The New Tight End Keeps Getting Praised by Vikings Coaches

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Oliver has a believer in offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.

Indeed, the new tight end has commonly been praised by the OC for both his ability as a blocker and as a pass catcher. Phillips’ press conference from earlier in the week continued the trend as the OC kept unpacking what makes Minnesota’s TE2 so special.

Do the Unexpected
Sep 18, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) reacts during the game against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports.

“I think you have a guy like Josh,” Phillips notes, “and you have to use him.” Immediately thereafter, Phillips explains that Oliver is capable of handling blocks against edge rushers, something that can’t be said about a lot of tight ends. The combination of his strength, length, and catching ability make him an ideal fit for the Vikings offense.

The New Tight End and The Vikings Offense

Phillips had plenty more to say about the free agent addition.

So much of the appeal with Josh Oliver is that “he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he’s athletic, and then he’s shown that in the pass game he’s got really good hands, and that’s going all the way back from college. And he’s super long, so his catch radius is really big.”

Keeping up with all of that? Phillips certainly has a lot of praise for the former Jag and Raven.

Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips during practice at Hanbury Manor. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Make no mistake: the offense continues to belong to Justin Jefferson. The Offensive Player of the Year is nothing short of phenomenal, someone who was voted as the 2nd-best player in the NFL by his peers. The team’s ability to also feature Jordan Addison and K.J. Osborn means Kirk Cousins is going to be looking toward his receivers plenty.

Furthermore, T.J. Hockenson is pretty locked-in as the TE1. The 8th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Hockenson very quickly acclimated to life in Minnesota. Most will think of his regular season stats and being on the wrong end of Cousins’ misguided 4th-down pass in the playoffs, but we shouldn’t overlook how dominant he was in the Giants playoff game. He turned 11 targets into 10 catches for 129 yards.

Hockenson Chatter
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) reacts after a play against the New York Giants during the second quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

So far, Oliver hasn’t been a prolific pass catcher in his NFL career. His best season occurred last year when he had just 14 catches, 149 yards, and 2 TDs. What’s a realistic projection for where he could end up in 2023? Would something around 35 catches, 400 yards, and 5 TDs be realistic?

Partner those stats with some A+ blocking and the Vikings will be very happy.

Part of the problem for Oliver isn’t his ability, or lack thereof. The issue is that he’ll be at best the #3 or #4 option as a pass catcher. Jefferson takes the top spot and then Hockenson is going to be featured. Addison and/or Osborn are next up for most likely to get attention from Cousins. And let’s not forget Alexander Mattison, a running back with some soft hands.

Starters in 2023
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) walks off the field after the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports.

Plenty of mouths to feed, so Oliver is unlikely to feast on targets. Even still, we should be expecting him to set career highs in the major receiving stat categories.

Oliver, 26, is going into the opening season of his 3-year deal with the Vikings. He’s carrying a $2.554 million cap charge into the season, but that’s a number that will rise to $6.174 million and $9.424 million in upcoming seasons. If Wes Phillips is correct in his assessment, then Oliver will be worth the investment.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.