Vikings Pass Catcher Returns From Injury in Time for Bills Matchup

Kevin O'Connell

Getty The Vikings elevated tight end Ben Ellefson off the injured reserve list on November 9, 2022.

The Minnesota Vikings tight end room is beginning to recover from a string of injuries.

The Vikings’ trade for former Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson was an indicator that the team was hoping to improve the position drastically — and with Minnesota’s latest roster move they’ll have more diversity in weapons at their disposal.


Vikings Get Ben Ellefson Back in Time for Bills

On November 9, the Vikings elevated Minnesota native Ben Ellefson off the injured reserve list. Ellefson was ailing from a groin injury that landed him on the injured reserve list on October 9. He made his return to practice that same day.

A native of Hawley, Minnesota, Ellefson was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and won three FCS national championships at North Dakota State.

He was undrafted in 2020 and spent his rookie season with the Jacksonville Jaguars before the Vikings signed him last season. Ellefson played in four games of the 2021 season before his season ended, landing on the injured reserve list after suffering foot and knee injuries.

While Ellefson’s role in the passing game is smaller, he has been looked to for clutch plays, turning two of his three catches this season for first downs. He’s averaging a career-high 8.7 yards per target his season.

Ellefson’s return also gives the Vikings running game a significant boost as the team’s highest-graded run-blocker by Pro Football Focus at the tight end position.


Tight End Position is Vital to Vikings’ Success

The tight end position remains tantamount to one of Kevin O’Connell’s tenants of his offense — the “illusion of complexity.”

The concept comes from O’Connell’s days in Washington working alongside the new era of bright offensive minds of Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers), Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers) and Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams). The goal of the concept is to confuse the defense with different personnel groups, formations and motions, but boiling the play down to the same few concepts, making it an easy read for the quarterback.

“Everybody uses the phrase ‘the marriage of the run and the pass,'” O’Connell said in March, per Inside The Vikings. “Really, what that means in my mind is an identity of doing a lot of things to make it hard on the defense. But, in all reality, they’re simple for us. We use the term ‘the illusion of complexity.’ And, what does that mean? It really means we do as many things, like I said, to make it start out looking the same, but they’re different to defend — personnel groupings, different formations, different motions, different shifts. It’s important that we play with great ball security. It’s important that we’re able to establish the run with physicality, toughness, kind of set the tone for everything that we want to do as an offense. And then I think you gotta be great situationally.”

O’Connell has built his offense largely with players drafted to run wide-zone concepts while nudging the offense to more inside-zone looks. That means blockers have to get downhill as well, and tight ends offer more versatility by acting as both receivers.

Tight end has seen the most roster moves on the team this season, by no coincidence. Minnesota needs versatility and reliability at the position, and Johnny Mundt, Hockenson and Ellefson will give the offense just that going down the stretch.

Irv Smith Jr. could also return in time for the postseason as the team’s next-best pass-catching tight end after Hockenson.

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