Positional Analysis: Tight Ends

The Vikings have a decent amount of money tied up in the tight end position, which didn't produce numbers typical of players at the position in a West Coast Offense.

Of all the positions that were deficient for the Vikings in 2007, perhaps the only one that got no attention in the offseason was tight end. While the Vikings made moves – major or minor – to upgrade at defensive end, wide receiver, safety and quarterback, no moves were made at tight end. This came as a surprise to some, since the underachievement at tight end was about as pronounced as any on the team.

There is no questioning that the Vikings have some of the more impressive blocking tight ends in the conference with the combination of Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser and fullback/tight end Jeff Dugan, but, at the same time, in the West Coast Offense, the tight end position is viewed as a key to the passing game. Many of the other teams in the NFL that run the WCO have invested high draft picks or serious free-agent money to bring in a pass-catching tight end that can stretch the defense down the middle seam and open up big-play possibilities for both themselves and others. The Vikings have clearly not been one of those teams.

As a group, the three Vikings' tight ends above caught a total of just 38 passes last year. With the exception of a 79-yard completion to Shiancoe on one play, of the remaining 963 offensive plays run by the Vikings in 2007, only 37 of them (3.8 percent) went to tight ends. Those 37 receptions accounted for just 344 yards of offense – 6.5 percent of the Vikings' total yards gained. That is one of the lowest totals in terms of tight end production in the league and was not intended to be so.

Unlike this free-agent season, last year the Vikings made very few free-agent signings. Of those, Shiancoe was supposed to be the crown jewel. The Vikings gave Shiancoe a big contract and promised that he would be much more of an offensive threat than he was in his four years with the Giants, where he primarily served as a blocking end opposite Pro Bowler Jeremy Shockey. By any most measures, Shiancoe did not live up to the billing, catching just 27 passes for 323 yards and one touchdown, with almost 25 percent of his season total for yardage coming on one catch.

But Shiancoe was only part of the story. Kleinsasser, who was designated as the Vikings' franchise player just a few years ago under a different offensive scheme, has been reduced to almost a complete non-factor in the Vikings pass offense. He caught just four passes for 43 yards in 2007 and was forced to accept a pay cut to remain with the team. Still viewed as one of the best blocking TEs in the game, his contribution to the passing offense has been marginalized to the point of being practically non-existent.

The lack of activity surrounding the tight end position during free agency and on draft weekend may be sending the signal that the Vikings are satisfied with their current crop of tight ends, and the potential of youngster Garrett Mills, who emerged from the inactive list for the first 15 games to have a solid appearance in the season finale. But the numbers speak louder than that confidence with the other tight ends. Clearly, much more is being expected of Shiancoe than he produced and, even playing with a reduced a contract, Kleinsasser is still an expensive blocker who isn't performing up to the level of his contract, or isn't being used enough to do that.

If this trend continues, it would not be surprising to see either Shiancoe or Kleinsasser or both to be gone from the 2009 roster. For now, both appear safe, but the clear message that should be sent to them is that their offensive contributions in 2008 are going to have to be markedly higher than they were in 2007 or the Vikings may go in a different direction. The team has invested a lot of money in getting production from the tight end position. In 2007, they produced extremely little. If that production doesn't change dramatically, the personnel may end up having to change.

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