Top 5 Training Camp Battles for the Vikings

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (5) and the Minnesota Vikings celebrate an interception in the third quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Bengals won 27-24 in overtime. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Minnesota Vikings training camp kicks off on July 21st when rookies report to Eagan.

Top 5 Training Camp Battles for the Vikings

The NFL’s regular season is 67 days away.

It’s a brave new world in the Twin Cities after a transformative offseason, and plenty of roster battles lie ahead to determine the team’s Week 1 depth chart. These are the Vikings’ top roster battles for training camp, ranked in ascending order (No. 1 = most important battle).

Honorable Mention: Robert Tonyan v. Josh Oliver v. Johnny Mundt

Training Camp
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Position: TE1
(if T.J. Hockenson misses the start of the season)

Tonyan entered the mix last month — and has dazzled since. Most believe Hockenson will miss the first handful of games in 2024, and with a new quarterback under center, that man will want a reliable TE target in the middle of the field.

Heading into training camp, Tonyan, Oliver, and Mundt have a reasonable case for the assignment. But Tonyan’s minicamp might’ve been too strong to topple.

Predicted Battle Winner: Robert Tonyan

5. Jerry Tillery v. Jonathan Bullard v. Jonah Williams v. James Lynch v. Jaquelin Roy

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Position: Defensive Tackle

A scenario all too familiar to the last 10 Vikings defenses, Minnesota is comfortable 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 spendy, ending up in Las Vegas on a deal worth $110 million over four years.

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

Rookie Levi Drake Rodriquez could be a wildcard at this spot.

Predicted Battle Winner: Jerry Tillery

4. Dalton Risner v. Blake Brandel v. Ed Ingram

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Position: Offensive Guard

Risner returned to the Vikings in May, a move universally embraced 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 recently spoke highly of Blake Brandel, 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,” Phillips 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.”

Then, head coach Kevin O’Connell said on the Rich Eisen Show in June, “We bring back Dalton Risner, who’s gonna compete like crazy at the guard spot with both Ed Ingram and Blake Brandel.”

It’s suddenly a threeway battle for two roster spots.

Predicted Battle Winner: Blake Brandel (LG) | Ed Ingram (RG)

3. Brandon Powell v. Jalen Nailor

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Position: WR3

Unless general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has grand plans of signing Michael Thomas or Hunter Renfrow, the WR3 market has all but dissipated — meaning Powell, Nailor, or possibly Sherfield will earn WR3 duties for 2024.

None of the three has ever created a marvelous standalone season, so Vikings fans will hope for the best, and that competition will generate the most qualified WR3.

Minnesota also employs eight more receivers after Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, Powell, Nailor, and Sherfield. Perhaps one unsung, undrafted candidate could emerge.

Predicted Battle Winner: Brandon Powell — but with WR3 conducted by committee in the regular season.

2. The “Other” Starting CB

Agents the Vikings Can
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Position: Cornerback

Nobody at all knows for sure which man will win the “other” cornerback job next to Byron Murphy. The list is enormous:

CB1: Byron Murphy
CB2: Akayleb Evans
CB3: Mekhi Blackmon
CB4: Shaquill Griffin
CB5: Andrew Booth
CB6: Khyree Jackson
CB7: NaJee Thompson
CB8: Jaylin Williams
CB9: A.J. Green III
CB10: Dwight McGlothern

This is a good problem. Minnesota employs about 5-6 corners who could play in the regular season.

Predicted Battle Winner: Byron Murphy, Shaquill Griffin, and Mekhi Blackmon

1. Sam Darnold v. J.J. McCarthy

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Position: Quarterback

This one was included out of necessity. All signs point to Darnold starting against the New York Giants in Week 1, but if McCarthy clears the coaching staff’s “benchmarks,” he could score the upset.

Fans should consider Darnold the QB1. Yet, because the position is so high-profile and McCarthy was selected as the highest-drafted quarterback in Vikings’ history, the QB battle will be all-consuming, at least in terms of interest.

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).

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