Everybody Realized 1 Thing about New Vikings TE

Vikings.com's Gabe Henderson talked with new Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver after he was signed by the team during 2023 NFL free agency. Oliver is on deck to serve as the Vikings TE2 in 2023 behind TE1 T.J. Hockenson.

It took about three months, but Minnesota Vikings fans had an epiphany.

The Minnesota Vikings shocked their fanbase in mid-March, making TE Josh Oliver the team’s first free-agent signing. Heading into free agency, Minnesota was allegedly ‘set’ at two positions — offensive tackle and tight end.

Everybody Realized 1 Thing about New Vikings TE

But then general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed Oliver, a former Baltimore Raven, for three years and $21 million, leaving some scratching their heads.

Everybody Realized 1
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]

Well, after a few hours, folks settled on the rationale — Oliver excelled via run-blocking in Baltimore, so the man must be joining the Vikings as a run-support specialist. Fans went about their business, and Minnesota later added free agents like Marcus Davenport (OLB, Saints) and Byron Murphy (CB, Cardinals).

Fast forward to June, and now Vikings loyalists are learning — or re-learning — that Oliver isn’t ‘just a run blocker.’ In fact, coming out of college in 2019, Oliver was chided for lack of run-blocking talent and only propped up as a pass-catcher.

Vikings TE Josh Oliver on March 16th, 2023, in Eagan, Minnesota. Oliver signed with the Vikings as a free agent from the Baltimore Ravens for three years and $21 million.

Overall, in the lead-up to the 2019 NFL Draft, Oliver was scouted like this by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, “Above-average, mid-air athlete with plus ball skills who was forced to deal with coverages that were consistently shaded in his direction thanks to an excessive target count. Oliver’s route-running and ball-tracking talent allow him to work beyond the first level and can help NFL team’s looking to push the ball downfield. Oliver will flash as an in-line blocker at times but might need to enter the league as a TE2/3 who works from the slot until he becomes more skilled and consistent at the point of attack.”

A scout also told NFL.com four years ago about Oliver, “I had him as my sleeper this summer, but he just put too much on tape to stay a sleeper. He can work in the slot but he needs to get better as a blocker so he can stay on the field on every down.”

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports.

Zierlein tabbed an Oliver weakness, “Run blocking will need work before he can handle NFL in-line duties, and “doesn’t gather and come to balance as move-blocker.”

Now, though, the script has flipped. Folks assumed Oliver was a ‘run-blocking guy’ who may or may not break out as a pass-catcher. Meanwhile, the reality is this: Oliver transformed himself into a run-blocking tight end because that’s what Baltimore needed. He was never going to surpass Marc Andrews on the Ravens depth chart — T.J. Hockenson might not even do that — so to grab playing time, Oliver needed a craft.

And with the run-happy Ravens, that niche was run support — out of necessity.

Do the Unexpected
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports.

Of course with the Vikings, Oliver won’t command a TE1’s workload via passing-game targets, but he does have the college resume to thrive as a ‘normal’ tight end if the Vikings require it. Because Oliver faithfully adhered to the Ravens run-first scheme, he erroneously received a pigeonholed label.

News of Oliver’s versatility hit the wire this week via SI.com, The Viking Age, and Thor Nystrom discussed it Tuesday on VikesNow.

Oliver doesn’t have to be a run-blocking tight end. That was merely his role in Baltimore — almost out of survival.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.