Daniel House analyzed a deep tight end group that provides some of the best depth the Vikings have had at this position group in recent seasons. He tells you why he thinks four tight ends could realistically make the 53-man roster.
Updated: June 27th, 2014 6:28pm
By: Daniel House
As we discussed in the fullback portion of the Vikings training camp position preview series, tight ends are going to see heavy emphasis in Norv Turner's offense. Last season, with Turner calling the plays, the Cleveland Browns used one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers on 36.9 percent of their offensive plays, according to Pro Football Focus. That was the second-highest percentage in the NFL. To put this into context, the Vikings only used personnel sets similar to Turner's philosophy with tight ends in 10 percent of snaps last year.
Every fantasy football enthusiast knows that Browns tight end Jordan Cameron had a breakout season under Turner. Cameron played 969 offensive snaps, the most of any Browns skill player last season. The second tight end in 2013 for the Browns was Gary Barnidge, who played 529 snaps on offense and was used in blocking on more than 80 percent of his snaps, per Pro Football Focus. So based upon previous trends, we would be led to believe Kyle Rudolph will see the majority of the reps, while a second tight end is used in the passing game and heavily in the blocking aspect, as well. We are going to see more tight end usage in 2014, but aside from Kyle Rudolph, who can handle the backup duties? Let's take a look.
Kyle Rudolph: Rudolph has shown flashes of elite potential with inconsistent quarterback play and incompetent offensive coordinating being a variable in the equation. If he can stay healthy, he has the chance to be one of the top-tier tight ends in this league. Throw Norv Turner into the fold and Rudolph becomes a huge threat. Based upon the schematic philosophies the Vikings will implement, Rudolph will see the highest amount of passes he has seen in his career. He will essentially be lined up on the outside and will see passes like a wide receiver would during several packages. Kyle Rudolph could be one of the stars in this offense and it will be interesting to see how Norv Turner uses his immense amount of talent.
Rhett Ellison: Ellison has primarily been used more as a fullback or H-Back, but he has officially been moved to tight end this year. He is a solid run blocker and could be used as a fullback if needed this year. This could give the Vikings more flexibility during roster cuts, especially if they decide to keep four tight ends and just one fullback. In the event a fullback went down, Ellison could fill the role and provide tight end pass catching skills, as well. Above I discussed Gary Barnidge with the Cleveland Browns and it appears his role seems to have similar continuity to Rhett Ellison's. He will be used primarily as a run blocking tight end, but can be used in the passing game too. The flexibility Ellison provides, along with his versatility as a player are both tangibles that should help his chances of making the Vikings roster.
Chase Ford: Ford was forced into action following Kyle Rudolph's foot injury at the midway point of the 2013 season. He executed nicely in his absence, hauling in 11 catches for 113 yards. Early in training camp practices in Mankato last season, you could see Ford had some solid skills. He was an impressive route runner, who could control his body very well in traffic. These abilities translated on the field in limited action, which provides a sense of optimism. Chase Ford is incredibly athletic for his size and in tight spaces, he can make the plays. If he can become a better blocker, he has a solid chance to make this team. He would be a nice mix with Kyle Rudolph in certain packages.
A.C. Leonard: Every time I hear A.C. Leonard's name mentioned among Vikings discussions, I get very excited. Leonard is one of the most athletic tight ends that you will find at his 6'2" 242-pound frame. He spent time early in his college career at Florida, but later transferred to Tennessee State for his last two collegiate seasons. He ran a 4.50 forty-yard dash at the scouting combine, which led the entire position group. Leonard has extremely solid hands and body control in traffic, along with superior acceleration skills in the second level of the defense. If he can show better abilities as a run blocker, he will be right in the hunt with this squad. He already had a very impressive mini-camp and hauled in a long reception during the media portion of practice two weeks ago. You have to believe Norv Turner likes the athletic ability A.C. Leonard can provide and will look to find ways to utilize him in the offense.
Allen Reisner: Reisner has spent time with the Vikings before and after spending last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is back for a third chance in Minnesota. He's a guy who's a pretty decent blocker and has shown nice hands as a receiver, but he hasn't done anything to separate himself in this league. Reisner probably has a pretty big hill to climb if he wants to stick with the Vikings in 2014. With four other candidates who have bundles of athletic ability, Reisner will have to be on his game to make a charge for a spot on the Vikings 53-man roster.
With all of this said, it appears Kyle Rudolph is the only player in this position group that is definitely making the roster. The last two or three spots, will be won in battles during training camp. As of right now, if the Vikings keep one fullback, I like the idea of Ellison being a tight end and fullback in this scheme. Pair Chase Ford with the insane athletic ability of A.C. Leonard and the Vikings have one of the best tight end groups we have seen in recent years.