Training camp is underway for the Minnesota Vikings and there are several new faces around TCO Performance Center. The team lost a handful of signature players this offseason and are attempting to replace them with a rookie class that consists of 15 draft picks and a handful of undrafted free agents.
Losing veterans can send a team into regression, especially after making it to the Divisional Round in 2019. The Vikings are going to have to rely heavily on their rookie class in 2020, giving the team some interesting camp battles heading into the regular season.
In a normal offseason the team would have four preseason games that would allow rookies to show off their skill sets. With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering on, the Vikings need to find new ways to determine who will be starting on Sundays.
Here are three positional battles to keep an eye on before the Vikings open the regular season against the Green Bay packers.
Since Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota in 2014 the cornerback position has been a staple on his defenses. Vikings fans witnessed some stellar play at the position from Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Since their run to the NFC Championship in Philadelphia the cornerback play hasn’t been as dominant.
The Vikings made the cornerback position a priority in the draft, using two of their first four picks on the position. Jeff Gladney was taken with their second pick in the first round and Cameron Dantzler was taken with their third-round pick.
Both players come to Minnesota with a scrappy style of play, fitting the Zimmer mold perfectly. They will be paired up alongside Mike Hughes and Holton Hill, both who still have much to prove.
Hughes has shown flashes of being a starting caliber cornerback, but the injury concerns are still there. It’s likely Hughes or Gladney will start 2020 from the nickelback position, whereas the other would then take one of the outside spots. Hill has shown flashes in limited playing time and will be going up against Dantzler for the other starting spot.
Starting the season with question marks at the cornerback position is going to feel odd for a Zimmer led defense. There is a ton of talent surrounding the positional group, but it’s the youngest grouping on the Vikings roster.
If the Vikings can find success early on this year, this group is going to have to step up early on in their careers.
Interior Offensive Line
Every Vikings fan's favorite thing to discuss, the offensive line. Although it was far from perfect in 2019, the unit stepped up and played much better than it did the previous year. With the surprise release of Josh Kline this offseason, the interior of the offensive line has some question marks heading into the regular season.
The center position is set in stone, as the Vikings 2019 first round pick looks to build off his rookie campaign. Garrett Bradbury got off to a slow start but continued to impress as the year went on. The biggest question mark surrounds both guard positions surrounding Bradbury.
Pat Elflein has had his ups and downs in purple and 2019 was one a down year. Although he had an off year last season, he still has the most experience at the position and is only 26 years old.
The right guard position is the biggest question mark, as it is likely going to be filled by a first-time starter. Dru Samia and Dakota Dozier are the two listed on the ESPN depth chart currently with a lot of analysts predicting Samia to win the battle.
Another wrench could be thrown in along the interior of the offensive line if the team decides to bump Ezra Cleveland inside this season. The rookie is listed as a tackle, but he has been seen taking reps at the guard position during camp.
Getting protection for Kirk Cousins is going to be another critical aspect if the Vikings want to have a chance at a playoff run this season. There are several different ways the team could go, making this one of the most exciting positions to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.
Another position that had a key departure this offseason is the wide receiver position. Although the team traded Stefon Diggs away to Buffalo, they came right back in the draft and selected Justin Jefferson with the same first-round pick they received in that trade.
Adam Thielen and Jefferson are likely going to be the one-two punch, but it gets interesting after those two. The Vikings signed Tajae Sharpe this offseason and he will likely be a regular contributor in the offense.
Bisi Johnson came on strong in his rookie season, likely cementing a roster spot for himself on the 2020 roster. That leaves a lot of talented players left behind those four, with limited roster space available.
Chad Beebe and Alexander Hollins have both shown they can be productive receivers in the NFL, but there are some younger players behind them with a lot of promise. K.J. Osborn is favored to make the team by some strictly because of his ability to be a return man.
There has also been a lot of buzz around undrafted free agent Quartney Davis, who played his college ball at Texas A&M. Dan Chisena was another undrafted receiver and Dillon Mitchell was on the team's practice squad last year.
With all the young talent in this positional group the Vikings coaching staff and front office are going to have some difficult decisions to make. It will be increasingly difficult if they continue to have a limited number of receivers on the roster.
In 2019 the Vikings frequently used 12 and 21 personnel attempting to utilize the running backs and tight ends more. It will be interesting to see how many receivers make the 53-man roster, especially with the limited use of the position.
Honorable mention: Defensive Tackle
The Vikings attempted to replace Linval Joseph this offseason with Michael Pierce, who has since opted out of the 2020 season with respiratory issues. The only interior defensive lineman that has been a regular starter is Shamar Stephen. There will likely be some sort of rotation along the defensive line that will include Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Armon Watts and rookie James Lynch. Hercules Mata'afa has reportedly put on 50 pounds since last season and he is another name to keep an eye on for the three-technique position.
The secondary and defensive line have both been staples of the Vikings defense for many years, but both positions are going to be much younger in 2020.
It has been an extremely weird offseason and that is going to make for some tough decisions for the Vikings. The preseason has created career paths for many NFL players in the league today, but the Vikings are going to have to find new ways at determining who wins some of their more critical positional battles.