3 Ex-Vikings Will Be Part of ‘Hard Knocks’

Florham Park, NJ May 31, 2023 -- Quarterback, Aaron Rodgers rides the stationary bike during the Jets OTA.

NFL Films and HBO Sports began their successful show in 2001 when they followed the Baltimore Ravens, a team that had just won the Super Bowl.

Twenty-two years later, there are some strict rules regarding which teams are eligible to be part of the show. Teams in the first seasons volunteered to be featured. Nowadays, most of them are forced to do it. Ineligible are organizations that were featured in the last ten years, have a first-year head coach, or reached the postseason in at least one of the previous two seasons.

3 Ex-Vikings Will Be Part of ‘Hard Knocks’

Those rules left four possible teams — Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders, and New York Jets. The Bears are a popular team leading up to the 2023 season, as quarterback Justin Fields is expected by many to make a Jalen Hurts or Josh Allen-type leap, and the Jets added Aaron Rodgers to their team, and of course, are a New York team. That automatically brings them a high viewership.

3 Ex-Vikings Will Be Part of 'Hard Knocks'
May 23, 2023; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) speaks at a press conference after practice at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports.

For that reason, the show will feature the Jets, a team that didn’t want to be part of the show. Quarterback Rodgers is rumored to be disgruntled because of the decision. Knowing Rodgers, there will be more disgruntled Rodgers when the show airs.

The Minnesota Vikings have never been featured on Hard Knocks, but a trio of former Vikings players can be spotted this season.

Tyler Conklin

Surely the biggest name on the list, Conklin came to the Vikings in 2018 as a fifth-round pick. The tight end immediately made the roster and appeared in all 16 games in his debut season, starting three of those contests. He caught 5 passes for 77 yards and logged 299 snaps, about half of them on special teams.

Oct 17, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin (83) makes a catch midfield against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Conklin’s role didn’t change much in 2019, as he played in 15 games and had 8 grabs for 58 yards. His third season was a slight breakout, catching 19 passes for 194 yards and his first touchdown. Those are numbers of a solid depth tight end with upside.

And indeed, that upside showed in the 2021 campaign. Irv Smith Jr. was expected to have his breakout season, but things changed when he tore his meniscus in a preseason game. Conklin was the new starting tight end of Mike Zimmer’s operation, and he played a wonderful season, catching 61 passes for 593 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers topped those of the previous three seasons combined.

As a result of his excellent play, Conklin was a highly sought free agent, and the cap-strapped Vikings couldn’t match his demands and once again expected big things from Smith Jr., who has since left and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. The former fifth-rounder, meanwhile, signed a lucrative three-year, $21 million deal with the New York Jets in 2022, where he almost copied his 2021 statistics, logging 58 catches for 552 yards and 3 scores.

Veteran C.J. Uzomah and 2022 third-rounder Jeremy Ruckert are expected to push him for snaps and targets.

Chazz Surratt

The linebacker was part of the infamous third round of Rick Spielman’s 2021 draft class, including Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis, Kellen Mond, and Patrick Jones. Of those four, only Jones made the Vikings’ 53-man roster just one year after the draft. It is uncommon for third-rounders to depart from a team this quickly, and three of them after just one season leaving is just shocking.

Chazz Surratt
Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chazz Surratt. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports.

Surratt came into college as a quarterback and became a linebacker a couple of seasons into his North Carolina career. That is obviously a reason why he was a raw player coming out of college with some solid athletic tools. However, linebacker is a position where a player must be fundamentally sound, and he wasn’t.

In his rookie season, his only one with the Vikings, Surratt played in nine games but only on special teams, despite the team’s linebacker group sustaining some injuries. With the Jets in 2022, the linebacker only appeared in one game and logged 11 snaps on special teams.

A problem for Surratt is his age. He entered the draft as a 24-year-old. That should be considered old for any prospect and even more so for a raw player like him. Spielman and Zimmer indeed had a plan for his development, but that badly failed.

Craig James

An almost forgotten player in Vikings’ circles, cornerback Craig James signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2018. The Illinois native played the first two seasons of his college career at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Southern Illinois. He was a backup cornerback and punt returner for the Gophers.

Aug 29, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Craig James (36) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

James failed to make the 53-man roster as a rookie but was signed to the practice squad in October. He made his NFL debut in a game against the Patriots, appeared in three total games in 2018, and logged 25 snaps on special teams.

After missing out on the Vikings’ roster in 2019, James spent a couple of seasons with the Eagles, playing 18 games and even logging one start. Most of his snaps continued to come as a special teams player. He likely would’ve played in more games if not for some injuries.

James spent all of the 2022 season on the Jets’ practice squad. He now hopes to crack the 53-man roster at age 27.

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