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Minnesota Vikings Top 5 Draft Needs: Tight End, #3

Contracts and age make this a more pressing issue than some might think

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

We are now, officially, just a couple of days away from the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, and we’re doing one final rundown of what the Minnesota Vikings’ biggest needs are as we approach Draft Weekend. I’ve looked at the running back spot as well as the cornerback position, and now we’re on to what I believe is the third-biggest need for the purple going into the annual selection meeting.

Like the cornerback position, the tight end spot is probably not one that a lot of Vikings’ fans are going to see as an immediate need. However, with the team’s current contracts at the position and the age of the top guy on the depth chart, it’s definitely something that the team is going to need to look into.

Current Vikings tight ends: Kyle Rudolph (starter), Tyler Conklin, Cole Hikutini, David Morgan

Rudolph is in the final year of his contract, and carries one of the biggest cap hits for the Vikings this year. He’s publicly declared that he would like for the Vikings to extend his contract, but to this point they have not done so. . .unusual, I think, given that an extension to his contract would provide the Vikings some much-needed cap relief this season. I don’t know if that signals that Rudolph isn’t really part of the team’s long-term plans, but for now I think that’s an assumption we have to make.

Morgan is also in the final year of his contract, and could end up being one of those guys that actually makes a decent amount of money on the open market during the offseason if the Vikings don’t lock him up to a second contract here sometime soon. Conklin caught just five passes in his rookie season, and though he might be pushed into a larger role this season, it’s tough to envision that at this point. Hikutini was on the practice squad last year, and has just two receptions in two NFL seasons.

Who they could look at and when: I understand that the Vikings have other, more significant needs to fill. . .after all, there are still two other positions to go on this list. However, if either of the Iowa tight ends, T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, were to fall to the Vikings at #18, I don’t think I’d hate the Vikings taking either of them. Hockenson is more of an all-around tight end with better in-line blocking ability, but Fant looks like he could be one of those “move” pieces that creates mismatches everywhere, and there are a lot of top NFL offenses that have a guy like that to utilize. I’m not sure if either of those guys will make it to #18, but if they did they would certainly have to be a consideration for Rick Spielman and company.

Hockenson and Fant are the only two tight ends currently expected to go in Round 1, from everything I’ve been seeing. So, if the Vikings chose to wait, they could have some options on Day 2 as well. Someone line Jace Sternberger out of Texas A&M could be a consideration if the Vikings are looking for more of a receiving tight end. Sternberger’s blocking abilities are pretty much zero, but he does have the size and speed to be a solid pass-catching tight end. I don’t think Irv Smith from Alabama is going to make it to the mid-second, but if he does the Vikings should definitely be in on him as well.

Should the Vikings choose to wait even longer, a name I keep coming back to is Donald Parham. Parham played at Stetson, an FCS school, but he has the physical skills to be a great weapon as a receiver. At 6’8”, teams aren’t going to be able to match up with him, and if he can adjust to the level of competition, he could be a steal. Other Day 3 tight end options for the Vikings could include Josh Oliver of San Jose State, Caleb Wilson of UCLA, and Foster Moreau of LSU, though Moreau projects to be more of an in-line blocking tight end in the NFL than a receiving threat.

We’ve got two more spots to go on our list of the Vikings’ top 5 draft needs for this year’s draft, and we’ll get them to you over the next couple of days.