Will the Vikings continue to address the tight end position alongside Kyle Rudolph?
Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, former NFL scouts and current draft analysts for the NFL Network, are among those thinking they could get a difference maker from the upcoming NFL Draft class in two weeks.
“You have a lot of playmakers,” Brooks said. “You have a handful of traditional Y tight ends [and] these mismatched guys — guys that are kind of like those jumbo wide receivers — will have the opportunity to play in the league and create mismatches. Much like Jordan Reed has been able to do.”
The Vikings used fewer multiple tight end formations as Kyle Rudolph emerged with a career-high 83 receptions, in part, because he stayed healthy and the options thinned. Knee injuries ended MyCole Pruitt’s run with the Vikings and limited the start to David Morgan’s rookie season.
Rhett Ellison, who signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Giants this offseason, made an impressive return from a brutal knee injury in January 2016, but still had his role reduced.
The Vikings have looked a different direction from the big blockers and evaluated some big vertical threats, hosting ex-Packers pass catcher Jared Cook last month before signing 6-foot-7 journeyman Nick Truesdell after the pro players combine. Truesdell is a converted receiver and in the first full year learning the tight end position.
They should be able to find another downfield option through the draft in two weeks. Jeremiah and Brooks, echoing a consensus among talent evaluators, pinpoint tight end as one of the strongest prospect groups in 2017.
At the top of the class is Alabama’s O.J. Howard (6-6, 251), whom Jeremiah has going sixth overall to the Jets and Miami’s David Njoku (6-4, 246) at 21st overall to the Lions in his latest mock draft. Two tight ends haven’t been taken in the same first round since 2006.
“[Howard] is the best tight end in this draft,” Jeremiah said. “All the way through, this is one of the best groups we’ve seen in a long time. We haven’t seen guys like that very often. What makes him unique, he not only can survive in the run game, he’s pretty darn good at it. You look at somebody that can create big plays down the field with his speed, height, weight, speed, check, check, check.”
There should be a handful of mid-round options for the Vikings, where most of the team’s selections fall starting with pick No. 48 and two third-round picks (79th, 86th) and two fourth-round picks (121st, 129th).
The big ‘receiver,’ mismatch types include Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges (6-6, 257), a converted quarterback who lined up out wide and didn’t do much blocking out of a three-point stance for the Hokies. Mississippi’s Evan Engram (6-3, 234) and South Alabama’s Gerald Everett (6-3, 239) are also intriguing vertical options.
Engram led all tight ends with a 4.42 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. Both Hodges and Everett flashed their athleticism in Indianapolis, posting top marks in the vertical, broad jump and shuttle runs.
“[Hodges] is not necessarily an inline blocker,” Brooks said. “He is viewed as a matchup nightmare. What helps him is the success of Jordan Reed. What Jordan Reed has been able to do for the Washington Redskins has intrigued a bunch of offensive coordinators to try to find someone who can do similar things.”
More traditional inline tight end prospects include Michigan’s Jake Butt (6-5, 246), who is recovering from a torn ACL, FIU’s Jonnu Smith (6-3, 248), Iowa’s George Kittle (6-4, 247) and Ashland’s Adam Shaheen (6-6, 278).
Shaheen, who caught 16 touchdowns last season for Division-II’s Ashland, is the draft’s biggest tight end prospect and a former basketball player.
“I bring [Shaheen] up every day because he’s one of my favorite players,” Jeremiah said. “Ran in the 4.7s. He’s very athletic. He has not got it all figured out as a blocker, but the effort is there, you look at the size he has. I think he can really develop as an inline blocker.”