate. The Vikings have a WR3 job post, according to most, and if Nailor lives up to his potential and stays healthy, he can be “the guy.”

Nailor had a golden opportunity to turn heads last season when Justin Jefferson fell injured as Minnesota’s offense had a WR opening. However, Nailor was hurt — his modus operandi — and when he returned to health, Nailor didn’t do much of anything with Joshua Dobbs, Jaren Hall, and Nick Mullens at quarterback.

It’s a pivotal year — summer, even — for Speedy.

4. Akayleb Evans (CB)

Be Slept
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Some anonymous and notable cornerback is on Minnesota’s roster bubble right now.

Adding Shaquill Griffin in March might make Evans expendable, at least for 2024 playing time. It doesn’t help that Evans was benched a couple of times in 2023.

Minnesota employs Griffin, Byron Murphy, Mekhi Blackmon, Andrew Booth, rookie Khyree Jackson, and Evans as playable cornerbacks on the roster. If that’s the group by the end of summer, one man will be the odd man out.

Evans still has time to rebound and play wonderfully in 2024, but because of the aforementioned benching ordeals, he’s on the hot seat this summer and in the regular season if he makes the 53-man roster. Year No. 3 must be fruitful.

3. Andrew Booth (CB)

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Foremost, Booth has to secure a starter’s job in 2024 — unlikely — and then prove he’s a stud in the league. In the last two seasons, Booth has accomplished neither goal after injuries wasted his rookie year, and then other players took his job in 2023.

It’s Year No. 3 for Booth, and because he was a 2nd-Round draft choice in 2022, this season is his grand climax — with the Vikings, anyway.

2. Lewis Cine (S)

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Cine broke his leg 21 months ago, fully recovered last spring and summer, and then couldn’t win a starter’s job in 2023. In fact, Cine played eight defensive snaps in his second season — all garbage time against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. Outside of special teams, he was a non-factor.

Of course, Minnesota has safeties galore between Harrison Smith, Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum, Jay Ward, NaJee Thompson, and Theo Jackson. In that regard, Cine wasn’t really needed in 2023. But as a 1st-Rounder, the man should play some of the time.

Cine could also be a trade candidate later this summer, albeit for a throwaway late-rounder to potentially save Minnesota some cap space.

1. Sam Darnold (QB)

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The New York Jets selected Darnold third overall in 2018, and he decidedly didn’t pan out in the Big Apple. Then, he tried scenery changes with the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. He’s at it again in the Twin Cities.

Like Baker Mayfield in 2023, Darnold has one big shot to prove he’s a QB1. He may not become the Vikings‘ QB1 beyond 2024, but a strong season with J.J. McCarthy waiting in the wings could propel Darnold to a QB1 job elsewhere next offseason.

Thankfully for Darnold’s sake, he’s never had an offensive setup like this — weapons this explosive, a coaching staff this tailor-made for his success.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His MIN obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.