What Is Going On With Vikings TE Chris Herndon?

The date was August 28th, 2021, and Irv Smith Jr. had completed a strong preseason filled with performances, showcasing a cornucopia of athletic talent. This was the year — his third in the league — he would break out and show the lofty promise his second-round draft pedigree brings. His teammates, coaches, and fans were excited at the growth and dynamic playmaking he flashed in limited preseason work.

 One day later, the optimism and excitement many had was replaced with a familiar feeling for Vikings fans – dread. It was reported that he had suffered a knee injury (meniscus tear) and would need surgery — an early indication was he would miss a few weeks. 

With the Vikings usage of two-tight end sets over the last few years, this suddenly became problematic. Factor in tight end Tyler Conklin nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out most of the preseason, and quite abruptly, the Vikings had a depth issue at tight end. GM Rick Spielman quickly got to work, scouring the free-agent market, the lists of roster cuts, and those tight ends which might be available via trade. Ultimately, they landed on Jets tight end Chris Herndon as the best available option.

The Vikings would send a 2022 fourth-round pick to New York in exchange for Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Not a terrible deal, possibly a little rich. but for a team gearing up for postseason play, it was a worthwhile gamble. The fourth will likely be a late one, and the sixth, in return, will likely be an early one. Plus, they add Herndon, a 2018 fourth-round pick out of Miami. 

Herndon offered a curious case for many outside of the Jets organization. He flashed a great deal of talent and potential during his rookie campaign, accumulating 502 yards on 39 receptions and four touchdowns. His sophomore year was marred with injuries and a suspension for the season’s first four games. He finished the year with one catch for seven yards. Herndon could recreate some of his rookie year magic with quarterback Sam Darnold in 2020 but appeared to be an afterthought in Adam Gase’s passing attack.

That brings us to 2021 and the Vikings. So far, in his limited time with the team, he has seen precisely twelve snaps a game. That equates to 16.6% of offensive snaps a game. Herndon saw two targets in Week 1. He has yet to see another target. So what gives?


Getting traded in-season has to be difficult for anyone, aged veteran or young up and comer. There most definitely is a learning curve with a new playbook and offensive scheme. Multiply that by 1000 after enduring Gase’s Crayola-filled playbook for the first three years.



Herndon’s time will come in this offense. Thankfully, they haven’t needed him as a pass-catcher at this point of his Vikings tenure. Both wide receiver KJ Osborn and Conklin have stepped up in Smith’s absence and provided phenomenal playmaking of their own. As the year progresses and defenses figure out different ways to limit these other options, Herndon should see some burn. It was also reported Wednesday that Conklin is dealing with glute and ankle injuries. Herndon could get his number called sooner than we think.

If, for some reason, Herndon doesn’t pan out this year and promptly leaves in free agency — that’s ok too. Some will chalk it up as another ‘miss’ on Spielman’s behalf, but it was a worthwhile hedge when staring at possibly starting the season without your top two tight ends on the depth chart. If the trade doesn’t work out and it still bugs you, think of it this way instead.

By draft trade logic, that means the Vikings are currently ‘up’ an early sixth-round pick and Herndon on the Jets. So the Vikings are still winners, with sprinkles.