Vikings’ top position battles heading into training camp

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 1: Jerick McKinnon (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 1: Jerick McKinnon (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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GREEN BAY, WI – DECEMBER 11: Datone Jones (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI – DECEMBER 11: Datone Jones (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Three-technique Defensive Tackle:

The Vikings hoped Sharrif Floyd would man this position after drafting him in the first round in 2013, but the once promising tackle has a career-threatening injury. So, the odds seem slim that he’ll be healthy enough to start the season or play at all this season.

Knowing this, the Vikings are going to have a committee of tackles to choose from. They signed former Green Bay Packer Datone Jones and drafted Jaleel Johnson to compete at the three-technique. They also have incumbent starter Shamar Stephen looking to regain his role, but he was largely ineffective next to nose tackle Linval Joseph last season.

ESPN’s Ben Goessling predicts that Jones will start for the Vikings and I tend to agree. He was a Packers first round pick, but struggled to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. In Minnesota, he has the opportunity to play a position that better suits him. Johnson is also intriguing here as he was considered a steal in the fourth round.

Weak-side Linebacker:

When Chad Greenway retired after 11 seasons, the Vikings were left wondering who would replace him at weak-side linebacker. While there are multiple candidates, there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut favorite in this battle.

Two players that are rumored to have first dibs at the position are Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson. Lamur signed with the Vikings last offseason, but played sparingly on defense in his first season with the team. Robinson was drafted in 2015 as a developmental player in the seventh round and has played primarily on special teams.

Other options are draft picks Elijah Lee and Ben Gedeon. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber thinks that Lee has a real shot to start on the weak-side, suggesting he was only drafted in the seventh round because of his lack of size. Gedeon is more of a prototypical middle linebacker, but fits the profile as a run-stopping linebacker in a base defense.

In my opinion, I would love to see Lee or Gedeon run away with the third linebacker spot, but I know the Vikings are high on Robinson’s ability too. While it’s an interesting battle, the position doesn’t hold as much importance given the increasing use of the nickel defense. In the nickel, the Vikings have Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, so whoever starts on the weak-side will spend plenty of time on the sidelines as well.

Nickel Cornerback:

Arguably the greatest loss for the Vikings was nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn. After a couple of strong seasons with the team, Munnerlyn signed back with the Carolina Panthers creating a hole at the all-important nickel corner spot. Following his departure, coach Mike Zimmer told 1500 ESPN that second-year corner Mackensie Alexander would be given the first chance to replace Munnerlyn.

While I admire the optimism, I didn’t see much from Alexander in 2016 to believe that he’s ready for the role in 2017. Whenever he stepped onto the field last season, he looked overmatched. Of course, there’s a great chance he’s improved, but to the point of starting at nickel corner? I’m not sure if that’ll be the case this season, although I still believe he’s capable of becoming a solid NFL corner.

Fortunately, the Vikings have ageless veteran Terence Newman back in the fold, who is more than capable of manning the position. With former first rounder Trae Waynes destined to start across from Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings need to find a way to keep Newman on the field. At 38 years old, Newman was the highest graded player according to Pro Football Focus, so he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down.

While I am betting on Newman to come away with the job, It’ll be interesting to see if Alexander has matured enough to make things interesting.