We continue on with our look at the Minnesota Vikings as they head into Training Camp for the upcoming season with a look at the tight end position. The team has a pretty talented and interesting group at the position, and the biggest question at this point might be how many of these players the Vikings end up keeping when the smoke clears.
How They Started Last Year: Kyle Rudolph (starter), Rhett Ellison, MarQueis Gray
How They Finished Last Year: Rudolph (starter), Ellison, Chase Ford
How They Head Into Camp: Rudolph (starter), Ellison, Ford, MyCole Pruitt, Brandon Bostick
For the third or fourth year in a row, the team is going into the season with high expectations for Kyle Rudolph. And for the second year in a row, Rudolph is coming off of a season marred by injury. Since playing all 16 games in 2012, Rudolph has played in just 17 of the team's 32 games in the two seasons since, missing time last season because of an abdominal injury. We know what Rudolph is capable of when he's healthy. . .in 2012, he had nearly 500 receiving yards, and reeled in more touchdown receptions that year (9) than he has in the other three seasons of his career combined (8). He has a huge catch radius and is a dangerous target in the red zone, but he simply can't stay healthy. If he's going to justify the big contract extension he got going into the 2014 season, that's going to need to change this season. A tight end like Rudolph could be a huge asset in a Norv Turner offense, and he'd be a big help to Teddy Bridgewater if he can stay healthy.
Rhett Ellison is one of the more unheralded players on the roster. . .well, outside of Minnesota, anyway. Vikings fans know how good he is and what he does. . .whether he's lined up in the backfield or along the line, Ellison is a very good blocker, and manages to get a few receptions when the defense forgets about him. His versatility is a big reason why the Vikings are probably going to downsize at the fullback position, as Ellison has shown himself more than capable of handling either spot.
Chase Ford had an up-and-down season for the Vikings. He injured his foot in training camp, actually wound up getting released and re-signed to the practice squad, and got back on to the main roster after Rudolph's injury. Ford is a tough guy to project. . .I don't think he catches as well as Rudolph or block as well as Ellison, but he does both just well enough that he probably deserves a spot on the team. I don't know how many tight ends the Vikings plan on keeping, but I think Ford is the third guy at this point and might have his work cut out for him.
The reason that Ford might have his work cut out for him is because of the presence of Pruitt, who the Vikings spent a fifth-round pick on in this past year's draft. Pruitt put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine, and has apparently impressed quite a bit in offseason workouts so far. I don't know how much Pruitt offers as a blocker at this point, as I don't think he did a whole lot of it in college, but could create some mismatches as a "move" tight end. I think Pruitt has a spot on this team, and if they only decide to keep three tight ends, it's likely going to come at Ford's expense.
As much as you'd like to root for Brandon Bostick, he really is the long shot in this derby. Before the drafting of Pruitt, he might have been able to make a serious run at a roster spot, but I'm not sure if he has that same chance now. On the bright side, the amount of death threats he's received since signing with the Vikings has decreased by at least 99.9%. So he's got that going for him. . .which is nice.
The big question with the tight end position here is, in my opinion, the same as the receiver position. . .how many guys do they keep? I think that Rudolph, Ellison, and Pruitt are locks at this point, and I don't think Bostick has much of a chance. That leaves Ford. . .can he do enough to solidify a spot on the roster?
What do you think, folks?