With the hiring of Gary Kubiak, the Vikings committed to incorporating their tight ends into the offense in a significant way. Though most teams emphasized 11-personnel, the Vikings emphasized 12-personnel. Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith are among the best tandems in the NFL. If Rudolph can continue to be a strong option in the red zone and Smith can take a step forward, then the Vikings will be in a good position to overcome losing Stefon Diggs.
The Tight Ends:
Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon, Nakia Griffen-Stewart, Kyle Rudolph, and Irv Smith Jr.
Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr.
Rudolph has overcome some early injury concerns to become one of the most dependable tight ends in the NFL. He has played all 16 games in the past five seasons. More importantly, Rudolph has played well in that timespan. Pro Football Focus ranks Rudolph as the 17th best TE from last season, but that number is impacted by below average blocking. Rudolph isn’t in Minnesota for his blocking ability; the Vikings value Rudolph because of his ability to move the sticks and be a threat in the red zone. Last season, Rudolph put forward modest, albeit solid numbers: 39 catches, 367 yards, and 6 touchdowns.
PFF ranks Smith as the 30th best TE, which ends up at just above average given that they ranked 67 tight ends. This ranking should be considered a success given that he was only twenty-one years old last season. Smith has better blocking numbers than Rudolph, an encouraging sign. If he takes a step forward this season, Smith could end up being Kirk Cousins’s #2 option in the passing game, behind Adam Thielen. Smith’s numbers from last year are close to Rudolph’s: 36 catches, 311 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
The Rudolph & Smith combo (at least in PFF’s mind) is the 7th best in the NFL.
There are relatively few tight ends on the roster, so there is a gap between Lock and Lofty. Unless they bring in someone from free agency, there is no one in the Likely category.
Conklin has a good chance of making the roster. His biggest hurdle is that his skills overlap with Rudolph and Smith. If they keep Rudolph, Smith, and Conklin, the Vikings won’t have a true blocking specialist. Traditionally, the Vikings value having a tight end who is a strong blocker (think Jim Kleinsasser and David Morgan). Conklin has good length and moves well, so he offers value in the passing game.
Brandon Dillon and Nakia Griffen-Stewart
The best chance that Dillon and Griffen-Stewart have of making the roster rests in excelling on special teams and blocking. If either can show that they can help create lanes for Cook and/or contribute meaningful snaps across the various special teams phases, then Dillon and Griffen-Stewart have a shot.
Pre-Training Camp Roster Projection: Conklin, Rudolph, and Smith
Pre-Training Camp Starter Projection: Rudolph and Smith
We finish off the offense tomorrow when we cover the offensive line.