2016 Minnesota Vikings positional evaluation: Tight ends

How did the Minnesota Vikings tight ends perform during the 2016 season? Check out the grades as well as a look ahead at each player’s 2017 outlook.

One group of players who didn’t get as much recognition as they deserved during the 2016 NFL season was the tight ends. Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, and David Morgan each contributed for the Minnesota Vikings in a big way, but not all got the attention of fans.

After injuries to the offensive line were putting quarterback Sam Bradford in danger, the Vikings made adjustments to keep extra protection, putting Ellison and Morgan in positions to block while Rudolph worked the passing game.

But how effective were these players in executing their assignments? What kind of grades did they earn? And how does their outlook seem for the 2017 season if they remain with the Minnesota Vikings?

Those questions are answered along with their statistics from the year. Let’s take a look at each tight end on the regular season roster for the Vikings starting with the rookie David Morgan.

Aug 28, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end David Morgan (89) catches a pass against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 28, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end David Morgan (89) catches a pass against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

David Morgan

A 6th round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, expectations for Morgan were low. The team already had a capable stable of tight ends at their disposal, which made the selection even more of a head-scratcher at the time.

However, Morgan’s solid blocking got him on the field much more often than expected. His primary function was a run and pass blocker when on the field, but he still caught one pass for 4 yards and returned two kickoffs for 29 yards.

Morgan’s biggest contributions may have been on special teams, were he both blocked for the return men and covered the returns. He should be considered a huge asset as a backup to Kyle Rudolph going forward.

2017 should see David Morgan getting more playing time and having those receiving numbers go up. With an improved offensive line, the Vikings will be able to sneak the tight end out on routes more often, opening him up for Sam Bradford.

Grade for David Morgan in 2016:  B+

Jun 15, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison (85) runs off the field after practice at mini camp. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 15, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison (85) runs off the field after practice at mini camp. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Rhett Ellison

Like David Morgan, Rhett Ellison isn’t thought of as a major weapon on offense. When he takes the field, the first thought is that he will be either blocking in the passing game or trying to open up some holes for the running back.

Ellison continued his trend of scoring a touchdown in each season since being kept out of the end zone as a rookie in 2012. The previous 3 years, those scores came in the passing game, but during 2016 it came on a 1 yard run.

Ending the season with 9 catches on 14 targets for 57 yards and 1 carry for 1 yard, his offensive output won’t stun anyone. However, his contributions go far beyond the yardage he gets when the football is in his hands.

Expect Ellison to be a free agent that the Minnesota Vikings focus on bringing back next year. If that happens, 2017 should be a bit of a battle between Ellison and Morgan for snaps with Rudolph getting the bulk of the tight end action.

Grade for Rhett Ellison in 2016: B

Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Rudolph

Putting together one of his best seasons in the NFL statistically, Kyle Rudolph showed flashes of why he is one of the top paid tight ends in the league. However, his play does leave some things to be desired.

Blocking isn’t Rudolph’s strong suit. When it comes to a situation where the Vikings need a blocker, they typically call on Ellison or Morgan for those duties. But when looking for a pass catcher with a big radius, they call on ‘Rudy’.

Rudolph caught 83 of his 132 targeted passes during the 2016 season for a total of 840 yards and 7 touchdowns. While his yardage total was a career high and his touchdowns were the second most in a season of his career, his 62.9% catch percentage and some key drops linger, especially when combined with a relatively low amount of yards after catch of 4.3 yards.

Under contract through the 2019 season, Kyle Rudolph will be back with the Minnesota Vikings and should continue to be a key piece of the team’s offense, particularly on third down or near the end zone. If he can continue to improve with Sam Bradford at the helm, his true potential could be revealed.

Grade for Kyle Rudolph in 2016: B+

Jan 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Sam Bradford (8) during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Sam Bradford (8) during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Overall tight end evaluation

This season, there were too many times that the tight ends of the Minnesota Vikings were forced to keep back and block in the passing game. For that reason, the statistics of David Morgan and Rhett Ellison suffered.

But the resurgence of Kyle Rudolph’s career with Sam Bradford throwing the football is a great sign for the future. Diggs and Thielen have established themselves as capable receivers and that will continue to put the big tight end in situations were he should have a mismatch advantage.

Each of these tight ends should return to the team, but only Rhett Ellison is scheduled to become a free agent. Expect the Vikings to lock him up on another short-term deal while Morgan develops to keep the group together.

Overall, this group of tight ends have to be considered one of the most successful groups on the team. While each one is a bit of a specialist, they do what they do quite well..but there is always room for improvement.

Grade for overall tight end play in 2016: B+

What did you think of the performances of these tight ends? Are the grades fair? Do you project a different group on the field for the team during the 2017 NFL season? Let us know in the comments below. Up next in this series, the Minnesota Vikings wide receivers will be evaluated.

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