Position analysis: Tight ends

The Vikings had an interesting season with their tight ends, from Kyle Rudolph’s injuries to Chase Ford’s emergence to Rhett Ellison’s varied role.

Rhett Ellison
Ellison just finished his third year in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota Vikings. His primary use this past season, and for a majority of his career, was as a blocking tight end.

Even though he was primarily used for blocking, he would still go out and catch passes as well. On the season he had 19 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown. One of his best games of the season was Week 9 against the Washington Redskins when he was used as a safety net for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – totaling a season-high four catches for 30 yards.

The 2014 season was an up and down one for Ellison. According to Pro Football Focus, his highest rating was a 5.0 in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams, and his lowest ranking of the season was -3.1 and it came the very next week against the New England Patriots. Ellison ended the season with a -0.2 rating, which made him the No. 26 tight end in the NFL out of 67.

Ellison could see his role next season change a bit as starting fullback Jerome Felton is opting to test free agency. Although Ellison is listed as a tight end, he also has the ability to play fullback and has played it on multiple occasions. If Felton is not back with the Vikings in 2015, Ellison may find himself lining up in the backfield more often than he did a year ago.

Chase Ford
Ford just finished his second year in the NFL, and his second on the Vikings’ roster. It has been a long road for the tight end in his first two seasons in the NFL, but he has seemingly found a home in Minnesota. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and spent time on the practice squads of the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Vikings.

At the beginning of the 2014 season, Ford once again found himself on the Vikings practice squad but was signed to the active roster for the Week 4 game against the Atlanta Falcons. He was brought up to replace starting tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was out because of a sports hernia.

From their first game together, Ford seemed to have an instant connection with Bridgewater and quickly proved to be a legitimate threat on offense. He ended the season with a 4.6 rating from PFF, and was the only Vikings tight end to finish the season with a positive rating. His best game of the season came in Week 9 against the Washington Redskins when he had five receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown.

Ford ended the season with 23 receptions for 258 yards and a touchdown. He saw the amount of snaps he received in each game decrease once Rudolph returned from his injury, leaving the question about what Ford’s role will be moving forward. He showed he can play in the NFL, but the Vikings just signed Rudolph to a large contract last year.

Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph just finished up his fourth season in the NFL after being drafted out of Notre Dame by the Vikings in the second round of the 2011 draft. Last year was expected to be a big season for Rudolph after signing a big contract in the offseason and with the Vikings bringing in new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who seems to utilize talented tight ends every where he has gone.

Things didn’t go that way for the tight end, however, as he missed six weeks due to a sports hernia. He was dealing with pain since training camp, but it started to cause missed time in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints when he was out for the second half of the game. When he first returned after the bye week, his playing time was still doled out on a limited basis.

PFF rated Rudolph the lowest of the three Vikings tight ends with a -2.8. Even after returning from his surgery, the Pro Bowl tight end never seemed to be 100 percent and admitted he might be until more extensive rest was available in the offseason. He seemed to start to turn things around on Dec. 12 when the Vikings played the Detroit Lions and he had seven receptions for 69 yards, but he had to sit out the next week against the Miami Dolphins because of another injury.

The 2014 season was a disappointing one for Rudolph, especially when so many things were expected from him. This offseason he will continue to get healthier, so by the time OTAs come around he should be ready to practice fully healthy again.

Tight Ends Overview
The tight ends of the Vikings did not have as good a season as many would have expected, and it all started with the injuries to their former Pro Bowler Rudolph. But his injury also gave way to Ford, who proved that he is a viable option as a pass-catching tight end in the NFL.

On the season, the tight ends combined for a total of 66 receptions, 697 yards, and four touchdowns. Only one of the three tight ends received a positive rating by PFF at the end of the year, and it came from Ford, who saw his role decrease after Rudolph returned from having his hernia surgery.

It will be interesting to see how the Vikings decide to use Ford moving forward, but he seemed to have a good connection with Bridgewater and seemed to earn a spot on the Vikings roster. Another thing to watch is whether Rudolph will be able to remain healthy for the entirety of the 2015 season, as he has struggled with injuries often. Finally, look to see what the Vikings do with Ellison. He is a versatile player for them, and with Felton likely leaving Ellison could be used as a fullback more often.

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