Taking Stock of the Minnesota Vikings Tight End Position

Minnesota Vikings Tight End
Spread the love

It’s safe to say that the Minnesota Vikings tight ends were somewhat underwhelming this season. Kyle Rudolph is being paid as a top-5 player at TE, and yet his production is pedestrian: 28 catches, 334 yards, and a lonely touchdown. Meanwhile, Irv Smith Jr. is underused. The sophomore tight end has oodles of potential, and yet he only received 43 targets in Minnesota’s offense. How should the Minnesota Vikings proceed at the tight end position going into the off-season?

Optimism for the Minnesota Vikings Tight Ends

2020 was a frustrating season. One source of the frustration rested in how the tight ends were deployed. Rudolph was paid far too much considering his production; Smith was used far too little given his athleticism. Moving forward, it’s imperative that the Vikings get this position back on track.

Part of the issue for Minnesota is that they have too many strong options on offense. It’s no secret that Dalvin Cook is the focal point, and he gets more than his fair share of touches. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are among the league’s best wide receiver tandems, so they also receive plenty of attention. At best, a tight end is going to be the fourth option in the offense. Even still, the Vikings could and should be doing more to adjust how they use their tight ends. Thielen is getting older, and Cook has a history of injuries. It makes sense, then, to limit their touches a little more (Jefferson, in contrast, deserves all the attention he is getting).

Rudolph is likely to be cut. The Vikings will likely proceed with Smith as their clear-cut starter. Gary Kubiak is no longer the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. Whoever replaces him ought to prioritize integrating Smith in a more substantial manner. He is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Fans should keep in mind that Smith is still very, very young; he is entering his third year in the NFL and is still only twenty-two.

We also shouldn’t forget Tyler Conklin. The third-year tight end had a mini breakout because of the opportunity he received. With Rudolph on the sideline, Conklin became Minnesota’s #2 tight end. He didn’t disappoint. Take a look at the video below for some highlights:

One thing that really jumps out is his yards after the catch. He does a much better job than Rudolph at turning modest gains into sizable gains. Given Kirk Cousins’ proclivity for playing it safe, it’s important to have receivers who can make plays.

Conclusion

The Minnesota Vikings should be relying on the tight end position more. Part of Mike Zimmer’s overall philosophy on offense is to be unpredictable. Indeed, he wants to gain an edge on the opposition by making them uncertain. Deploying 22 personnel may suggest run on certain plays. In other instances, Minnesota will use 22 personnel to throw the ball. The ability to do multiple things with the same personnel on the field is central to what Zimmer wants to accomplish on offense. Given this desire, it behooves the future offensive coordinator to find a way to better integrate the tight ends into the Minnesota Vikings offense.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images