Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pre-Training Camp Position Analysis: Tight Ends

Daniel House tells you why the Vikings tight-end position could be one of the best in the NFL if John Carlson returns to normal form.

The tight end position is an area the Vikings want to build upon during the 2013 season. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave incorporates the tight ends into many formations the team uses. They are lined up in the backfield, spread out in the slot, and even placed on the outside. Kyle Rudolph (below) emerged and became a deadly goal-line target for Christian Ponder. Rudolph saw a rise in production between his rookie and sophomore campaigns

2012 Stats:                   2011 Stats
534939                 26     249     3
I attribute much of the statistical difference with the hamstring tear Rudolph suffered in his senior season at Notre Dame. Many hamstring tears take more than a year to recover and Rudolph wasn't feeling comfortable immediately. Last season we noticed the way he finished routes and was a definite redzone threat. He is a huge matchup threat for teams and is one of the key reasons the Vikings won the final four games in 2012 and made the playoffs. Even a slight rise in production would spread optimism to the Vikings offense.

Let's face it, John Carlson was a major disappointment last season and didn't live up to the expectations the coaching staff placed upon him. After signing a 5-year $25 million contract in 2012, he was plagued with struggles and injury issues. He restructured his contract to stay with team and decreased his $4 million salary-cap hit. Carlson (28), caught just eight passes for 43 yards last season. He missed two games because of a concussion, and he also missed time during the summer with an MCL injury. With his past factored into the situation, Carlson has proven he can make an impact in the league. John caught 55 passes as a rookie for Seattle in 2008 and hauled in 51 receptions in his second season. That being said, Carlson’s impact has plummeted in recent seasons. He missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury, and as discussed, he wasn't a major factor for the Vikings last season. With a healthy offseason and training camp, there is hope Carlson can become an option for the team. Look for him to be used in the backfield and slot areas as a reception tight end. One thing is certain, Carlson will need to show he can contribute to be back in purple in 2014.

Jim Kleinsasser was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 1999 draft. He spent the next 12 seasons at fullback and tight end, and was one of the best run blockers in NFL history. When he retired after the 2011 season, the Vikings needed someone to fill the spot he left behind. The team drafted Rhett Ellison (right) from USC in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Most draft experts saw Ellison as a player who would go undrafted. He wasn't even expected to be drafted this high, and was out fishing when he received the call from the Vikings.
Though three inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Kleinsasser, Rhett filled a major void in the Vikings blocking scheme. Many contribute Adrian Peterson's success to the blocking Ellison provided in front of him. Although considered a tight end, Ellison is more of a blocking tight end/fullback. He played significantly less snaps last season and split time with Pro-Bowl fullback Jerome Felton. The real question is whether Ellison can handle a load of 650+ snaps he could potentially be facing in the next few seasons of his career. He is definitely one of the "under-the-radar" players pivotal in the Vikings success in 2012.
Colin Anderson is one of two players from Furman University on the Vikings training camp roster. A large tight end with a low amount of experience could sneak his way onto the Vikings practice squad. Anderson caught 30 passes for 498 yards this fall after ranking among the top tight ends in FCS play in 2011 with 40 receptions for 696 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Chase Ford was signed unto the Vikings practice squad at the end of the 2012 season. Ford had only 16 catches in two seasons with the Miami Hurricanes. He wasn't drafted in 2011 and most recently had a stint on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. It seems he is simply on the roster for his size and potential tangibles, but has a steep battle to make the roster on a team filled with quality tight ends.
Overall, if John Carlson can be effective this season, Rudolph can build upon his success, and Ellison can be durable enough to handle a potential rise in snaps, the Vikings tight end position could be one of the best in the NFL.
Pre-Training Camp Projected Depth Chart
1. Kyle Rudolph
2. John Carlson
3. Rhett Ellison

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