ESPN Predicts Winners of Vikings’ Roster Battles

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Minnesota Vikings training camp is about four weeks away, and roster battles will take shape during the event.

ESPN Predicts Winners of Vikings’ Roster Battles

The NFL regular season begins in 72 days.

It’s a brave new world in Minnesota, and several summer competitions lie ahead to determine the team’s Week 1 depth chart. These are ESPN’s picks for those battles after releasing NFL roster projections this week.

1. Dalton Risner v. Blake Brandel

Starting OG
Former Denver Broncos offensive guard D. Risner on Monday Night Football during his first start with Minnesota. U.S. Bank Stadium, October 23rd, 2023. Risner started for an injured Ezra Cleveland.

Position: Left Guard

Risner returned to the Vikings in May, a move universally adored by the team’s fans. He conducted a wonderful first act in Minneapolis last year, and after about four months of the masses wondering, “Will they re-sign Risner?” he’s back for a sequel.

However, offensive coordinator Wes Phillips spoke highly of Blake Brandel before Risner returned, who was theorized as Risner’s replacement as of late. “I’m really excited about Blake. I feel like he gets bigger every time I see him. He’s just a massive man on the inside. But he’s in great shape, he’s always been very coachable,” Phillps told reporters last week at organized team activities (OTAs).

“You talk about technique, fundamentals, footwork, hand placement, all the things that are critical for the O-line — one false step for an O-lineman could be a catastrophe — it’s been very encouraging so far with him stepping into that starting spot on the left.”

Phillips continued, “I think it’ll only grow, the more experience, the more reps he gets. He’s been a guy that, any time he’s been put in a game at several positions, has come through for us. We haven’t forgotten that. I think he’s earned this opportunity.”

Despite the internal love for Brandel, ESPN plopped Risner as the starter at LG.

ESPN‘s Predicted Battle Winner: Dalton Risner

2. Jerry Tillery v. Jonathan Bullard v. Jonah Williams v. James Lynch

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Position: Defensive Tackle

A scenario all too familiar to the last 10 batches of Vikings defenses, Minnesota is happy to embark on a season with a mid-tier three-technique defensive tackle. The franchise reportedly made a play for Christian Wilkins during free agency, but he was too expensive, signing in Las Vegas on a deal worth $110 million over four years.

So, Minnesota gets Tillery, Bullard, Williams, and Lynch. Somewhat quietly, Tillery produced a decent season in 2023, notching a respectable 67.7 Pro Football Focus grade. Perhaps his former 1st-Round potential can be uplifted by Brian Flores.

Second-year DT Jaquelin Roy and rookie Levi Drake Rodriquez could be wildcards at this spot.

ESPN rolled with Bullard, who has started off and on for the Vikings since 2022.

ESPN‘s Predicted Battle Winner: Jonathan Bullard

3. Brandon Powell v. Jalen Nailor v. Trent Sherfield

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Position: WR3

ESPN’s Aaron Schatz wrote about Powell, “The Vikings used 11 personnel on 65% of offensive plays last season, so there’s a lot of pressure on Powell as the third receiver. Powell has always been more of a special teams star. In five NFL seasons, he has only one year with more than 160 receiving yards (last season, with 324 yards). He ranked 92nd among receivers and tight ends in ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics in 2023.”

ESPN‘s Predicted Battle Winner: Brandon Powell

4. Starting CBs

Agents the Vikings Can
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Position: Cornerback

Nobody at all knows for sure which men will win starting cornerback gigs. The list is huge:

CB1: Byron Murphy
CB2: Akayleb Evans
CB3: Mekhi Blackmon
CB4: Shaquill Griffin
CB5: Andrew Booth
CB6: Khyree Jackson
CB7: Jaylin Williams
CB8: A.J. Green III
CB9: Dwight McGlothern

The Vikings have oodles of CBs but no true star. Still, ESPN leaned into the savvy veterans for starters’ duty.

ESPN‘s Predicted Battle Winner: Byron Murphy and Shaquill Griffin

5. Sam Darnold v. J.J. McCarthy

Vikings QB
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports.

Position: Quarterback

When J.J. McCarthy joined the purple team from the draft in April, this one felt like it had a roster battle written all over it. Yet, approaching the summer’s halfway point, there may be no battle at all, at least for Week 1.

Minnesota coaching staff has hinted the job is Darnold’s, and ESPN doesn’t disagree.

ESPN‘s Predicted Battle Winner: Sam Darnold

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 Vikings 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