Vikings Sign Ex-Buccaneers Tight End After Jets Trade Bust

Luke Stocker

Getty The Vikings signed Luke Stocker (left) to the team's practice squad on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.

The Minnesota Vikings made a telling move on Wednesday, October 13, according to team reporter Eric Smith.

Signing veteran tight end Luke Stocker and cutting tackle Zack Bailey to make room for Stocker on the practice squad, the Vikings appear confident in their depth at tackle moving forward and looked to improve their troubling tight end depth.

The Vikings now have three tight ends on the practice squad, the most of any position. Stocker joins fifth-round rookie Zach Davidson and third-year tight end Brandon Dillon at the position on the practice squad.

Stocker could prove to be the replacement for Chris Herndon, who has struggled in his transition with the Vikings after being traded from the New York Jets in the offseason.

“Stocker is now the most experienced of the six healthy tight ends that are now with the Vikings,” Smith wrote.

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Stocker a Longtime Starter

A 2011 fourth-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stocker has started 91 games in his career and has proven to be one of the premier blocking tight ends.

Stocker, 33, spent seven seasons with the Buccaneers before moving on to the Tennessee Titans and later the Atlanta Falcons. He struggled with an underperforming Falcons offense over the past two seasons but did produce a 77.5 run-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus in 2019 and a 76.1 position grade with the Titans in 2018. Stocker started 13 of 16 games in 2020 for the Falcons.

He enters the Vikings locker room as the most experienced tight end by a landslide. He’s also the Vikings’ “oldest offensive player,” according to St. Paul Pioneer Press NFL reporter Chris Tomasson, the the third oldest team member.

Tyler Conklin, Herndon and Dillon are all in their third years, followed by second-year tight end Ben Ellefson and Davidson. Smith pointed out that aside from Conklin, “no other tight end has a catch so far this season.”

Signed off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad, Ellefson has outperformed Herndon, who the Vikings swapped a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder to acquire after Irv Smith Jr. underwent season-ending meniscus surgery after an August injury.

Given the signing of Stocker, Herndon may have fallen out of favor with the Vikings.

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Herndon Deemed a Bust

Herndon is the Vikings’ lowest-graded offensive player, with a 34.2 PFF grade this season. He is coming off a season-low 27.9 offensive grade after committing a pair of penalties against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, October 10.

Herndon has averaged 10 snaps per game and is coming off back-to-back games where he saw a season-low seven snaps. He’s struggled as a blocker and has yet to catch a pass on two targets, both thrown in Week 1.

Stocker’s presence could signify that Herndon is being phased out of the offense with those penalties he committed as his final chance.

“The Vikings making the move for Herndon wasn’t a huge surprise given how desperate they were for a tight end following the loss of Irv Smith Jr. for the season. But it’s safe to say that they overpaid,” Jet Press writer Justin Fried wrote on October 6.

Tomasson reported Wednesday, October 13, that Ellefson was out at practice. His injury status is unknown, but the Vikings have shown a preference for Ellefson over Herndon when both tight ends have been healthy.

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