Back in early March, before free agency, the Minnesota Vikings possessed a depth chart that felt iffy.
The cornerback room was paper-thin, Danielle Hunter was the only EDGE rusher with documented production on the roster, and Eric Kendricks was the sole off-ball linebacker with starting credibility.
Fast forward to July, and the Vikings fixed all of that with new players like Za’Darius Smith, Jordan Hicks, Harrison Phillips, Chandon Sullivan, Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth, and Brian Asamoah. No longer is Minnesota strapped with chintzy depth but instead has a commendable depth chart, with the small caveat that young defensive players must emerge sooner than later, at least from a roster-depth standpoint.
But one weakness curiously remains on the Vikings depth chart — the TE2 spot.
For the last three seasons, Vikings fans grew accustomed to having two productive tight ends on the roster, usually a combo of Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. Of course, in 2021, Rudolph left for the New York Giants, so the tandem was Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin. Smith Jr. was hurt in the preseason, missed all of the regular season, and Conklin shined.
The shine was so bright that Conklin cashed in via free agency four months ago, landing with the New York Jets on a three-year, $20 million deal. And now the Vikings employ Smith Jr. and a bunch of TE3 or TE4 types.
These are the Vikings TEs as of early July:
TE1: Irv Smith Jr.
TE2: Johnny Mundt
TE3: Ben Ellefson
TE4: Zach Davidson
TE5: Nick Muse
Few forecasted Conklin would ascend as TE1 last year. In that vein, Mundt, Ellefson, Davidson, or Muse could be “the next Conklin.” Yet, for a team aspiring to reach the playoffs for the first since 2019, hoping and praying for a Conklinish rise from one of those men leaves a lot to chance.
For the TE room to become esculent and suitable for a contender, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah should probably sign a productive TE2 behind Smith Jr. to hedge the bet against injury — or just to have a deeper football team.
Eric Ebron has been whispered as a viable Vikings target at TE2. So has the aforementioned Kyle Rudolph. Jimmy Graham and Blake Jarwin are available on the open market, too.
Otherwise, the Vikings could rely on a theory advanced by VikingsTerritory’s Josh Frey last week — use fullback C.J. Ham as the TE2. Kevin O’Connell took over the Vikings in February, and his former team, the Los Angeles Rams, didn’t use fullbacks at all. If Frey is on to something, perhaps Ham is the TE2 waiting in the wings that few forecasted.
Overall, Super Bowl-winning teams as of late (Tampa Bay, Kansas City, New England) enjoyed notable production for tight ends. It almost feels like a blueprint.
Smith Jr. can be “that guy” for the 2022 Vikings, but what happens if he misses time to injury once again? Johnny Mundt?
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).