The Vikings are hoping for big things from tight end Kyle Rudolph this season. But if Norv Turner’s offense is anything like it was last season, the Vikings will need another tight end to step up, too.
Last season, with Turner calling the plays, the Browns used their 12 personnel -- one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers -- on 36.9 percent of their offensive plays, according to guys over at Pro Football Focus. That was the second-highest percentage in the NFL.
Every fantasy football nut and many casual football fans know that Browns tight end Jordan Cameron had a breakout season under Turner. He caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, and played 969 offensive snaps, the most of any Browns skill position player.
But in a pass-happy league in which offenses often use three or more wide receivers to spread out defenses, Turner -- who has historically set up his passing game with downhill running and play-action fakes -- still liked to bring in a second tight end to do some of the dirty work.
That second tight end in 2013 was little-known Gary Barnidge, who played 529 snaps on offense and was a blocker on more than 80 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He started 12 games but was targeted just 17 times, catching 13 for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
The Vikings, meanwhile, used their 12 personnel on just 10.7 percent of their offensive plays last season, which ranked 29th in the league. Instead, they preferred two-back sets, using their 21 personnel -- two backs, two tight ends and two wide receivers -- 24.1 percent of the time.
So who will be that second tight end for the Vikings? John Carlson was that guy a season ago, but he’s gone now and there’s no clarity when it comes to the depth chart behind Kyle Rudolph.
Rhett Ellison, who was used more as a fullback or H-back in 2013, is officially a tight end now (and he has a jersey number in the eighties to prove it). Chase Ford, Allen Reisner and undrafted rookie AC Leonard, who hauled in a long reception during one OTA a couple of weeks ago, are also in the mix. Soft hands are important, but their ability to run block and pass protect will be paramount.
We don’t get enough exposure to the Vikings during voluntary spring workouts to draw hard conclusions on what the offense will look like. The NFL keeps evolving, but know that Turner has typically utilized multiple tight ends to help move the ball both on the ground and through the air.