Present, Future of Vikings Tight Ends Looks Bright

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) celebrates after catching a 10-yard touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Kyle Rudolph has been a staple of the Minnesota Vikings offense since he was drafted by the team in 2011. Despite receiving criticism for being “injury-prone” due to sitting 8 games in 2013 and 9 games in 2014, Rudolph has started and played in 86 straight games.

Last off-season, Rudolph was the target of a ton of speculation about his taking a pay cut to help the team when they were in cap space hell. There was also a lot of talk of him being cut in favor of newly drafted rookie Irv Smith Jr. Rudolph responded that he was “too young” to take a pay cut.

Despite many people wanting to drive a wedge between Rudolph and Smith, the two seem to be good friends, and Rudolph said that he was eager to work with Smith last off-season. Rudy also did end up lowering his cap hit by singing an extension that keeps him in Minnesota through 2023. Training camp will be somewhat different this year, but hopefully we will get to see some good competition between the two.

It looks like the Vikings made an excellent decision to keep both Rudolph and Smith Jr. Rudolph put up 367 receiving yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. He also added four catches for 31 yards against the Saints in the divisional round and scored the Vikings winning touchdown.

In his rookie season, Irv Smith Jr put up 311 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns, combine that with Rudolph, and you have a pretty good tight end pair. Smith also was surprisingly ahead of the curve in blocking, something that was a question mark for him coming from college where he wasn’t known as an elite blocker.

In year two, the Vikings should expect more from Smith. Spending a year learning under a very smart veteran like Kyle Rudolph, and the natural growth of tight ends, combined with his natural talents means that he could be a candidate to be a breakout player. He certainly should get more opportunities after the Vikings lost Stefon Diggs who was targeted 94 times last season.

After Smith and Rudolph, the Vikings have third year man Tyler Conklin. In two years, he has caught 13 passes for 135 receiving yards. Nothing to write home about, but he certainly should be a serviceable option if either of his teammates in front of him need a break. 

After Conklin, the Vikings are just carrying second year player Brandon Dillon and undrafted free agent rookie Nakia Griffin-Stewart. Dillon played in one game last season, and Griffin Stewart played his college seasons at the University of Pittsburgh.