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The tight end position added some youth in the draft, but can a player like Kyle Rudolph become a top-tier tight end? Daniel House analyzes the tight ends heading into training camp.
Updated: July 12th, 2015 1:30pm
By: Daniel House
The tight end position is a heavy emphasized point in the Vikings offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has always liked to use multiple tight end sets when in certain formations. Not only are they asked to catch passes on a frequent basis, but a heavy reliance is placed on run blocking. That trait will definitely be the difference when judging who wins the final tight end spot on the roster. Kyle Rudolph was given a contract extension last season, but needs to prove he can stay healthy on the field. MyCole Pruitt was added in the fifth round of the draft and was turning heads during the Vikings mini-camp practices. He will provide a challenge for returning veterans Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison.
Not to mention, the Vikings also added former Packers tight end Brandon Bostick in free agency. Bostick is most known for his special teams debacle in the NFC Championship game last year. Nonetheless, he still has shown flashes as a pass-catcher, but has never been able to put together all of the pieces as a tight end. The tight end position is another group to watch closely as the coaches make roster decisions in August. With several players at similar talent levels, the door is definitely open for a competition. The team could keep four tight ends, but that decision will be determined by other position moves that are made.
The Vikings signed Kyle Rudolph to a five-year $36.5 million extension during training camp last year. Injuries plagued the earlier portion of his career and the hope was that Rudolph would take the next jump in Norv Turner's offensive system. That wasn't the case and Rudolph battled a sports hernia injury for most of the season. This year, he needs to show that he can take the next step and be a top-tier tight end in this league. Teddy Bridgewater has continually praised Rudolph about the strides he has made this off-season. If he can be a consistent weapon in the Vikings offense, it will add another element to the scheme. However, in order for this to happen, he needs to stay healthy and be in the lineup each and every week. One thing is certain, Rudolph certainly has all the tools to be an explosive threat in this system.
MyCole Pruitt was one of the biggest talking pieces among those involved with the Vikings during off-season activities. He is a very athletic player that could play H-back, fullback, and tight end. Pruitt could even line up for some snaps flexed out in the slot. His production levels were off the charts at Southern Illinois, but he hasn't seen much top-tier competition at this point. Nonetheless, his skill-set transfers very well to the next level. He is a versatile player that has very good length and playmaking abilities. After watching multiple games on tape, I was most impressed with his soft hands in the passing game and his ability to be very aggressive as a run blocker. Being a talented run blocker is going to be a key trait to landing a spot on the roster. Pruitt will be a very intriguing prospect to watch when the Vikings take the field for training camp.
In the past, Rhett Ellison has been the tight end who has provided the team with run blocking skills. He has proven he is very talented as a traditional blocking tight end, but he has shown he can line up in the backfield, and contribute in the passing game as well. He had 19 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in 2014 and was evolving as the season progressed. Rhett was drafted in the fourth round in 2012 and has been used as an H-back and tight end during that time. Ellison is a hard working player who has consistently provided reliability for the Vikings at tight end. He might not be the most talented overall player, but he has the edge you look for in a football player. With the log jam at tight end, Ellison's fate will be decided based upon how he and others perform during training camp.
After having foot surgery and missing the majority of training camp, Chase Ford was used on a frequent basis last season. He covered most of the duties when Kyle Rudolph was injured and started five games in his absence. Ford hauled in 23 receptions for 258 yards and a touchdown in 2014. Ford is an athletic tight end who has excellent hands and hauled in some phenomenal catches. He might not be the most desirable run blocker, but he does have skills in the passing game. If MyCole Pruitt is truly the full package, Ford could be the odd man out during roster cuts. As I said earlier, run blocking will be a huge emphasis when it comes to who lands the final two tight end spots. Ford hasn't shown that ability in the past, but he might have to if he wants remain on the team.
Brandon Bostick is most known for being unable to recover a critical onside kick for the Packers in the 2015 NFC Championship game. With all of that aside, Bostick still can bring some skills to the table as a tight end. During his time in Green Bay, he flashed as a pass-catcher, but couldn't put together all the necessary tools to be a serviceable tight end. He didn't see much time last year and hauled in just two receptions for three yards and a touchdown. He spent most of his time as a special teams player, but certainly wasn't exemplary in this category either. With an already deep group of tight ends, Bostick has an uphill climb to be a part of this team.
The tight end positional depth chart will be determined in training camp and will be solely dependent upon the skill-set that each player can provide. The team could keep four tight ends, but that will be determined when the coaches decided how comfortable they are with rookie MyCole Pruitt. With all of that being said, this battle will be won during the preseason and training camp.
Will the Vikings keep a fullback this season? Last year, they had a fullback on the field for just 15.2% of their offensive snaps. However, Adrian Peterson has always ran with a fullback in front of him for a portion of his career. The overall snap total might be down, but this offensive scheme still has portions of it that are predicated towards the use of a fullback. Maybe Rhett Ellison could handle some of this load, but it seems likely a player like Zach Line will still be on this team if he can make contributions on special teams.
Zach Line hasn't witnessed a massive amount of snaps during his time in Minnesota. He played fullback for three games in 2013 when Jerome Felton was suspended. Since that time, he hasn't played in any NFL games. Line is most known for his hard working attributes and his run blocking skills. He hasn't played much, but did have the chance to learn the playbook over the last few seasons. It seems as if he would be the most logical choice if he can contribute as a fullback and in special teams.
Blake Renaud was signed as an undrafted rookie out of Boise State this off-season. He played linebacker, but will be transitioned to fullback in the NFL. The Vikings will be bringing him in for competition at this position. He played special teams at Boise State and that could be a positive attribute he brings to the table.