[NOTE FROM ADAM:  This is another installation of my position-by-position breakdown of the Vikings offseason.  You can click there links to view previous installments:  The Passers, The Runners, and The Wide Outs.]

The Vikings knew that the end of the 2011 season would signal a crossroads when it came to the tight end position.  They got a head start on addressing the situation by drafting Kyle Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 Draft, but work still needs doing.

Let’s take a closer look.

LAST SEASON

Despite only catching one pass for four yards, Jim Kleinsasser continued to be an incredibly valuable player for the Vikings.  He has made a career of being one of the most consistently dominant blockers in the league.  He has also been versatile enough to be the team’s most effective lead blocking fullback.

When it came to receiving statistics, Visanthe Shiancoe led the tight ends with 36 catches and 409 yards, having scored three times.  For the second season in a row, however, Shiancoe seemed out of sorts with inconsistencies and nagging injury problems.

Rookie Kyle Rudolph was probably the most impressive of the group, playing well as a pass catcher and a blocker, and showed why he was the highest ranked tight end prospect in the 2011 Draft class.  Rudolph ended his rookie campaign with 26 catches, 249 yards, and three touchdowns.

Some in the media and in the stands became frustrated with how sparingly the Vikings seemed to use Rudolph.  He never had more than three catches in a game and never once was able to top 50 yards in a game. 

Allen Reisner was the only other Viking tight end to catch a pass this season. 

CURRENT ROSTER

Kyle Rudolph is the only tight end that is a lock to be on this roster in 2011.  He will be entering the second season of his four year rookie contract worth $3.91 million.

Jim Kleinsasser decided to end his career as a life-long Viking.  The team had a miserable season, but one of the few highlights was watching the rare event of a player celebrating a career ending in the same place it began.  Kleinsasser will be missed, and filling his shoes will be a near-impossible task.

Visanthe Shiancoe’s contract will also be expiring, but he is not yet ready to retire, so the Vikings face a choice as to whether or not “Shank” should return.  He’ll be 32 when the season starts, has seen his production decline to seasons in a row, and has not been able to completely shake the injury bug.  The team was thought to have been discussing an extension with Shiancoe in years past, but nothing ever became of it, and it seems like there is a very good chance he is playing elsewhere in 2012.

Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler are both under contract and should remain on the roster at least until training camp.

FREE AGENCY

If he hits the open market, Packers tight end Jermichael Finley will be one of the hottest names on the free agent market.  While it is fun to dream, the idea of the Vikings spending that type of money on a tight end seems incredibly unlikely at this point.

After Finley, there are a number or second tier options that could help the Vikings out.  Fred Davis (age 26) from Washington is probably the second ranked free agent tight end by most accounts.  Scott Chandler (27), Martellus Bennett (25), and John Carlson (28) could all be intriguing options as the Vikings try to find reliable backups to Rudolph.

DRAFT PROSPECTS

The Vikings could once again find themselves in the position to draft the best tight end in the Draft with their second round pick.  This year, that prospect is Dwayne Allen of Clemson who is a really solid blocker in addition to being a dangerous receiving threat.

Orson Charles (Georgia) is very speedy for a tight end while Coby Fleener (Stanford) has a huge frame and solid hands.  Both could be potential picks in the second or third rounds.

Guys like David Paulson out of Oregon and George Bryan from N.C. State, both of whom impressed in the East-West Shrine Game, could be the solid blocking tight end that the Vikings hope to steal in later rounds. 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES

I don’t see the Vikings being aggressive with any restricted free agents.  I also don’t see them seeking out any trades involving the tight end position.

What I do see, however, is that they could be very patient in both the Draft and in free agency hoping to find some great value.  They may even wait to see what players become available later on in free agency, after teams begin to cut players to save on cap space.

I would also like to personally put forth the suggestion that Jeff Dugan should, at an absolute minimum, be invited to training camp in 2012.

PROJECTIONS

I think patience will have to be key here.  The Vikings cannot panic and overpay or reach on a Draft choice to fill their needs at tight end.

Building around Rudolph should involve nabbing a few players that present the team with low cost.  They cannot panic and offer a ton of money to Shiancoe.  They cannot panic and overpay a free agent.  They cannot panic and reach on a guy in the Draft.

I think Rudolph will end up as the starter in 2012.  After that , expect Resiner and Shuler to be competing with some low level free agents and late round draft picks for a roster spot.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The guy on the free agency list that intrigues me the most is Martellus Bennett.. He is a pretty darn good inline blocker, and he is also very realiable when it comes to pass catching. Besides that he is just very young for a free agent.

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  2. Nice plug for Dugan, Adam. Can you imagine the smile on Ole’s face if he made the roster again? I dont think they should even try to keep Shank. Too many injuries, penalties and he’s not a very good blocker. Time to let him go.

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  3. The name that intrigues me is John Carlson. The MN native is coming off a year spent on IR in Seattle and likely will be available for bargain basement 1 year prove it type deal. He was one of the better young TE’s in the game before that injury. Bennet has been a head case in Dallas, I don’t see the Vikes touching him.

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  4. Excellent article Adam! The only criticism is that you could be a bit more strident in your remarks regarding getting Jeff Meta Universal Peace Dugan back on the Viking’s roster.

    Shiancoe at the veteran’s minimum only. Rudolph is ok but has to prove himself. Shuler and Reisner aren’t two names you would compare to Gronkowski and Hernandez. I do like Dan’s suggestion about this John Carlson fellow. If he is healthy, he would be good competition with Dugan for the starters spot.

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  5. So help me, Adam, if they draft a tight end before the 6th round… I …. I …. I won’t like it at all!

    BTW, what did you guys think of Aaron Rodgers’ comments about the level of play in the Pro Bowl? I said what I thought over in Fran’s Forum.

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    • Coach, although he did tell the truth, I have a feeling he’s gonna live to regret his comments. I’m surprised one of the players he called out didn’t give him a knuckle sandwich, had to be tempting.

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    • Now, Bud, I stated above what I think will happen… a few low level tight end battling it out with Shuler and Resiner. However, I have to wonder why you would be so opposed to spending a fourth round pick on a tight end? Lets be honest Dwayne Allen would be a HUGE steal in the third round, and you would be opposed to drafting that sort of talent at that point?

      I know the O-line is your top priority, but it isn’t the only priority. Another solid tight end might go a long ways towards helping that O-Line (and young QB) out.

      It seems when you and I disagree on these matters it is because I take the best player available approach to the draft (and accuracy by volume) while you seem more of a draft for needs type of a guy. Is that a fair assessment?

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      • Fair assessment, Adam, and I think we can both agree that a combination of the two is best. I will admit that BPA got us people like Moss, Harvin, and to some degree Peterson. But you must admit that doing so also left us without a line to block for them, and so a price was paid. I believe we took the shiny sports car when, at some point, we needed the Silverado.

        I know we have big needs other than Oline, I’m not that one dimensional. I might even say that the need in the defensive backfield is a very close second. WR and LB are also emerging needs. On the other hand, there is very little need at TE, IMO. I understand BPA on occasion, but that approach has also left teams scratching their heads as to why they have holes in their roster. OK, maybe another TE will be too hard to pass up at 4 of 5, but gosh darn, there will be other players of greater need that will also be there. Just sayin’.

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