Minnesota Vikings All-Time 53-Man Roster

This time of year everyone (myself included) likes to make predictions about what each team’s 53-man roster will look like come Week One. While that can be fun, I thought I would switch it up a bit and give my rendition of what the Vikings’ all-time 53-man roster might look like – that is, the best players in Vikings history at each position to assemble the best roster possible.

First I need to set some ground rules. I will only be considering a player’s time with the Vikings, so guys like Brett Favre did not make the cut here. I am also only judging players on their performance within their era, not on how they would perform in today’s NFL. My roster ended up with 25 players on offense, 25 on defense, and three specialists.

Quarterback (3)
Fran Tarkenton, Daunte Culpepper, Kirk Cousins

Tarkenton is the easy decision here by a long shot; he may not be the single most talented quarterback in franchise history but he is the best in terms of statistical records, accolades, and overall impact on the Vikings franchise. The last two spots came down to three names: Daunte Culpepper, Tommy Kramer, and Kirk Cousins. Culpepper is probably the best arm talent at quarterback in Vikings history. He really only had one good year in Minnesota, but the raw talent is enough to earn him a spot on this list. Kramer is a very underrated name in this conversation but his lack of ability to stay healthy is what hurt him here. Kirk Cousins will probably be the most controversial name on this entire list. It is impossible to say the name Cousins without starting a civil war within Vikings fandom, but at the end of the day, Kirk is fourth all-time in passing yards amongst Minnesota quarterbacks, 8000 yards behind Kramer, but in half as many games. Cousins also is ahead of Kramer in completion percentage, TD:INT ratio, Y/A, QB rating, and winning percentage, so he gets the final spot. Brett Favre is an all-time great quarterback but his best days were in Green Bay so he doesn’t make the cut.

Honorable Mentions: Tommy Kramer, Brett Favre

Running Back / Fullback (4)
Adrian Peterson, Chuck Foreman, Dalvin Cook, C.J. Ham

Adrian Peterson is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he is eligible so that is a no-brainer. Chuck Foreman was also an easy decision because of the way he revolutionized the position and how versatile he was. He basically invented the spin move and was much more dependable in the receiving game than Adrian Peterson, giving some versatility to our offense. The final running back spot came down to Dalvin Cook and Robert Smith. Smith was a fantastic back during his time and is second in franchise history for rushing yards, but I am going to project into the future a little and go with Dalvin Cook. His elusiveness and vision are elite and we may see more production catching the ball with Kevin O’Connell as his new head coach. Last but not least, what would be this all-time roster without the best player in franchise history…C.J. Ham. Yep, I’m carrying a fullback, deal with it.

Honorable Mentions: Robert Smith, Bill Brown

Wide Receiver (7)
Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Anthony Carter, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson, Cordarrelle Patterson

When your franchise has multiple top 10 receivers in NFL history, it makes the first two decisions easy. The number three receiver also seems pretty straightforward as Anthony Carter is third in franchise history in both yards and touchdowns while maintaining a yards per catch higher than Randy Moss during his time in Minnesota. Next, I am going with three current players in Thielen, Diggs, and Jefferson. Diggs and Thielen both deserve consideration for this list but they were always synonymous with each other during their time here it is hard to include one without the other. Justin Jefferson probably isn’t a top seven receiver in franchise history after only two years in the league but he is well on his way and could elevate himself into the Moss and Carter conversation by the end of his career with his current trajectory. The final piece of the receiving core is definitely going to be a surprise to most. Cordarrelle Patterson is mostly here because he is the best kick returner in NFL history, but recently the Atlanta Falcons have also shown that he can be a weapon to an offense when utilized correctly.

Honorable Mentions: Ahmad Rashad, John Gilliam

Tight End (3)
Steve Jordan, Kyle Rudolph, Stu Voigt

The tight end position is one of the shallower position groups for the Vikings. The top two are clear with Steve Jordan, father of New Orleans Saints edge rusher Cameron Jordan, and Kyle Rudolph in the top ten in franchise history for both receiving yards and touchdowns. The third and final spot came down to Stu Voigt and Visanthe Shiancoe. Shiancoe was more productive in the passing game, but to really round out the tight end group, I am opting for the better blocker in Voigt. Finally, this conversation would not be complete without at least a shout-out to fan-favorite Jim Kleinsasser.

Honorable Mentions: Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser

Offensive Line (8)
Ron Yary, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, Steve Hutchinson, Mick Tinglehoff, Grady Alderman, David Dixon, Matt Birk

The starting five offensive linemen are the only five Hall of Fame offensive linemen for the Vikings making it one of the less difficult choices. As for depth, Matt Birk is really the only other option at center, David Dixon gives the line some great size, and Grady Alderman was a stalwart at the tackle position for over a decade. This is the one position on this list where the Vikings have consistently struggled for my entire lifetime meaning I do not have much firsthand experience watching much elite offensive line play. Brian O’Neill was the one current name that was intriguing but he does not have enough to his resume to be on this list quite yet.

