Vikings seem to be set at tight end
Today is the seventh day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to the April 25 beginning of the NFL Draft.
April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position previewApril 16: Offensive tackles position previewApril 17: Guards/centers position preview
Today: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman's draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks
TODAY'S POSITION: TIGHT ENDS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 3
On the roster
Kyle Rudolph has developed into one of the top young tight ends in the NFL, a pass-catching threat who has improved his blocking. Rudolph earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last year as a replacement and later was the MVP of the game. Rudolph doesn't have great speed, but he has excellent size, length and hands that have made him a prime red-zone target. He tied for the second-most touchdowns among all tight ends last season. Quarterback Christian Ponder trusts his tight end to come down with the ball in the end zone. Rudolph was also the leading target for Ponder all over the field after receiver Percy Harvin was lost for the season. Rudolph finished with 53 catches for 493 yards, though there was inconsistency.
John Carlson was a big disappointment in his first season in Minnesota, finishing with just eight catches for 43 yards without a touchdown after signing a five-year, $25 million contract as a free agent. He struggled with injuries and never became the second receiving threat at tight end that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave desired. Carlson restructured his contract this offseason and will attempt to show the talent he flashed early in his career with the Seattle Seahawks. Rhett Ellison, who said after being drafted in the fourth round last year that he didn't expect to be drafted, was a revelation, becoming a standout blocker with good hands. LaMark Brown and Chase Ford are around after spending some time on the practice squad last year.
Last five tight ends drafted
2012 -- Rhett Ellison, USC: fourth round (44th overall) — still with the Vikings2011 -- Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame: second round (43rd overall) — still with the Vikings2010 -- Mickey Shuler, Penn State: seventh round (214th overall) — released Aug. 31, 2012; currently with the Oakland Raiders2005 -- Jeff Dugan, Maryland: seventh round (220th overall) — released, September 2011; out of the NFL2000 -- Giles Cole, Texas A&M Kingsville: seventh round (244th overall) — released, August 2000; out of the NFL
Philosophy at the position
All the talk after Musgrave came to Minnesota was that he would try to employ a lot of two-tight end sets and follow the leaguewide trend of tight ends becoming weapons in the passing game. Rudolph was a second-round pick even though the Vikings had Visanthe Shiancoe on the roster. Rudolph developed two years ago while Shiancoe was the top tight end and then assumed the No. 1 role last year. But Carlson never turned into the needed complement to Rudolph. Instead, it was Ellison who was more involved in two-tight end sets. Minnesota likely will try to use the tight ends even more next season, hopefully getting growth from Rudolph and Ellison and improvement from Carlson. The Vikings, with other holes, likely wouldn't look at tight ends in this year's draft but maybe would have a Carlson replacement in mind.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Tyler Eifert, junior, Notre Dame (6-6, 251). Eifert is considered the no-doubt top prospect at tight end and likely the only one at the position who could be drafted in the first round. He continues the Carlson and Rudolph succession of Notre Dame tight ends finding their way to the NFL. Like Rudolph, he's a big target and has good hands. He can be an inline blocker, but like Rudolph, he might need to improve in that area. Eifert can stretch the field and attack the deep middle and is considered good at going up for the ball and using his height, strong hands and jumping ability to catch high passes. He has even lined up outside as a wide receiver and his skill set will fit with the way offensive coordinators try to use tight ends to exploit matchups in the NFL.
Eifert says: "I'm lucky to be coming in at a time where the type of tight end that I am is being used quite a bit. In the passing game, but also a guy that can stay in the game on every down throughout the game and can also block; create mismatch problems in the passing game."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Gavin Escobar, junior, San Diego State (6-6, 254). Escobar is the type of athlete who will have NFL offenses jumping at the chance to develop him. He is a three-year starter and has prototypical size and good receiving skills. He has good hands and can get up the field like a receiver, with the ability to beat defensive backs. Escobar could work well in two-tight end sets but will need to improve as a blocker to earn a starting full-time role.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Jordan Reed, junior, Florida (6-2, 236). Reed was used in many different ways in Florida's offense -- as a tight end on the line and split wide, as a wide receiver, as an H-back and even as a running back. He's not very big and probably has room to grow. Reed is often compared to another Florida tight end: New England's Aaron Hernandez. The two do many of the same things and both are almost a cross between a tight end and receiver. Reed can block but will need to improve at that and become stronger. He's another athletic tight end who can exploit defensive matchups with the right system and coaching. He was reportedly benched in the Sugar Bowl for attitude problems.
FOXSports.com's draft expert Taylor Jones says: "I think Tyler Eifert's in a class of his own in this group. Zach Ertz is very questionable when it comes to point-of-attack blocking. I compare him a little bit to Jermaine Gresham as far as long, rangy frame, he but isn't a blazer from a speed perspective. He's a little bit crafty and get open in the intermediate level of the field, but I don't think he's a game-changer in the way that Eifert is. (Travis) Kelce, the kid from Cincinnati, I think is a little more well-rounded in the fact that he can block for you, he can be an inline blocker, he can be a motion-type player, so I like him. I think (Rice's) Vance McDonald is similar to James Casey in the fact that he's more of an H-back and can play fullback or tight end for you. I think Jordan Reed's kind of an X-factor player from Florida. I think he's a poor-man's Aaron Hernandez. … I think when you're talking about tight end, it's Tyler Eifert and the rest."
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