Vikings Are Surprisingly Down to 5 Tight Ends

Only 2 Options
Feb 4, 2023; Paradise, NV, USA; NFC tight end T.J. Hockenson of the Minnesota Vikings (87) during practice at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Tight end Ben Ellefson announced his retirement on Thursday via a post on Instagram. The Minnesota-born athlete signed with his hometown team in 2021 after one season with the Jaguars and appeared in nine games for the Vikings, including one start. Primarily known for his blocking ability, Ellefson caught three passes for 26 yards. Injuries forced him to retire at age 26 before the 2023 season.

Vikings Are Surprisingly Down to 5 Tight Ends

Vikings Are Surprisingly Down to 5 Tight Ends
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings tight end Ben Ellefson (82) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

Ellefson’s career is over, but the five tight ends on the roster will have an easier path to make the team because of it. Teams usually carry three of them into a season. Just last year, Minnesota had the since departed Irv Smith, his backup Johnny Mundt, and Ellefson on the team when it was time to name the 53-man roster.

Star tight end T.J. Hockenson is the top guy in the room. The Vikings traded for him right before the trade deadline arrived because Smith was hurt. He’s also clearly an upgrade as one of the league’s best players at his position. Hockenson quickly became the second option in the passing game to Justin Jefferson as he recorded more than 600 yards in the 11 games with the Vikings. The position battles will start behind him even though the next guy is already penciled in.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after a touchdown score as tight end Mark Andrews (89) looks on and Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andre Cisco (5) is slow to get up after an attempted stop during the fourth quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jaguars edged the Ravens 28-27. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed Josh Oliver as his first move in free agency to a $21 million deal for three seasons. Oliver was a blocking specialist when he played for the Ravens, but his college career indicates untapped potential as a pass catcher. He finished last season with 149 receiving yards and two scores. His addition could mean that the Vikings intend to play with more two tight end sets. Adding a blocking TE could help Hockenson to increase his pass-catching versatility because he doesn’t have to focus on blocking anymore. He should be considered the backup tight end.

The valuable third spot, which secures a roster spot, is contested. Minnesota employs Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse, and undrafted rookie Ben Sims.

Sims, the former tight end of Baylor, joined the Vikes after catching 78 passes for 785 yards and 12 touchdowns in his college career. He ran an excellent 4.58 40-yard dash on his pro day at 6’5″ and 250 pounds. All pre-draft scouting reports suggest that he is a practice squad guy.

Can The Vikings Defense Keep Standing Up?
Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell congratulates tight end Johnny Mundt. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

We know more about Mundt, who surprisingly earned a large role in the offense in his first year with the team. Mundt caught a total of only ten passes in five seasons with the Rams but 19 in one year with the Vikings for 140 yards and 1 touchdown. He is also a good run blocker which is why he was on the field frequently. Mundt should be considered the favorite to clinch the final TE spot.

However, he is challenged by Nick Muse, who the Vikings selected in the seventh round of the 2022 draft. He started the season on the practice squad but was on the active team for a while because of injuries. The Vikings released him late in the year but re-signed him to the practice squad. Muse played in ten games but only logged special teams snaps and did not have a single play on offense.

The competition for the TE3 job will be a thing to watch in the next months. Because of Ellefson’s retirement, the contestants only have to beat out a couple of guys instead of three.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt