The Minnesota Vikings are very strong at tight end with three starting caliber veterans and two commodities.
Kyle Rudolph is a budding star and John Carlson is a proven veteran.
Rudolph did not have a breakout season in 2012, but did enough to get into the Pro Bowl and win the game’s MVP award. He more than doubled his number of catches from his rookie season to last year and tripled his touchdown production. The yardage wasnt quite 2:1 better, still very close.
Carlson struggled with injuries and a lack of chemistry with his quarterback last season. The Litchfield, Minn. native recorded only eight catches for 43 yards, but missed two games during the season and a good amount of training camp.
Rhett Ellison rounds out the trio. He showed the ability to play multiple positions in the Vikings offense as a rookie last season. The Vikings received criticism for taking him in the fourth round of the draft last April, but the USC product was productive. He played both tight end and H-back in the Vikings offense while recording seven catches for 65 yards as a rookie.
The inexperienced guys are LaMark Brown and Chase Ford.
Brown, a former Minnesota State-Mankato wide receiver, finished lasts season on the Vikings’ practice squad.
The Vikings are three deep at tight end with a couple projects waiting in the wings. It is highly unlikely the Vikings draft a tight end at any point in the draft.
No. 1 – Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
NFL.com grade: 83.3
Analysis: He is just the next great Notre Dame tight end. He was among the best tight ends in nearly every test at the combine. He has the athleticism and size to play on the line or split wide. He has a similar skill set to former Fighting Irish and current Viking Kyle Rudolph.
No. 2 – Zach Ertz, Stanford
NFL.com grade: 82.2
Analysis: He is a reliable pass catcher with good athleticism and strength. He is not among the faster tight ends in the draft class, but runs clean routes and has very good hands. He is a solid blocker, but needs to improve his consistency when doing so. Like Eifert, Ertz comes from a program that has produced very good tight ends in recent years.
No. 3 – Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
NFL.com grade: 79.0
Analysis: The Aztecs are not known for producing tight ends, but Escobar is one of the best in this class. He has very good hands and short-area athleticism. He posted one of the best times at the combine in the short yardage and agility drills, despite posting a mediocre time in the 40-yard dash. He catches the ball with his hands and runs effortlessly downfield. He needs to improve as a blocker.
No. 4 – Vance McDonald, Rice
NFL.com grade: 76.0
Analysis: He has the look of a blocking tight end, but spent most of his time at Rice in the slot. He may be a project as learns to work out of a three-point stance and blocking defensive ends.
No. 5 – Dion Sims, Michigan State
NFL.com grade: 67.0
Analysis: He posted some of the best numbers by a tight end at the combine in the bench press and vertical jump, but nothing really stands out about him. He has huge frame and makes big catches. He is the best pure tight end in the class; consistent blocking and catching.
Overrated – Jordan Reed, Florida
NFL.com grade: 80.5
Analysis: He is undersized and did not post eye-popping numbers at the combine. He played a lot of different position for the Gators; inline tight end, slot tight end, H-back and running back. He is athletic and can catch the ball, but struggles with physicality and blocking.
Underrated – Levine Toilolo, Stanford
NFL.com grade: 66.0
Analysis: It is hard to miss a guy that is 6-8. He possesses a massive frame and the ability to catch the ball away from his body. He needs to improve his blocking consistency and technique. He got did not get a full chance to display his skill set as the No. 2 option.
Sleeper – Ben Cotton, Nebraska
NFL.com grade: 63.2
Analysis: He is a pure tight end that is a very good blocker, but lacks the the straight-line speed of the more touted players. He has a good lineage, his father Barney is the Huskers’ offensive line coach, and possesses good hands.