Honorable Mentions: Cory Stringer, Brian O’Neill, Phil Loadholt, Ed White

Defensive Line (9)
Chris Doleman, Carl Eller, Jared Allen, Jim Marshall, Danielle Hunter, Alan Page, John Randle, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams

It is no secret that the defensive line has long been the biggest strength of the Minnesota Vikings dating back to the days of the Purple People Eaters. The top four edge rushers (Doleman, Eller, Allen, and Marshall) and the top two interior linemen (Page and Randle) were easy picks. They are all either in the Hall of Fame or should be in (*cough* Jim Marshall *cough*). I could write forever about the talents of the likes of Carl Eller and John Randle, but let’s instead focus on the other, tougher decisions. The final edge rusher spot ended up going to Danielle Hunter. While he doesn’t have the volume stats of the Everson Griffens of the world, the raw skills and the sack pace he was on before injuries the past two years are too enticing to pass up. The original plan for the last two interior spots was Kevin Williams and Henry Thomas, but I just couldn’t bring myself to break up the Williams Wall that I grew up watching as a child. Pat is the perfect big-guy run stuffer to complement all of the elite pass rushers on this team. Guys like Keith Millard and Gary Larsen also required lots of consideration, but my personal nostalgia took over on this one.

Honorable Mentions: Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Henry Thomas, Keith Millard, Gary Larsen

Linebackers (5)
Scott Studwell, Matt Blair, Roy Winston, Chad Greenway, Erik Kendricks

Scott Studwell and Matt Blair are numbers one and two in tackles in franchise history so it is no surprise that there seems to be a consensus that they belong at the top of this list. I know that using tackles is a bad measure of how good a linebacker is, but you do not just accidentally stumble into 1,900 career tackles. While tackles should never be a way of judging linebackers, it is an okay way of validating the “eye test” which both players clearly pass. Roy Winston was a guy that I honestly was not familiar with going into this project, but the more I read about him, the more I appreciated him. He was second all-time among linebackers for games played and had a knack for taking the ball away from opposing offenses with 12 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. The final two names are more contemporary players in Chad Greenway and Erik Kendricks. Greenway was an absolute tackling machine and Kendricks provides some coverage ability that really rounds out the linebacker group nicely.

Honorable Mentions: Jeff Siemon, Anthony Barr

Cornerbacks (7)
Bobby Bryant, Antoine Winfield, Xavier Rhodes, Carl Lee, Ed Sharockman, Nate Wright, Marcus Sherels

The cornerback group is another one that does not have the same depth as groups like the wide receivers or defensive line. The top two are clear in Bobby Bryant and Antoine Winfield with both exhibiting a consistently high level of play throughout their career while locking down opposing top receivers. The next guy for me is Xavier Rhodes, who may have dropped off quickly, but in his prime Rhodes was in the conversation with Jalen Ramsey as the best corner in the league. He was consistently shutting down guys like Julio Jones, Davante Adams, and Antonio Brown at the peak of his career. Carl Lee, Ed Sharackman, and Nate Wright are the last three true cornerbacks here. After these names, the drop-off is big to guys like Trae Waynes who lived out his rookie contract and has now all but fallen off the face of the Earth in Cincinnati. Even Lee and Sharockman were clearly a tier above Nate Wright in my eyes, but the options are slim beyond Wright. The final name here is Marcus Sherels who we all know is only a cornerback in name but can provide elite punt returning ability on special teams.

Honorable Mentions: None

Safeties (4)
Paul Krause, Harrison Smith, Joey Browner, Karl Kassulke

Paul Krause and Harrison Smith, what a starting duo that would be. The NFL’s all-time interceptions leader next to the Swiss army knife, Harrison Smith, who is pretty much always going to be the smartest guy on the field. Joey Browner was the other easy choice and was in consideration for the starting spot over Smith, but ultimately I prefer the contrast in skillsets of Krause and Smith slightly better (we are splitting hairs here). The final spot came down to either Robert Griffith or Karl Kassulke. Kassulke had his career cut short when he tragically was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, but before the accident, he was on pace to be at a similar level as Joey Browner. I think Kassulke may be one of the more underrated Vikings because of his injury which is why he earned the final spot at safety.

Honorable Mentions: Robert Griffith

Specialists (3)
Gary Anderson, Greg Doleman, Kevin McDermott

This group did not take as much contemplation as the other position groups. Gary Anderson, even with that one moment against the Falcons that shall not be named, is easily the best and most accomplished kicker in franchise history. I did briefly consider taking the huge upside Blair Walsh showed in his rookie season, but he was broken too quickly to be worth taking here. Greg Doleman was the main consideration at punter and didn’t have much competition outside of Chris Kluwe. As for the long snapper, I’m not going to try to dig up tape on 80s long snappers so the most recent long-time guy in McDermott gets the nod.

Honorable Mentions: Fred Cox, Blair Walsh, Chris Kluwe