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The Vikings Tight Ends That Could Play in T.J. Hockenson’s Absence

vikings tight ends

The Minnesota Vikings will go into the 2024 season without their star tight end. T.J. Hockenson tore his ACL and MCL in Week 16, putting the start of his season in major jeopardy with no real timeline for a return. The Vikings have recently signed a veteran in Robert Tonyan, paid a solid amount of money for Hockenson’s backup in Josh Oliver, have what Kevin O’Connell says is the best third-string tight end in the league in Johnny Mundt and a young late-round draft pick from a few years ago in Nick Muse. All of them could fill in for Hockenson at some point until his return.

The Vikings led the league in play-action attempts last year, and without Hockenson, expect that number to get even higher. While Hockenson got a lot of his targets through play action, he sets himself apart from other tight ends with his ability to line up as a receiver and get open on the outside. The tight ends behind him on the depth chart can’t do that as well, and if they need manufactured targets lined up as a pure tight end, then play action would be the easiest to do that.

The Vikings Tight Ends Who Could Step Up In Hockenson’s Absence

Johnny Mundt

Signing with Minnesota three offseasons ago from Los Angeles, O’Connell raves about him every chance he gets, and it makes sense considering they’ve been in the same organizations dating back to 2020. Mundt took over the main receiving role at the tight end position when Hockenson got injured, with his first game as a starter being Sunday Night Football against the Packers with Jaren Hall at quarterback.

If you were successful in your attempt to forget about anything that happened in that game (I don’t blame you!) Mundy was the second-leading receiver with four catches, 39 yards, and the lone touchdown of that game. Mundt will almost certainly be one of the tight ends that gets major snaps this year, and when he does, he’ll be a steady and solid presence that cannot threaten the defense vertically with speed or burst, but rather a chain-moving and solid blocking, reliable starter.

Josh Oliver

Josh Oliver was the Viking’s first signing an offseason ago, receiving a three-year, $21 million deal. He was signed almost purely as a run-blocker, and his receiving stats reflect that with only 213 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In 2022, PFF graded him as their best run blocker at the tight end position in the league. He was signed to be the yin to Hockenson’s yang, but the hope is that he can give more than just his high-level blocking. He fits the bill athletically, it just needs to translate to stats. Even if he is a one-trick pony, that one trick is very impressive.

Robert Tonyan

Joining the Minnesota Vikings, Robert Tonyan has now played for every NFC North team, collecting the infinity stones of the north. Tonyan was signed just a few days ago but will have every chance to compete for a roster spot and play early on. A season ago with the Bears, Tonyan only put up 112 yards on the season, a massive decline from his previous three seasons in Green Bay, where he put up multiple 400-yard seasons, the highlight of which came in 2020 where he had 11 touchdowns. 

It’s unfair to have those expectations on him, but looking for a pure one-for-one replacement for Hockenson, Tonyan is the most like him. A field-stretching F-tight end that can make the defense honor the deep middle of the field. The Vikings are betting on 2023 being an anomaly compared to his past few seasons, and if they’re right, they may have landed a solid role player for this season.

Nick Muse

The longshot of this group to get any real snaps this season, Muse was a seventh-round pick in 2022. He played in the season finale in Detroit where he caught one pass for 22 yards, and PFF gave Muse an 89.2 grade. It’s about as small of a sample size as you can get, but if Muse looks like he doesn’t belong playing in the preseason against the backups, that may be a sign he gets some real run as a starter come week one. He’s got great speed and agility for a tight end, and if he can take a third-year jump like so many NFL players do, he could be a reliable backup.

Main Image: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports


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