EFollowing their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, the Minnesota Vikings are now officially in offseason mode. Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending. For Part 1, we looked at the quarterbacks, for part 2, the running backs, the wide receivers for part 3 and for part 4, the tight ends…
One of the major reasons Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur succeeded this year is that he found ways to maximize the talents of the team’s weapons. There are few better examples than tight ends Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan. While their fantasy numbers might not have been toward the top of the league, both players were an integral part of the Vikings’ offense.
Kyle Rudolph’s catch total dropped from 83 in 2016 to 57 in 2017, but his efficiency and success in important situations made his role more valuable. Rudolph caught 70.2 percent of passes in his direction and averaged 6.6 yards per target. Both of those numbers are up from last year.
Inside the red zone, the former Notre Dame star was targeted 18 times. He caught 14 passes, seven of which were touchdowns. Last season he picked up first downs on just 17 of 44 targets on third down, whereas this year Rudolph had 12 first downs on 24 targets. He was especially good on third-and-short situations, where he caught five passes on seven targets, all of which turned into first downs.
Rudolph was used often by Shurmur on short passes and play-action plays, but wasn’t often a deep target. He caught only two throws from Case Keenum on balls that traveled more than 20 yards.
As a blocker, he showed improvement throughout most of the season, but an ankle injury toward the end of the year sunk his Pro Football Focus grade.
David Morgan was one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends. PFF ranked him second in the league behind Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis. Throughout the season, Shurmur turned to him more and more often. Through eight weeks, Morgan’s highest snap count percentage for a single game was 42, but in the second half he averaged over 50 percent, reaching as high as 73 percent in a single game (which was boosted by Rudolph’s injury).
Keenum didn’t target Morgan very often, but when he did, the results were good. He caught 10 of 12 passes thrown his way, scored one touchdown and converted a first down on all three third-down targets.
The Vikings added Blake Bell after an underwhelming training camp from Bucky Hodges, Kyle Carter and Nick Truesdell, but Bell only caught three passes in 13 games.
— Rudolph is an important part of the Vikings’ offense and a well-liked player, but he eventually may need a re-worked contract to stick around. Over the next two seasons, he is set to have cap hits of $7.6 million. For 2018, the Vikings shouldn’t have an issue with fitting him in, but in 2019 they will have major extensions hitting the cap, including Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Trae Waynes. Next year, Rudolph can be released with no cap penalty for the Vikings.
— It seems every year there is a conversation about a quicker, more athletic tight end being added to the mix. It turns out that Jimmy Grahams and Travis Kelces are not just wandering around on the street. The Vikings’ last two attempts to draft a tall, fast tight end in the later rounds have failed. It’s harder to replace Rudolph than it would be on Maddie’s 18. With that said, if the next offensive coordinator plans to use tight ends as often as Shurmur did, a pass-catching No. 3 TE would be beneficial.
— Morgan could see more playing time in 2018. When healthy, Rudolph was on the field for nearly every snap. That could change as Morgan proves he can be more than just a blocker. Dropping Rudolph’s snap count might also help him stay fresh throughout the season and give the Vikings opportunities to succeed in the run game in single-TE sets.
— If the Vikings did have any inclination of moving on from Rudolph, there are a number of good tight ends on the free agent market. The list is highlighted by Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Trey Burton and Tyler Eifert.
— Assuming they stay with Rudolph, the second tier tight end group has a few possible role players. Denver’s Virgil Green, Seattle’s Luke Wilson and Washington’s Niles Paul are possibilities.
— The Vikings have other needs in the draft, but there are a handful of talented tight ends who could be available in the second or third round, including Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews (62 catches, 958 yards), Troy Fumagalli of Wisconsin (46 catches, 547 yards) and South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert (72 catches, 1,111 yards).
The Vikings will be in very good shape if they stick with Rudolph, Morgan and add a solid No. 3 in free agency or the draft. There may be opportunities to improve at the position, but the grass isn’t always greener.