The Vikings Have Tight End Potential

This is the fourth installment in our roster projection series; up until this point, we’ve covered the QBs, WRs, and RBs. It’s now time to see what the Vikings will do at tight end. Kyle Rudolph had long been our TE1, but it’s now time for the youth to take over. I’m fully on the Irv Smith Jr. hype train.

The Near Guarantees

Two names belong in this category: Irv Smith Jr and Tyler Conklin. Indeed, the Vikings will feature each tight end in their offense. The only question rests in how much.

Smith, a second-round pick from 2019, has been good but not great in his two-year NFL career. He isn’t to blame for his somewhat pedestrian production; last year he had 30 catches, 365 yards, and 5 TDs. Anyone can see that he’s oozing with talent. The issue, it would seem, rests in the offense’s unwillingness to feature the tight end position more prominently. In 13 games, Smith only had 43 targets.

I’d love to see Smith double his targets in the 2021 season. He can be a nightmare matchup in the middle of the field. The Vikings should therefore adjust accordingly. I don’t pretend that it’s easy to find a way to feature Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Smith, but there’s a way. It’s a great problem for the team to have.

Conklin was a pleasant surprise last season. The fourth-year Vikings tight end was originally chosen 157th in the 2018 draft. Playing behind Rudolph and Smith meant he had very little opportunity in his initial years in the NFL. When Rudolph went down last season, Conklin stepped up. Zimmer has specifically mentioned him as someone who will be featured more prominently in the upcoming season. He could be a great chain-mover for Minnesota.

Around 80 targets would be perfect for Smith; around 40 would be perfect for Conklin.

The True Competition

The Vikings depth chart on ESPN offers Zach Davidson and Brandon Dillon as the other tight ends. Vikings.com, though, also lists Shane Zylstra, so it appears as though there are three players battling for the final roster spot(s).

Davidson should be considered the favorite. He was chosen 168th in this past draft. If you read the comments on TVG, you’ll know that Davidson has his supporters among Vikings fans. He’s 6’7, 245, so he’s certainly built like an NFL tight end. The impression I have is that he’s raw and will need time to develop; his path to a roster spot rests on both potential and immediate contributions on special teams.

Dillon and Zylstra are likely competing for the practice squad, but a roster spot is possible. It’s going to be nearly impossible to leapfrog Smith and Conklin, so they’ll need to show the coaching staff that they’re valuable enough to keep instead of a recent draft pick or a depth player from elsewhere on the roster. Indeed, they may need to show that they can bring more to special teams than someone like Ameer Abdullah or Chad Beebe. If they can, then Minnesota may be inclined to keep a fourth TE.

The Vikings’ Tight End Position

Expect Minnesota to keep three tight ends. Roster spots are precious, so it seems unnecessary to keep a fourth TE, especially since the position isn’t featured in the offense (I hasten to add that Lil’Kub may reverse this trend). At this stage, I think the likeliest outcome is a Smith-Conklin-Davidson TE trio for our Vikings.

Of course, my opinion is far from a sure thing, so let me know if you see things differently.

Next week’s task is to cover the offensive line. Skol.