Vikings tight end David Morgan is an underrated player, but his impact hasn't gone unnoticed on the field. Daniel House explains why Morgan's versatility is so valuable to the team.
Updated: January 4, 2018, 3:35 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
In the NFL, players who execute all the small details often fly under-the-radar. These are often the tough, smart and physical players, who execute their jobs at a very high level. Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman have consistently added players that check all of those boxes.
In 2017, Vikings tight end David Morgan quickly cemented himself as one of the most underrated players on the roster. Morgan ranked seventh among 72 ranked tight ends in Pro Football Focus' season rankings. He also finished fourth in the run blocking rankings, helping the Vikings significantly alter one of the league's worst rushing attacks in 2016.
Morgan played just 63 snaps in his rookie season, primarily contributing on special teams and in heavy packages. Prior to the season, Minnesota allowed Rhett Ellison to leave in free agency, opening the door for the second-year player from the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA). Morgan took advantage of the opportunity, playing in 35 percent of Minnesota's total snaps this season.
During Morgan's college career, his film showed a player with incredibly above average run blocking skills and versatility. Morgan would split out wide, line up in the slot and play h-back in UTSA's system. The exposure to multiple personnel sets helped Morgan develop into a more diverse player. He led all tight ends in the Bench Press, 3-Cone Drill, 20-Yard Shuttle, and 60-Yard Shuttle at the Scouting Combine. Morgan used this versatility and knowledge of multiple positions to his advantage when he met with NFL teams during the draft process. He was also ranked as the top run blocking tight end among 2016 NFL draft prospects, according to Pro Football Focus. Versatility, intelligence, and physicality are all traits the Vikings' coaching staff and personnel department have valued since Mike Zimmer was hired. It's no surprise they were attracted to Morgan and pulled the trigger with the 188th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. Early indications point to GM Rick Spielman finding another late-round gem.
Morgan has been an underrated key to the Vikings' improvement in the ground game. Minnesota's rushing attack averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and the figure increased to 3.9 in 2017. The combination of offensive line additions, a transition to a zone blocking scheme and Morgan's success as a run blocker have been factors related to the improvement. The Vikings have run more "12 personnel" packages (2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1 RB) with Morgan in the game as an additional blocking tight end. His ability to block fundamentally sound and maul into the second level has sparked more explosive running plays of 10-plus yards. The Vikings increased this statistic from 19 rushes (last in the NFL) to 37 this year. Their personnel sets have been a direct result of this. Morgan being on the field is like using an additional offensive lineman without losing the pass catching abilities of a tight end.
There have been games throughout the season where Morgan has really stood out on tape. The second half of the year was when Morgan really started to get involved. In the clip below, Morgan and Kyle Rudolph are on the field in a two tight end set and Latavius Murray completed a positive red zone rush. Morgan's strong base and ability to drive through the defender into the second level, sparked the gain. There aren't many tight ends in the league that have this ability to execute their run blocking assignments like Morgan can.
The Baltimore game was another strong afternoon for Morgan in the running game. There were three instances where his blocking helped create an explosive play. In a set with C.J. Ham setting the edge at fullback, Morgan drives the defensive end to the hash and Murray breaks free for a positive gain. The combination of Mike Remmers and David Morgan on the right side was causing trouble for the Ravens' defense the entire day. When the Vikings ran unbalanced sets with Morgan, the running success rate was very high. With Kyle Rudolph not being a particularly strong run blocker, having Morgan on the field is a major lift for the Vikings' offense.
Not only has he been a major help in the running game, but he's also stepped up as the Vikings have searched for another pass catcher. Kyle Rudolph has been injured down the stretch and the team has yet to find a viable third wide receiver in their offense. With that being said, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been dialing up sets to use Morgan in the passing game, too. He had three first down catches this year, according to Pro Football Focus. One of them is shown below from the Cleveland game in London. As pressure forced quarterback Case Keenum outside the pocket, Morgan managed to get off his block as the safety valve in the flat. The young tight end quietly picked up major first downs on third down via the passing game. Many people have labeled him as strictly a run blocking tight end because of his body type. However, he has proven his value as a route runner with reliable hands in the passing game.
He also plays with above average awareness on the field. This was shown when he created an excellent play after the catch to pick up a 23-yard gain in Green Bay. The play busted due to pressure, but Morgan had the intelligence to leave his blocker and flash open as quarterback Case Keenum extended the play. The reception allowed the Vikings to keep their drive alive. Plays like these are ones Morgan has made in big situations this season. His ability to be a complete tight end as a receiver and blocker increase his value exponentially for the Vikings.
Pat Shumur used Morgan more in the passing game as the year progressed. This appears to be partially by design, but his workload has also increased due to Kyle Rudolph's late-season ankle injury. Morgan has been running corner routes and drags to help open up shallow concepts and deep crossers via rubs in the middle of the field. It is easy for defensive backs to get lost in traffic when a tight end clears out the second level of the defense. This design has allowed wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to create after the catch via open shallow concepts. Morgan and Kyle Rudolph have both been a part of this throughout the year and it's quietly gone unnoticed as Pat Shumur's has used unique play-calling to spark the Vikings' offensive transformation. Another way Morgan has been used is in the red zone. When the Vikings can use play-action to create deception, Morgan is often open on the backside of plays. The clip below was excellent play design by Pat Shumur as Morgan scored his first career touchdown.
With Rudolph obviously battling his ankle injury, Morgan has been asked to step up as a receiver over the past three weeks of play. In this set below, the Vikings split Morgan out wide and he runs a post against man coverage. He got open by using a subtle head fake at the stem of his route. This was a major connection because the Vikings were in a 2nd-and-25 situation. The reception made third down more manageable and eventually was important because it drastically impacted Chicago's field position. Morgan definitely has the route running talent to get open and is sure-handed, converting on 10 of his 12 grabs this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
The rise of David Morgan has been a major lift to a Vikings team in need of versatile options on offense. His ability to be a powerful run blocker and serviceable pass catcher make him a very valuable member of the roster. This is the case in every phase of the game, too. Morgan is the emergency long snapper and finished the Green Bay game following the dislocation of Kevin McDermott's shoulder. He got the job done and shouldered the load on offense with Kyle Rudolph battling his injury. Mike Zimmer and Pat Shumur have more flexibility to use Morgan in different ways because of his versatility.
As Mike Zimmer said in 2015, "I think the more these guys know than one thing is good because so many things can happen throughout the course of the season."
David Morgan has fulfilled the mission of his coach, showing why he is one of the most underrated players on the Vikings' roster.