Before the Vikings selected a wide receiver in the 2015 NFL Draft, a position many thought the team would address during the first three rounds, they picked a tight end.
And it wasn’t even the local product, Gophers tight end Maxx Williams (who went 55th overall to the Ravens in the second round). The Vikings went to general manager Rick Spielman’s alma mater, Southern Illinois, to take MyCole Pruitt with the 143rd overall pick in the fifth round.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense thrives with athletic tight ends, and Pruitt seems to fit the mold despite playing on the Football Championship Subdivision level.
“[Turner] sees guys that remind him of guys in the past,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Norv was pretty adamant throughout the draft about this is a guy that we’re really intrigued with. He runs 4.5 (second 40-yard dash), has a chance to be a good tight end and it’s really important for the tight ends in our offense, as you know. He had a lot of say on that one.”
Former tight ends in Turner’s past over the last few years include Antonio Gates, a future Hall of Famer, during his tenure as the Chargers head coach and tight end Jordan Cameron when Turner served as the Browns offensive coordinator for a season.
The Vikings didn’t exactly see the position utilized to its full potential last season with Kyle Rudolph playing just nine games due to injuries. With Rudolph’s absence, the team had to rely on two tight ends that lacked the other player’s strengths. Rhett Ellison served as a good blocker, but he’s not a threat in the passing game, while Chase Ford is the exact opposite.
In comes Pruitt, who was a two-time first team FCS All-America selection over the last two seasons and led all Division I tight ends with 81 catches, 861 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was capable of not just playing on the line of scrimmage, possessing the tools to potentially become a complete tight end as a blocker, but Spielman said he can play in the slot as well.
“He has a lot of the traits that we’re looking for, especially in Norv Turner’s offense, being able to do multiple things,” Spielman said. “He has very good hands, he’s aggressive as a blocker, and Norv, as we sat there and talked about him through the draft meetings, felt that we can do a lot of different things with him and play him at a lot of different positions.”
It was considered a weak tight end class, but it’s clear that Spielman and Zimmer trusted Turner’s vision for what Pruitt could do in this offense. Because having two athletic, well-rounded tight ends is better than one. We’ll see if Pruitt can actually develop into that player in the NFL over the next few years.