In the leadup to the 2021 NFL Draft, Vikings.com is taking a position-by-position look at prospects who have garnered a range of attention from national outlets. The series will include rankings by those national outlets, stats and background information for multiple prospects. We'll also include comments that experts shared during interviews.
Vikings status at tight end
The Vikings tight ends room will be without a 10-season mainstay, as the team released Kyle Rudolph this offseason after a decade in Purple. Minnesota will now rely on Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin as the top two options at that spot. The Vikings also have Brandon Dillon, who spent the past two seasons on the practice squad. Hale Hentges, who joined the Vikings in the final month of 2020, retired last week.
Smith had 30 catches for 365 yards and five scores in 13 games in 2020. Conklin had 15 catches for 168 yards in the final four games of the season that Rudolph missed with a foot injury.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said in March that he expects Smith and Conklin to play key roles for Minnesota's offense in 2021.
"Irv does it with his ability to run and his athletic ability ... [hopefully we get the] same type of production going forward," Spielman said. "And I think the other guy that really jumped out at the tight end position was Tyler Conklin, and last year he took a significant jump when he got his opportunity to play, not only making some plays in the passing game but in his development as a blocker at the line of scrimmage as well."
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Jordan Reid, a former QB and coach at North Carolina Central University who is now a Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network and a co-founder of ClimbingThePocket.com, is offering takes on this year's class of quarterbacks. A three-year starter at North Carolina Central, Reid holds the program's single-season record for completion percentage (62.3) and is eighth on the school's all-time passing yards list (3,524). Follow him on Twitter @Jordan_Reid for his analysis.
How much of a need does Reid think tight end is for Minnesota in the draft?
Reid: "I don't think it's as big of a need. In years past, they had Rudy and then two really intriguing guys in Irv and Conklin. I like how they finished down the back stretch, especially with Rudy being injured. With he and the team going their separate ways, I think now they're going to rely a whole bunch on those two. I think [Vikings Offensive Coordinator] Klint [Kubiak] is going to keep things very similar to what his dad did with 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends). They could take a later-round player, but I don't think it's going to be something that's addressed on Day 1 or Day 2."
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah currently has two tight ends in his overall Top 50: 2. Kyle Pitts and 46. Pat Freiermuth.
ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., has just one tight end in his overall Top 25: 2. Pitts.
Rankings for each player within the tight end position group by Jeremiah, his NFL Media counterpart Bucky Brooks, Kiper, analytics site Pro Football Focus and The Athletic's Dane Brugler are listed below.
Note: Heights and weights are from each player's profile on NFL.com (linked for each player's name).
School: Florida | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-6 | Wt: 245 pounds
2020 stats: 8 games; 43 catches for 770 yards (17.9 average) and 12 touchdowns
Best of the best: Pitts left Florida as the school's all-time leader for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,492. He also finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting, becoming the first tight end to finish in the top 10 in 43 years. Pitts also won the Mackey Award, which is given to the nation's top tight end.
Reid's Review: "Pitts is a no-brainer as far as a draft prospect. I wouldn't expect him to get out of the top eight picks ... just because of the versatility he has, and then you combine that with his size and athleticism. Being able to run a 4.4 [in the 40-yard dash] is just a ridiculous number at that position. Then, the production he had as the main option at Florida, so it's a no-brainer for teams inside the top 10 to select him."
School: Penn State | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt: 251 pounds
2020 stats: 4 games; 23 catches for 310 yards (13.5 average) and a touchdown
Alone at the top: Freiermuth holds the school record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 16, one ahead of Mike Gesicki, a 2018 second-round pick by the Dolphins. Freiermuth also ended his career with a reception in 29 consecutive games, a school-record among tight ends.
School: Miami | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 245 pound
2020 stats: 8 games; 38 catches for 576 yards (15.2 average) and 7 touchdowns
What a finish: Jordan flourished in the final two games of his college career. He had six catches for 140 yards (including 76-yard touchdown) in the regular-season finale against North Carolina. Jordan then had eight receptions for 96 yards and two receiving scores in the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma State.
Reid's Review: "The receiving part is really where you're going to get a lot of value from him. He's more of a try-hard blocker and isn't going to give you a whole bunch as far as when he's in line. He's a dependable blocker but it's not something you want him consistently doing. He's more of a receiving threat where you can line him up all over the field."
School: Boston College | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt: 254 pounds
2020 stats: 11 games; 57 catches for 685 yards (12.0 average) and 5 touchdowns
Breaking the skid: Long was a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2020 and earned Second-Team All-American honors from The Associated Press. He became the first Boston College tight end to earn All-American accolades since Pete Mitchell in 1994.
Reid's Review: "He had a productive year [in 2020] as one of the options in that offense. They have a very run-centric offense but when they did pass the ball, he was a top option. You can play him in-line, but you don't want to flex him out a whole bunch because he's not a super athletic player. He tested better than what I saw on tape, but he's primarily an in-line guy that you want attacking the seams."
School: Notre Dame | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-4 | Wt: 248 pounds
2020 stats: 12 games; 19 catches for 218 yards (11.5 average)
NFL bloodlines: Tremble's father, Greg, spent the 1985 NFL season with the Cowboys and Eagles. Greg Tremble was an All-SEC safety at Georgia.
School: Georgia (after Florida State) | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-4 | Wt: 246 pounds
2020 stats: 7 games; six catches for 108 yards (18.0 average) and a touchdown
Quick study: McKitty earned his undergraduate degree at Florida State in criminology in just three years. He played in 35 career games in three seasons at FSU, catching 50 passes for 520 yards and a pair of scores.
School: Mississippi (after Temple) | Year: Redshirt Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-4 | Wt: 250 pounds
2020 stats: 8 games; 27 catches for 524 yards (19.4 average) and 6 touchdowns
Big-play potential: Besides averaging 19.4 yards per reception, Yeboah had the fifth-most yards after catch by a tight end in 2020 with 244 such yards. And he did it in just eight games, as he chose to forgo Mississippi's final two games in order to begin preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Reid's Review: "He reminds me a lot of Chris Herndon, who plays for the Jets. Yeboah is actually similar to Kyle Pitts, as far as the athletic mold you want to see at the position. And then, the versatility he brings to the table, I think [10 of his past 11] touchdowns have all come in the red zone, so that's really where he primarily dominates. They used him on some short motions across the formations on bootlegs and rollouts, so he's a guy that could be a Swiss Army knife in the passing game."
School: Michigan | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 246 pounds
2020 stats: 6 games; two catches for 17 yards (8.5 average) and a touchdown
Multi-position threat: Mason played in 45 games in his Michigan career but started at four different spots: defensive tackle, fullback, H-back and tight end. He began his career as a fullback before moving to the defensive line but transitioned to H-back/tight end as a senior. He earned Michigan's Toughest Player award in 2017 and 2019.
School: TCU | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 249 pounds
2020 stats: 10 games; 13 catches for 195 yards (15.0 average) and 3 touchdowns
Hoops background: Wells was an all-county basketball player in high school, and NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein noted Wells' skills from the hardwood show up on the field. Zierlein wrote that after viewing his high school basketball highlights on YouTube, "it's easy to see where the ball skills and in-air athleticism come from."
School: Boise State | Year: Redshirt Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-6 | Wt: 259 pounds
2020 stats: 5 games; 12 catches for 117 yards (9.8 average)
Multi-sport star: An Oregon native, Bates led Nyssa High School to state track and field championships in 2014 and 2015. He was named the Male Athlete of the Meet as a junior in 2014, as he captured titles in the 110-meter hurdles and the javelin, while placing second in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump.