Only two Vikings rookies have started Week 1 games in three years under head coach Mike Zimmer. That number could more than double on Monday night against the Saints.
The team’s first unofficial depth chart of the season lists three rookies — running back Dalvin Cook, center Pat Elflein and linebacker Ben Gedeon — as starters after this weekend’s cuts down to the 53-player limit.
The Vikings decided on the combination of Elflein at center and Nick Easton at left guard before approaching Alex Boone about a pay cut, according to the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling. The Easton-Elflein-Joe Berger interior combo worked well in Seattle, where Cook had his best preseason outing with seven carries for 40 rushing yards.
Overall the Vikings are relying more on youth after the release of Boone, linebacker Chad Greenway’s retirement and the inclusion of defensive end Danielle Hunter, cornerback Trae Waynes and three rookies in the starting lineup.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman anticipated such when picking an 11-man draft class after letting, and watching, a handful of veterans like cornerback Captain Munnerlyn exit in free agency.
The average age of the Vikings’ expected Week 1 lineup reflects the shift. Both offensively and defensively, the Vikings dropped 22 seasons of experience and erosion, or two seasons per player. The average starter is now 26 years old on both sides of the ball (26.27 on offense, 26.72 on defense), down from more than 28 years old on each side last season.
Four 22-year-olds could start for the Vikings on Monday night between Hunter, Cook, Gedeon and receiver Laquon Treadwell, who was featured in the Vikings three-receiver sets throughout camp and will gain playing time from Michael Floyd’s suspension.
Gedeon, the fourth-round pick from Michigan, will see a part-time role as the third linebacker on the field, but when he’s on the sideline the Vikings are expected to turn to second-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who continued to show some growing pains as a slot cornerback in the preseason.
A couple veterans, defensive end Brian Robison and cornerback Terence Newman, can provide worthy help off the bench. The Vikings also traded with Seattle for 29-year-old veteran corner Tramaine Brock, whose experience in the slot is limited.