The addition of former Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver was easily the most puzzling signing the Minnesota Vikings made this off-season. Last season’s crop of tight ends on the roster featured T.J. Hockenson, Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, and Irv Smith Jr. Overall, that’s a solid enough group where the Vikings could’ve easily run it back without much of an issue.
Yet, the Minnesota Vikings felt the need to bolster an already strong position. Even with Irv Smith Jr’s inevitable departure, Johnny Mundt was solid and proved that he is a capable backup who can be a solid blocking tight end like he was with the Los Angeles Rams. If the Vikings only needed a blocking tight end, they could’ve just run it back with Mundt. Instead, the team decided to sign Josh Oliver to a three-year, $21 million deal with $10 million in guaranteed money.
Minnesota didn’t sign Josh Oliver to that kind of deal to have him exclusively be a blocking tight end. If that’s all they wanted, they would’ve kept Mundt or found someone else to do it for much less money. The Vikings see untapped potential in Josh Oliver, which is why they signed him to that contract.
His upside as an athlete is the reason why the Vikings made it a priority to sign him at the beginning of free agency. Oliver is 6’5” and ran a 4.6 forty at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s also 25 years old and entering the prime of his career. What’s interesting is, at the college level, Oliver was known more as a receiving tight end. His blocking ability didn’t fully develop until he signed with the Ravens. In Baltimore Josh Oliver was stuck behind Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely on the depth chart, so he was forced to adapt his game and become more of a blocking tight end.
In a recent interview, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah raved about Josh Oliver’s versatility and how his presence will make players around him better.
“I think one of the things we wanted was a theme of versatility, but versatility that allows other people to be better. What I mean by that is, somebody like Josh Oliver who can actually make Justin Jefferson better. People don’t realize what I mean, but they’ll see it when Kevin talks and see how we play.”
It’s clear that the Vikings believe that Josh Oliver will make everyone’s jobs easier. Kwesi mentioned that Oliver would make Justin Jefferson better, but this also applies to Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook. Having an extra tight end on the field will help Kirk in the passing game because he has a history of doing well in offenses that feature multiple tight ends. In Washington, Cousins had Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, who could act as big bodies in the middle of the field. Dalvin Cook is at his best when the Vikings add extra blockers in front of him. A lot of struggles last season could be because the Vikings relied so heavily on 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) which put more pressure on Cook to get tough yards inside.
Kevin O’Connell went into further detail about how the Vikings will be able to apply pressure to opposing defenses by having multiple tight ends on the field, and how that’ll help Justin Jefferson.
“We feel like one of the ways we can help Jefferson is by using our two tight end package, by using C.J. Ham and Josh or T.J. to apply pressure to the defense because they’ve gotta defend all the different variations of formations and ways you can take advantage with some of those bigger groupings on the field, on those early downs. We want to use that tight end position to apply pressure and that’s what it’s all about.”
Josh Oliver’s presence creates a potential mismatch for the defense in a couple of ways. First, defenses will need to have an extra safety or linebacker on the field to account for Oliver. The Vikings can also dictate match-ups by motioning Josh Oliver pre-snap, which can leave Oliver one on one against a smaller or slower defender. Either way, Oliver is bound to help take some attention off of Jefferson.
Now with the Vikings, Oliver will have a greater opportunity to get more targets than he did in prior years. Past production doesn’t indicate future results, and the Vikings must believe that Oliver is capable of providing more value in the passing game than he was able to show with the Ravens and Jaguars. Don’t be surprised if Oliver has a breakout season with the Minnesota Vikings.