With a lot of news in recent days, the Vikings’ tight end room looks much different than most of us anticipated to start the season. Here is what to think of Minnesota’s latest maneuvers.
Irv Smith Jr.
A few days ago, we could felt at ease to learn that Irv Smith Jr.’s injury would probably only require a minor scope and a few weeks off. However, yesterday it was released that the tight end needed a more comprehensive surgery… one that would likely end Smith’s season.
This is a brutal blow for the Vikings right now, especially given how impressive Smith had looked throughout training camp and the preseason. With Kyle Rudolph gone, Smith certainly was due for an increased role in the offense alongside Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
However, with Irv Smith out for the year, let’s take a look at the rest of the Vikings’ tight end room and how they can still impact the season.
Minnesota’s longtime TE3, Conklin was already due for an increased role in 2021. However, he may be in line for a larger workload than anticipated now that Irv Smith is out.
While he only has 32 career receptions to his name, Conklin has earned the trust of the coaching staff with his reliability and blocking skills as well. He has seen more production in each of his three seasons thus far and that trend will no doubt continue.
The only concern here is that Conklin was dealing with a hamstring issue from earlier in the offseason. However, he has recently returned to practice and appears good to go for Week 1 against Cincinnati.
Conklin also mentioned how he “got to be eased into and basically play a starting role in the last four to six games last year and got to go and have a strong offseason.” If that is any indication of his readiness, then it appears we have our TE1 against the Bengals.
Recently acquired from the Jets, Herndon is a player to get really excited about. In 33 games (25 starts), Herndon has hauled in 71 catches for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. During his two healthy seasons in New York, Herndon flashed his elite playmaking abilities.
In fact, former Jets quarterback Josh McCown had this to say about his former teammate. “I think he’s an above-average [receiver and blocker]. He’s a big, physical guy that can also block. He can really flourish in that [Vikings] scheme.”
It is fair to say that Herndon possesses a lot of the same skills that make Irv Smith so special. While his time in New York failed to capitalize on his potential, I think a fresh start will be beneficial. It will surely take a few weeks for him to get up to speed with the playbook. Once he does, however, I think our 12 personnel will look sharp.
One of the more noticeable training camp battles was that of Brandon Dillon and Zach Davidson for TE3. As we now know, the incumbent Dillon beat out the 2021 5th-round pick. Dillon is entering his third season with the Vikings and has always been a bright spot during the preseason.
With limited action in the regular season, it will be interesting to see if Dillon will take over the role played by Conklin in years past. He certainly has the athleticism and frame to become an intriguing target in the Vikings’ offense.
Ben Ellefson was recently acquired off of waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars and on his birthday no less! The newest addition to the Vikings’ tight end room, Ellefson actually joins Adam Thielen, CJ Ham, and Ryan Connelly as Minnesota natives on the roster. A member of the Jaguars last season, Ellefson actually started in four games, though only caught one pass.
That is most likely the role you can expect to see from him here in Minnesota. He has stated that he prides himself on being a good run blocker. If he continues to impress in that regard, it is a good way to get onto the field and contribute.
All things considered, I think the Vikings have done a good job at recovering from the loss of Irv Smith. They may not have one overwhelming contributor, but the room as a whole is well-rounded. This is how I think the group’s stats will shake out.
- Chris Herndon – 42 catches, 456 yards, 10.9 ypc, 5 TD
- Tyler Conklin – 31 catches, 367 yards, 11.8 ypc, 3 TD
- Brandon Dillon – 9 catches, 109 yards, 12.1 ypc
- Ben Ellefson – 3 catches, 23 yards, 7.7 ypc