When the teacher issues a seating chart in the classroom, the rules are hard and fast. The spot in which you sit is clearly defined with no room for interpretation and no chance for change based on performance. When it comes to depth charts in the NFL, however, the lines are blurred and the chart is more of a guideline than a set of rules.
But even with that being the case, it’s always fun to take a look and see how things are stacked up. It’s an especially relevant exercise now because training camp and the preseason – the time when depth charts change rapidly – have given way to the regular season – the time when depth charts change less frequently.
Let’s take a look at the Vikings unofficial depth chart heading into the season-opener…
The spots at quarterback, offensive line and tight end contain no surprises. Joe Webb is listed as the backup to Christian Ponder, with McLeod Bethel-Thompson listed third. The five starters along the offensive line are the same five who’ve been starting all training camp and preseason, with Joe Berger listed as the backup center and Geoff Schwartz listed as the backup right guard.
At tight end, second-year player Kyle Rudolph is the starter, with John Carlson, Rhett Ellison and Allen Reisner listed behind him.
Early receiver rotation
With Jerome Simpson suspended for the first three games, don’t be surprised to see the Vikings use a healthy rotation at wide receiver early in the season. Rather than lean heavily on one particular player among Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton and Michael Jenkins to try and replace Simpson, the Vikings could ask all three of them to contribute in some way. Jenkins is listed as the starter at the X position for now and Percy Harvin is of course #1 at Z position, but I expect Aromashodu and Burton to get their chances.
For the record, Burton is listed as the #2 at Z and rookie Jarius Wright is #3. But don’t read too much into any of the positioning at receiver because there could be an “all hands on deck” mentality until Simpson returns in Week 4.
Speaking of rotations…
There could also be a rotation at the Vikings defensive tackle position. Kevin Williams is solid as the #1 under-tackle and Christian Ballard is listed as his backup, but at nose tackle Letroy Guion is trying to recover from a knee injury. That means Fred Evans, who started the Vikings final two preseason games, will be on call to start should Guion be unable to play in Week 1, and regardless of starting status he’ll be relied upon to take plenty of reps.
It all sounds a bit murky right now, but the good news is Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly has good depth up and down the line to A) keep legs fresh during the entire game and B) survive the absence of Guion for however long he needs to be out.
Jasper Brinkley is the man in the middle at linebacker and he’ll be flanked by Chad Greenway (SLB) and Erin Henderson (WLB) on either side. Rookie Audie Cole, a preseason star for the Vikings, is listed as the backup to Brinkley, while free agent acquisition Marvin Mitchell is behind Henderson and an undrafted rookie free agent find from last year – Larry Dean – will play behind Greenway.
Safety in numbers
The Vikings prioritized improving their pass defense this past offseason, and you can tell that was a priority based on how they addressed both cornerback and safety in the draft and via other methods. First-round pick Harrison Smith and second-year player Mistral Raymond are listed as starters, although Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier would not commit to a starter in Raymond’s spot when asked about it on Monday. That will likely be a fluid situation for now, especially with Raymond looking to return from a back injury that prevented him from playing in the final two preseason games.
At cornerback, Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are listed as starters, with rookie Josh Robinson behind Winfield and A.J. Jefferson, recently acquired via trade, behind Cook.
Looking for positive returns
Harvin is listed as the Vikings top kickoff returner, and when the team decides to give him a rest from that role they will lean on Marcus Sherels to handle the job. Sherels is also listed as the top punt returner, with Jarius Wright #2 behind him. Now, Sherels is dealing with an ankle injury heading into Week 1, so if he is unable to play it’ll be Jefferson as the backup kickoff returner and Robinson as the primary punt returner.
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