Vikings Linked to Former Top-10 Pick, Pro Bowl Red-Zone Threat

Eric Ebron

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images Eric Ebron of the Pittsburgh Steelers waves to fans after the Steelers' 27-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 22, 2020.

The Minnesota Vikings have seen two staples in their tight-end room leave in the past two years — begging the question of whether the team could address the depth at the position.

Longtime fan favorite Kyle Rudolph was cut last offseason, leaving the Vikings with Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin. Smith did not play the entire 2021 season after undergoing meniscus surgery in September, leaving Conklin with the TE1 duties. Conklin reveled in the role, reeling in a career-high 61 receptions, 593 yards and three touchdowns in 17 games last season.

Smith is progressing in his recovery and has been given the green light for the 2022 campaign, however, Conklin signed with the New York Jets in March, leaving a considerable void in playing experience beyond Smith.

Ben Ellefson and Zach Davidson have never caught a regular-season pass and Los Angeles Rams import Johnny Mundt has tallied just 10 catches in five seasons.

Bleacher Report recently pegged Minnesota as a team that could sign a Pro Bowl talent and former top-10 pick at tight end in a second tight end role that could give the Vikings another unique weapon in their offensive arsenal.

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BR: Vikings a Best Fit for Eric Ebron

Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton ranked the 10 best remaining free agents and listed the best landing spots for the coveted free agents.

He found the 10th overall pick by the Detroit Lions in 2014, Eric Ebron, to be an ideal fit in Minnesota.

“The 6’4″, 253-pounder uses his length and thick frame to box out defenders instead of relying on his once-impressive speed (4.6 40-time at the NFL Combine). He’s posted a catch rate of at least 60 percent in all but one season over the last seven years. It’s easy to see why a playoff contender could use him as a red-zone target,” Wharton wrote. “But Ebron could be more than that if healthy. He’s maintained a 10.9-yard-per-catch average during his career. