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The Case for a Tyler Conklin Breakout in 2021

The Vikings have a few young, exciting pieces on their roster going into the 2021 season, including Justin Jefferson, Cameron Dantzler, Irv Smith (just to name a few). However, one player that was a big part of Minnesota’s offense down the stretch feels very underrated right now. That player is Tyler Conklin. 

 

With both Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith above him in 2020, Conklin got buried in the depth chart for a majority of the season, especially over the first 10 games or so. However, when he got time on the field, he showed flashes of great play. Conklin could have a breakout year and 2021, and here are just a few reasons to put stock in the 25-year-old. 

 

Kyle Rudolph’s Exit

With Kyle Rudolph very likely exiting Minnesota, it opens up a lot of snaps at tight end. While his numbers may have been somewhat disappointing, Rudolph still played a large role in the offense. In the 12 games he played, he played over 60% of the offensive snaps (per Pro-Football-Reference). 

 

Rudolph’s production in pass-blocking snaps was undeniable. He posted a PFF grade of 73.8, good for eleventh among all TEs. With Smith’s blocking being a liability, Conklin should certainly find more time on the field next year solely due to his blocking ability being far superior to Smith’s. 

 

Strong Finish to 2020

When Rudolph went down at the end of the year, both Smith and Conklin stepped up in a big way. In particular, Conklin’s targets soared down the stretch. After getting just five total targets through week 12, he earned five or more in three of the final four games. 

 

Targets don’t mean anything, though, if a player doesn’t do much with them. Conklin, on the other hand, was able to produce in a big way. He caught 15 of his 21 targets in the final four games of the year, for a respectable rate of 71.4%. He also averaged 42 yards per game over that timeframe. Nine tight ends averaged that many yards per game in 2020. 

 

Granted, being that productive over a 16-game stretch is far more impressive than doing it over four games, but the lack of reps Conklin had going into that four-game stretch has to be taken into account as well. He played under 25% of the offensive snaps in eight of Minnesota’s first ten games. 

 

Contract Year

Conklin was picked in the fifth round of the 2018 draft and signed a deal that has him making an average of just over $685,000 a year through 2021 before he hits the free agent market in 2022. With Rudolph out of the way and a huge opportunity on the table, he should be more motivated than ever to put up a productive season. 

 

The average NFL team (per Spotrac) is allocating $8.2 million to the tight end position. With that high of a pay jump at stake, it’s easy to see why this is a very important season for Conklin. I think he will step up to the plate and embrace the challenge.

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cka2nd
cka2nd
12 days ago

Agreed. I always thought Conklin was more likely to be Rudy’s replacement than David Morgan, because he’s a better receiver. Conklin should make a good TE2 to Smith’s TE1.

Hate to see Rudolph go, though. Hopefully he ends up with a team that uses him like the Saints did Jared Cook, as the pass catching TE1 paired with a blocking specialist TE2. If he plays another three years, Rudolph should finish his career with around 600 receptions and 60 or more TD’s.

Biglar
Biglar
Reply to  cka2nd
12 days ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if Conklin surpasses Smith as the TE1. It’s not like Smith has seized the mantle of TE1, and if Conklin can continue his streak from the end of the season Smith may be the one fighting for targets.

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