After a career year for Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, it might have come as a bit of a surprise when Minnesota brought in tight end Jared Cook for a visit last week. But the Vikings have gotten very little out of their No. 2 tight ends in recent years and should continue their hunt in free agency and/or the NFL draft.
In 2016, Rhett Ellison, who is now a proud New York Giant, caught nine passes on 14 targets for just 57 yards. David Morgan and McCole Pruitt, currently a Chicago Bear, combined for two catches and 11 yards. Quick math, that’s 11 catches for 68 yards from tight ends not named Rudolph. The previous season wasn’t much more fruitful for tight ends with Ellison and Pruitt combining for just 21 receptions.
Some teams prefer to have their No. 2 be a master run blocker. Ellison was above average, ranking 21st of 63 tight ends by Pro Football Focus metrics, but was only on the field for 141 run snaps. The Vikings could have used more run blocking help. Not only did they rank last in Yards Per Carry this season, but Rudolph ranked 53rd of 63 in run blocking.
Tennessee was the model for using differently skilled tight ends for receiving and blocking roles. Anthony Fasano was the top ranked run blocker by PFF and only caught nine passes, while Delanie Walker had 65 catches for 800 yards and was only on the field for 223 run snaps. The Titans ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing Yards Per Carry and ninth in Adjusted Yards Per Passing Attempt.
Aware of both their shortcoming at the No. 2 tight end spot and the value that the position is capable of adding, the Vikings showed interest in former Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook, a veteran who is both a decent receiver and solid run blocker. Cook elected to sign with the Oakland Raiders after visiting Minnesota.
So how should the Vikings approach the position now?
Free agency has very few proven tight ends remaining that would be above average. Veteran Jacob Tamme is the best of those players. In 23 games over the last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, he’s caught 81 passes on 112 targets for 10.7 Yards Per Catch. He also rated as the 11th best run blocker by PFF rankings. The biggest concern with Tamme is that he’s 32 and is coming off an injury-shortened season with the Falcons.
Mychal Rivera has seen his role reduced over the last two years in Oakland, in part because he is a very poor pass blocker. As a receiver, he’s been effective in the past, catching 58 passes in 2014 as the Raiders’ starter.
And that’s about it.
So the Vikings will likely have to turn to the draft to land a quality No. 2 tight end. Or maybe a future No. 1.
Rudolph is coming off a solid year, but next season he’s set to play with a $7.3 million cap hit and the Vikings can release him with only $1.3 million in dead money. The following season, they can let him go with zero penalty.
This year’s draft also happens to be loaded with quality tight ends. CBS Sports’ draft rankings project six tight ends will be taken in the first three rounds. And there are next-level athletes at the position. At the NFL Combine, more tight ends ran below 4.7 40-yard dashes than ever before, including Ole Miss’s Evan Engram, who raced to a ridiculous 4.42 despite being 6-foot-3, 234-pounds.
While solidifying the future of the offensive line will be a major priority for the Vikings, missing out on Cook should push tight end up toward the top of their list of positions to consider.