Sunday, July 8, 2018

Rookie TE Tyler Conklin could be a quiet weapon for Vikings' offense in 2018

Photo: Vikings.com

The Vikings have been searching for a tight end to stretch all three levels of a defense. Rookie tight end Tyler Conklin fits the profile and could be a quiet weapon in Minnesota's offense. 

Updated: July 8, 2018, 1:05 p.m.
By: Daniel House

For the past two years, the Vikings have been searching for a tight end they can flex across the field to create mismatches in the passing game. In 2017, they drafted Bucky Hodges and nearly signed Jared Cook in free agency. After neither of those options came to fruition, the team was back to the drawing board in 2018. This draft class featured several tight ends with this type of athletic profile. In the fifth-round, the Vikings selected Central Michigan tight end Tyler Conklin. A converted NAIA basketball player at Northwood University, Conklin played just two seasons of football at Central Michigan. His latest campaign was cut short due to a Jones fracture he suffered prior to the season. He missed the first five games, but managed to return and finish the year strong. Conklin closed out his collegiate career by tallying 28 catches for 406 yards and five touchdowns.

He also snatched 42 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Many analysts and scouts had Conklin low on their boards due to concerns regarding his recovery from the foot fracture. He was slowly recovering as the season progressed and dealt with lingering effects through the draft process. However, he managed to test well at combine, posting a 4.8 40-yard dash, a 38-inch vertical, and above average numbers in the agility measures. If he had put together a 2017 campaign similar to the prior season, his stock would have been much higher. Teams were concerned about whether he would have the same explosiveness after the injury. Nonetheless, his overall athletic testing is encouraging, especially considering he likely wasn't 100 percent at that moment in time.

Conklin has the chance to provide the Vikings with a tight end who can stretch the defense at all three levels. He can line up outside, out of the slot, or in-line because of his overall versatility. Where he can be a major asset is in the red zone because of his leaping ability, footwork, body control and hands. This is where you see his basketball background shine through. It feels like every year there are more basketball players transitioning to football in an attempt to follow the past successful trajectories of Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Antonio Gates. When asked about the benefits of having a basketball background, Conklin couldn't stress the importance enough.

"[From basketball] you know to judge the ball, ball skills, the way you can kind of use your body and just little stuff like that," Conklin said. "Being able to kind of react out of nowhere, I think those are things that translate perfect."

When you fire up Conklin's tape, you see a player who can make contested grabs in traffic and use his body to shield defenders in traffic. He controls his body well and will high-point the football at the catch point for a difficult grab. He was particularly tough to stop when he was split out wide and the quarterback tossed a touch fade in his direction. The clip below is just one example of his body control, hands and catch radius.



His drop rate was over seven percent in college, which is a number he must improve at the next level. Many of them were situations where he took his eyes off the ball for a split second and was already thinking about making a play after the catch. However, there are plays where you see how impressive his hands can be. He can track the football and make catches outside his frame because of his wide catch radius and leaping ability. In the clip below, he gets just enough separation to make a play, while managing to track the pass and complete the grab for a red zone touchdown.



There are other examples, too. In the clip below, he again flashes his body control, but makes a difficult tip catch as he is falling to the ground. He can be used in red zone when the Vikings are trying to create favorable matchups. With the route running skills of both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen complementing two red zone warriors like Kyle Rudolph and Conklin, there are so many options.



With Conklin's catch radius and ability to stretch the field, John DeFilippo has a chess piece he can move all over the field to create mismatches. Conklin is the type of player who can stress all three levels of the defense. It's not just in the red zone -- he has the ability to create big plays in the short-to-intermediate passing game as well. He can be an underneath option in dagger or hi-low concepts because of his ability to accelerate and make plays after the catch. Central Michigan would often isolate him in space with crossers. The clip below shows a wide receiver setting a pick for Conklin, who picks up a big gain.



There are also numerous ways in which Conklin can stretch the field at all three levels because of his speed, size and overall ball skills. This includes via quick slants, passes up the seam and even wheel routes. This type of diversity in routes provides options for the Vikings to create mismatches out of two tight end sets with Kyle Rudolph and Conklin. With a talented set of route running wide receivers at his disposal, there will be plenty of options for quarterback Kirk Cousins. In the clip below, Conklin shows how he can stretch the second and third levels of the defense up the seam.

Conklin finished eighth among draft class tight ends in total plays of 20-plus yards or more. He has enough speed to get separation in those situations.



He also showed he can win when passes are contested across the middle. He would often line up on the outside and pop off a quick slant between the numbers. In the process, Conklin showed an ability to position his body and shield defenders. In the clip below, he displays how much of a threat he can be in the short-to-intermediate passing game via quick slants, digs and other quick developing routes.



Not only can Conklin flex all over the field and serve as an additional receiver, but he has the potential as a run blocker or pass protector. During Senior Bowl week, Conklin played a little h-back and even ran a wheel route out of that formation for a red zone touchdown from first-round draft pick Josh Allen:



Conklin has enough run blocking and pass protection skills to be serviceable when he needs to play in-line. The example below shows a notable run blocking rep where he down blocks hard to the center and clears space for the running back.



It isn't a role you'd like to see him playing consistently, but he certainly is more capable than most tight ends who primarily play in a pass catching role. He is physical as a run blocker and helped fuel several big plays down the field because of his ability to lay a block in the second level. He looks for work and isn't just a pure pass catching tight end.

Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has options to create mismatches because of the varying skill sets of Conklin and Kyle Rudolph. Whether that's through using two tight end sets with Conklin flexed or running a few formations where he is the lone tight end on passing downs, the possibilities are endless. In the past, DeFilippo has helped tight ends with similar skill-sets flourish in his system. 

During training camp, it will be worth monitoring the involvement of Conklin to find out whether he can play an active role as a rookie. Right now, it looks like he might, especially if he is 100 percent healthy.

1 comment:

  1. Hoping for him & agree on your 2 observations: He has body control & He goes after the ball. - Vikes need a TE threat. I Hate that in 1st clip you show that Tyler did not fight to keep space he created with his inside Jab for QB. Instead he just drifted to sideline. In NFL he ends up pinned or even leveraged out of boundsby stronger CBs leaving QB with no space to put the ball. DB was so passive as he drifted wide. Zavier & Tray Hand on his hip steering him to the white paint.

    ReplyDelete