Scouting the Vikings schedule: Tight ends

The Vikings will face some imposing pass-catching presences at tight end in 2015, but there were plenty of inconsistent performances among the tight ends scheduled for their 2015 season. We take a game-by-game look at how the tight ends on the 2015 schedule performed in 2014.

Chicago Bears: Home and Away
Martellus Bennett
In the first half of the season, Bennett could have been considered to be the most dangerous tight end in the NFL, and although he still had bright spots in the second half of the season his production decreased significantly. At the end of the regular season Bennett had recorded 90 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns – four of which came in the first three games. His 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame gives him an advantage over most defenders and that helped him earn an 8.9 rating from Pro Football Focus, which made him the sixth-highest rated tight end in the NFL at the end of the regular season.

Detroit Lions: Home and Away
Eric Ebron
The Lions used their first-round pick of last year’s draft on Ebron in hopes that they could get another dynamic threat for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Things didn’t appear to turn out that way in Ebron’s rookie season, though, as he failed to produce on a consistent basis. At the end of the regular season Ebron had recorded 25 receptions for 248 yards and a touchdown, receiving a -6.5 rating from PFF, and did not live up to many of the expectations set on him.

Green Bay Packers: Home and Away
Andrew Quarless
Throughout the season, Aaron Rodgers utilized his wide receivers, and as a result both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb had career years. Rodgers didn’t get to his tight ends nearly as much during the 2014 season – Quarless was the tight end leader with 29 receptions for 323 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season. At the end of the regular season, Quarless was given a -3.0 overall rating.

Seattle Seahawks: Home
Luke Willson
With amount that the Seahawks like to run the ball it is surprising how little they used a tight end in the 2014 regular season. Willson was used more than any other tight end on the team and he played in 579 offensive snaps. At the end of the regular season he was given a -0.8 overall rating by PFF after he recorded 22 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Willson saw more playing time than he might have normally, as Zach Miller was injured in the third game of the season and missed the remainder of the year. Miller is a free agent this offseason and if he doesn’t re-sign with the Seahawks, Wilson may see his role further increase in 2015.

Arizona Cardinals: Away
John Carlson
2014 was a rough season for Carlson. Not only did he struggle in the passing game – where he recorded 33 receptions for 350 yards and a touchdown – but he also struggled in both run blocking and pass protection. At the end of the regular season Carlson had received a -25.0 overall rating by PFF – third lowest in the NFL – after receiving a -8.4 rating in the passing game, a -3.3 in pass protection, and a -13.6 in run blocking. This offseason the Cardinals’ other tight end, Rob Housler, is a free agent and could leave the team.

St. Louis Rams: Home
Jared Cook
The Rams experienced a lot of trouble at the quarterback position throughout the 2014 season, and that affected the play of wide receivers and tight ends. Even with that inconsistency, Cook was still able to have a good season in his sixth year in the NFL. He led the team in receptions with 52, which went for 634 yards – second on the team – and three touchdowns. Not only did he do well as a receiver, but Cook also did well as a run blocker. At the end of the regular season, PFF gave him a 3.1 rating as a run blocker, which helped lead to a 4.4 overall rating. Last season Cook provided a veteran presence for the Rams’ offense, and that will likely be his role during the 2015 season.

San Francisco 49ers: Away
Vernon Davis
Davis has been one of the most dynamic tight ends since he first entered the NFL in 2006; however, he recorded what could be considered the worst year of his professional career in 2014. At the end of the regular season Davis was given a -15.8 overall rating after recording 26 receptions for 245 yards – lowest of his career – and two touchdowns – tied for the lowest of his career. Back and ankle injuries played a role for Davis’ lack of production throughout the season and also caused him to miss two games. At the age of 31 Davis still has multiple years of good football and should be able to bounce back in 2015.

Kansas City Chiefs: Home
Travis Kelce
Kelce did not begin the season as the Chiefs’ main running back, but as the season went on he worked his way into the starting lineup and would play in nearly every snap during the end of the season. He led the team in receptions (67), yards (862), and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (five). Not only did he play well in the receiving game, but he also played well as a run blocker. PFF gave Kelce an 11.6 rating, which made him the fourth-highest rated tight end in the NFL. Last season was Kelce’s second in the league, and at the age of 25 he still has a lot of football left to play.

Denver Broncos: Away
Julius Thomas
With the help of Peyton Manning at quarterback, Thomas has quickly become one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons at the tight end position. The main use of Thomas during the 2014 regular season was in the red zone, and even though his season was hampered by injuries, he was still able to put up good numbers. He played in 13 regular-season games, and in that time he recorded 43 receptions for 489 yards and a team-high 12 receiving touchdowns. Thomas is scheduled to be a free agent and you can be sure that a big part of his decision to leave or stay with the Broncos could be whether Peyton decides to retire or not. There is also the possibility that the Broncos choose to use a franchise tag on him.

San Diego Chargers: Home
Antonio Gates
Since Gates first entered the NFL in 2003, he has been one of the best tight ends in the league. There have been times during the last few seasons that suggested he was on a decline and might be out of the league soon, but Gates seemed to have a resurgence in 2014. During the regular season he recorded 69 receptions for 821 yards and a team-high 12 receiving touchdowns. Even though Gates had a resurgence as a red zone threat, he struggled in other areas of his game, primarily in run blocking. He received a -13.3 rating by PFF in run defense, which led to his overall grade of -7.2.

Oakland Raiders: Away
Mychal Rivera
In his second season out of Tennessee, Rivera did not have the type of season he would have liked to have. He ended the season with a -25.1 rating from PFF, which made him the second-lowest rated tight end in the NFL. Some of that negative rating came from struggles he had in the passing game, but a majority of it came in the struggles he had as a run blocker, as he received a -15.8 rating in that area of his game from PFF. As a receiver, he recorded 58 receptions for 534 yards, four touchdowns and three fumbles – one of which was lost. At the age of 24, there is still a lot of time for Rivera to improve and he likely will remain a part of the Raiders’ offense next year.

New York Giants: Home
Larry Donnell
Donnell was the primary tight end for the Giants in 2014, starting 12 of the 16 regular-season games and playing in 889 offensive snaps. He had a great start to the season, but after the first four weeks his performance dropped. The primary part of his game where he struggled was run blocking, where he was given a -13.1 rating from PFF, which helped to lead to his overall grade of -9.4. He recorded 63 receptions for 623 yards and six touchdowns, but he did also put the ball on the ground four different times and lost all of them.

Atlanta Falcons: Away
Levine Toilolo
The Falcons first brought Toilolo onto their team in 2013, when they drafted him in the fourth round out of Sanford. He started all 16 games for the Falcons in 2014 and played in 958 offensive snaps. During that time he recorded 31 receptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Those poor stats led to him being given a -14.9 rating in the passing game by PFF, which ultimately led to him being given a -23.0 overall rating. He’s only 23 years old, but he will have to show improvement to remain a consistent part of the Falcons offense.

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