It’s become an unfortunate yearly ritual that Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. will suffer some sort of significant injury. This year that led to the acquisition of Detroit Lions tight end, T.J. Hockenson. Last season it allowed for the emergence of Tyler Conklin, and he cashed in with the New York Jets because of it. Now he’s headed back for a reunion.
There are any number of storylines to look into on Sunday. Minnesota is facing another great defense and still will be without Christian Darrisaw on the line. They play another backup in Mike White, who takes over following the benching of Zach Wilson. There’s also the reality that Minnesota’s secondary is beyond depleted at the cornerback position. One other however, is the homecoming for Tyler Conklin.
Selected as a fifth-round pick out of Central Michigan in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Vikings, Conklin was largely an afterthought with the likes of Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. in the fold.
Given the opportunity he had last season, Conklin blew up as a starter, recording 61 catches on 87 targets. His 593 yards receiving were beyond impressive, and his inclusion in the offense was a welcomed boost alongside Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
Working as the Jets primary tight end, and having been dealt quarterback uncertainty with switches including Joe Flacco, Wilson, and now White, Conklin has continued to produce.
Starting all 11 games for a good New York team, Conklin has 381 yards receiving on 38 receptions. His 10 yards per reception is actually a slight step forward from his breakout last year with Minnesota, and he’s already equaled the three touchdown grabs he had a year ago.
Robert Saleh’s offense is hardly the group of skill position players that the Vikings can boast, but that has provided extended opportunity for the newly acquired tight end. Star rookie running back Breece Hall being out has put more pressure on the rest of the offense, and alongside star rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson, Conklin has been a steadying presence.
Minnesota fans fell in love with Conklin as the replacement for Smith Jr. last season. He was someone that had developed through Mike Zimmer’s system and was now being given an opportunity to shine with the position being placed in his hands.
He was seen as a possible free agent target over the offseason, but ultimately the Vikings chose to go a different direction. There will be plenty of cheers for Conklin when he takes the field Sunday, and although Minnesota fans are looking for the win, he’s certainly someone you can stomach a solid performance for along the way.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.