Tyler Conklin Is a Genuine TE1

Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports.

This season, the Minnesota Vikings needed Tyler Conklin to step up and prove himself capable as a starting tight end.

He has.

Conklin’s rise up the depth chart has been steady and impressive at every stage. A fifth-round draft pick in 2018, Conklin has slowly risen to the top. Every time his role in the team increased, Conklin delivered.

The Michigan native started his collegiate sporting journey with a basketball scholarship. After one semester, he transferred to Central Michigan University, where his journey to the National Football League began. Instant success did not come Conklin’s way. Deemed too small to play tight end, he sat out his first season to gain weight. Of course, he found his way to the field and had enough success to be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. The change in sport proved a wise decision indeed.

Similarly, Conklin had to bide his time in Minnesota. His first catch came on his debut in the opening game of the 2018 season against the San Francisco 49ers. However, only four more catches followed that season from a total of seven targets.

With veteran Kyle Rudolph cemented in as the starter and Irv Smith Jr.’s addition from the second round of the 2019 draft, opportunities were limited for Conklin in the 2019 season. He did catch eight of the ten targets that came his way while quietly proving to be a safe pair of hands that could be reliable. The question for Conklin was — would there be a chance for an increased role?

In 2020, he never saw a single target in the opening eight games of the season. He must have wondered if his career in Minnesota would ever progress. But then things started to change.

Kyle Rudolph was struggling with injury and with the Vikings brass possibly already looking toward moving on from the veteran following the conclusion of the season. Conklin started getting some touches before heavy involvement in the offense for the last four games. It was a chance for him to prove he could handle an increased role. Could he take it? He finished the season with 19 catches from 26 targets for 194 yards, plus his first career touchdown — which came in a Week 15 loss to the Chicago Bears.

He did sufficiently prove he was capable of being in a tight end tandem with Irv Smith — with Smith expected to break out and be the star, while Conklin was the dependant understudy. Then, on the brink of the season, the announcement came that Irv Smith would miss the entire season due to a torn meniscus.

It was time for Conklin to step up again and carry the weight as lead tight end on the roster. Once again, Conklin has delivered. Across eight games, he has 32 receptions from 44 targets for 342 yards and one touchdown. Those are solid numbers and ninth-most by a tight end so far this season.

To be on that list with the big names at the position is impressive. He’s probably never going to be like Travis Kelce (and certainly not Kyle Pitts, who is a new breed of tight end). But he is proving that he can play the role of starting tight end effectively. Pro Football Focus gives him an overall grade of 66.9, a solid grade for the position. He’s had two good games since the bye week. PFF grades him at 81.3 against the Ravens.

One area he could add to is scoring touchdowns. He has the tools to be a consistent scorer, he can win on routes, and he has safe pair of hands. There’s a lot of competition in the red zone with Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson vying for targets. A couple more touchdown grabs when the opportunity arises will lead Conklin to gain trust and reputation as a red zone threat.

As a final thought, Tyler Conklin is also one of the nicest guys in football. I’ve seen firsthand his interactions with fans on social media — taking time to respond to fans and offering to organize getting jerseys signed. He’s a great guy you want to root for. He’s on course for the best season by a Vikings tight end in several years, which would be a great success story of a truly deserving guy.