Vikings by position, Day 2: A lot of resources invested in tight ends
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Each weekday until the NFL Draft begins on April 26, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.
On the roster (5)
Jimmy Kleinsasser (retired).
The Vikings expect a breakthrough season from Rudolph (6-foot-6, 259 pounds), who played 46.9% of the snaps as a rookie and finished with 26 catches in 33 targets (78.8%) for 249 yards (9.6 average) and three touchdowns. Rudolph's inline blocking remains a work in progress, and he has yet to prove he can consistently beat man coverage. But he has a remarkable catch radius and should get more opportunities in the receiving game with Shiancoe gone. Another former second-round draft pick, Carlson (6-5, 251) got $9.1 million in guarantees on the five-year, $25 million contract he signed last month despite missing the 2011 season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He's a receiver first, with 141 catches for 1,550 yards (11.0 average) and 15 touchdowns in 49 NFL games (including playoffs), but he's an upgrade in the blocking phase over Shiancoe, too. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave used an average of 1.62 tight ends on the Vikings' 1,037 offensive plays last season, so there should be plenty of snaps to go around. Shuler (6-4, 251) is another inline-type player and probably has the inside track on the No. 3 job after joining the practice squad on Nov. 28, then signing a two-year minimum deal on Dec. 27. The Vikings drafted Shuler in the seventh round (214th overall) in 2010 and were disappointed to lose him that September on waivers to Miami, where he appeared in six games (two starts) and caught two passes for 44 yards as a rookie. Reisner (6-3, 248) spent 10 weeks on the active roster last season and played 13 snaps on offense, catching one pass for 5 yards -- not bad for an undrafted rookie who originally signed for $2,500. His hands will give him a chance. Hardy (6-4, 249) spent time with Tampa Bay and New Orleans practice squads last year and signed a futures deal with the Vikings in January.
The Vikings don't have a road grader to replace Kleinsasser, but 272-pound tight ends with limited receiving skills are rare in the modern NFL. Kleinsasser only played 38.9% of the snaps last season anyway, and many of those could be replaced with more competent fullback play. The resources they've already invested in tight ends make it unlikely the Vikings would consider drafting another before the late rounds, although they've shown before they won't hesitate if they think they can get a bargain on a playmaker.
Last 10 drafts
• 2011: Rudolph (second round, 43rd overall).
• 2010: Shuler (seventh, 214th).
• 2009: None.
• 2008: None.
• 2007: None.
• 2006: None.
• 2005: None.
• 2004: Jeff Dugan (seventh, 220th).
• 2003: None.
• 2002: None.
The Vikings reportedly visited with James Hanna (Oklahoma), a 6-foot-3¾, 252-pound athletic specimen who posted a 36-inch vertical and 4.4-range 40-yard dash at the combine.
• Mel Kiper, ESPN: 1. Coby Fleener, Stanford. 2. Dwayne Allen, Clemson. 3. Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette. 4. Michael Egnew, Missouri. 5. Orson Charles, Georgia.
• Mike Mayock, NFL Network: 1. Fleener. 2. Allen. 3. Charles. 4. Green. 5. Hanna.
• Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: 1. Fleener. 2. Allen. 3. Charles. 4. Green. 5. Egnew.