The Minnesota Vikings face the Chicago Bears this Sunday, a crucial interdivisional matchup with playoff implications. The Vikings are coming off a loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. An absentee during that game was veteran tight end, Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph remains on the Vikings injury report through Thursday. A foot injury makes Rudolph doubtful for this weekend. Losing a veteran heading into his 10th season on offense could be a crucial miss. The pressure will be on the Minnesota Vikings young tight ends of the future, Irv Smith Jr and Tyler Conklin.
Minnesota Vikings Young Tight Ends To Step Up Against Chicago Bears
What Will the Vikings Be Missing Without Rudolph?
Kyle Rudolph had played every game of the last six seasons until missing out in Week 14. He is a mainstay in the Vikings offense and carried the load while Irv Smith Jr nursed a back injury. Rudolph has played the most snaps this season amongst the Vikings tight ends however hasn’t featured as prominently in the passing game. Through the 2020 season, Rudolph hasn’t been the red-zone threat that he is known for. Only one receiving touchdown this season would be the lowest in Rudolph’s career but he is big shoes to fill on the offence.
Rudolph has made big improvements as a run blocker and that will be missed on Sunday. During 2020, Rudolph has led all tight ends with run blocking snaps and ranked second in pass-blocking production earlier in the year. Chicago has a fierce defensive front and the lack of Rudolph as a blocker will be a miss for Minnesota.
Irv Smith Jr To Become TE1
The heir apparent to Kyle Rudolph may be Irv Smith Jr. Smith shined in the Vikings’ defeat to Tampa. The 2019 second-round pick led the whole team in receiving yards last Sunday. Four receptions for 64 yards produced Smith Jr’s best game since the Week 5 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. During the Seattle game, Irv Smith highlighted he could aid the Minnesota run game. Minnesota ran for over 200 yards in that game demonstrating the dual-threat tight end Minnesota hoped Smith Jr would be. Utilizing the second-year tight end as a pass-catcher could be a prominent weapon against Chicago who ranks 29th against tight ends this season.
2020 has been a turbulent season for Smith Jr himself. A recurring back injury has plagued him this season. Smith Jr has missed three out of the last five games but everything is set for him to break out in the final three games. Smith Jr hasn’t shone yet against Chicago with two receptions in last season’s matchups. Though, with Rudolph out the weight is now on Smith Jr.
Tyler Conklin To Pick up Where He Left Off
Tyler Conklin had a career game against Tampa Bay last week. Conklin caught 100 percent of his targets last Sunday and had the most receptions on offense. Crucially, Conklin was extremely productive in gaining first down for Minnesota. Four of his five receptions moved the chains for Minnesota and showed that the 2018 fifth-round pick could become a future part of the offense. Conklin’s first-down efficiency partnered with Cousins’ third-down conversions in the previous matchup against the Bears could be a recipe for success.
Undoubtedly, Rudolph will be a miss for the Vikings. Nevertheless, Minnesota appears to have extremely capable backups. If both Smith Jr and Conklin pick up where they left off against Tampa, they could become effective weapons in rushing and passing against the Bears.