Chase Ford proved to be a serviceable No. 3 tight end, but does he possess the skills to move up to No. 2 if Carlson isn't around for much of the 2014 season?
This year's draft, according to one NFL scout, provides a variety of talents, depending on what a team is looking for out of the position. The most complete is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, according to Dave-Te' Thomas of NFL Scouting, an in-depth scouting service provided to NFL teams.
"I'm sticking to my guns. The most complete tight end in this draft is Austin Seferian-Jenkins out of Washington," Thomas said. "Great size, fantastic hands, best blocker of the bunch."
Seferian-Jenkins is 6-foot-6, 276 pounds and was rated the No. 32 overall prospect in the country coming out of high school in Fox Island, Wash. With the Huskies, he won the John Mackey Award as the country's best tight end last year after finishing his career with 110 catches for 1,390 yards and 13 touchdowns before declaring for the NFL draft following his junior season.
He was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol last March and pleaded guilty after reportedly registering a .18 blood-alcohol level and getting in a one-car accident.
Some consider Troy Niklas one of the top tight ends in the draft because of his blocking ability, but Thomas, the NFL scout, isn't as impressed with that aspect of the Notre Dame tight end's game.
"I don't care what they say about the kid out of Notre Dame being the best blocker. I've seen that kid fall on the ground more than confetti after the Super Bowl," Thomas said.
With Carlson and Rudolph both Notre Dame products, it would be interesting if the Vikings went to that well again, but Niklas, now about 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, initially started his Irish career as a linebacker and started 12 games there as a freshman.
As a sophomore, he switched to tight end but bided his time behind Tyler Eifert before becoming a full-time starter in 2013, catching 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.
"I think Notre Dame is trying to make themselves the tight end factory and people have been comparing him to Rudolph," Thomas said. "To me, he's more of an Anthony Fasano type. You're not going to get a great route-runner out of this guy. He's going to be a decent receiver over the middle of the field. His big thing is going to be his blocking skills. The thing that worries me a lot is he does not have great ball anticipation skills. He had eight holding penalties, seven false starts. That bothers me a lot. That's a lot of yardage I had to make up with him on the football field."
While Niklas is considered more of a blocker, there are some pass-catching tight ends available, too.
"I look at this draft, though, and it's what type of tight end do you want? If you're looking for a guy who catches, you're looking at Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro," Thomas said. "Amaro, much like (Evan) Rodriguez up at Chicago a couple years ago, has got a lot of bad history off the football field. He's been arrested quite a few times."
Amaro is a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder out of Texas Tech but has the ability to be split out from the formation.
Thomas also isn't impressed with his ability to finish blocks with aggressiveness. But his report on Ebron isn't much better, expressing concern about his off-the-field reliability as well.
Ebron is considered the gem of the tight end crop, according to NFL Draft Scout, setting records at North Carolina for receptions (62) and receiving yards (973) in a season, as well as career receptions (112) and career receiving yards (1,805) for a tight end.
At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he might not give much support in the blocking aspects of the position, but is considered a fluid receiver.
Thomas isn't as impressed with the fluidity of Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz.
"This kid sort of moves on the football field like I'm waiting for someone to come along and give some oil to the Tin Man," Thomas said.
So who does appeal to the Thomas' critical scouting eye?
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.