The tight end position group will look very different for the Minnesota Vikings this upcoming season. They will be without Kyle Rudolph for the first time since 2011. Rudolph is now a member of the New York Giants after agreeing to terms with them during free agency. During his time with the Vikings, Rudolph appeared in two Pro Bowls and provided consistent tight end play for the Vikings.
This brings an opportunity for new tight ends to step up. The Vikings have some talent on their roster that has the potential to thrive in areas where Rudolph maxed out.
Here is the 2021 roster breakdown for the Minnesota Vikings tight ends.
Irv Smith Jr. – This is the year Irv Smith Jr. gets a real opportunity to make himself known to the NFL. With Kyle Rudolph departing for the New York Giants, Smith gets the chance to be that guy.
He is a much different type of tight end than Rudolph was. Rudolph was a big sure-handed catcher with average speed and blocking ability. Smith, on the other hand, is fast enough to be respected as a wide receiver and can still get the job done blocking. He presents a lot of ways for Klint Kubiak to use him. So expect to see a heavy dose of Irv Smith Jr. this upcoming season.
Last season he caught 30 passes for 365 yards and 5 touchdowns. There is no reason why he shouldn’t have at least double that.
Tyler Conklin– While the fans and media have been high on Irv Smith Jr., head coach Zimmer has been raving about what Tyler Conklin brings to the table. Zimmer told the media that he is one of the players who is improving from last season.
One thing that Conklin does better than Smith is blocking. He is an excellent blocker and that alone will have him heavily involved in a Vikings offense that is focused around star running back Dalvin Cook.
He is also a pretty good receiver, which will allow the Vikings to get some decent gains with him out of 12 personnel (1 running back, two wide receivers, 2 tight ends). His best use in the passing game will be play-action as the defense will look at him as primarily a blocker. And that is when he is going to make them pay.
Last season Conklin brought in 19 receptions for 194 yards and 1 touchdown in a limited role. It will be interesting to see where he develops from here.
The rest – With Irv Smith Jr. and Conklin locking up the top two tight end positions, the Vikings will be looking to find the team’s third TE. It is an important role for short-yardage situations and of course depth. Currently on the roster are Brandon Dillon, 2021 draft pick Zach Davidson, and undrafted free agent signing Shane Zylstra who switched from wide receiver to tight end after the Vikings signed him. He is also the younger brother of Former Vikings receiver Brandon Zylstra.
My favorite to win the 3rd spot on the depth chart is Zach Davidson. He is tall and an athlete. I think he would bring something unique to the table. He is also a little raw. If the Vikings can get to work on him, I have high hopes for his future.
Even though Rudolph is gone I don't expect there to be any drop-off in the Vikings offense. Smith and Conklin with be great options for Kirk Cousins as he looks to lead a top 10 offense for another season.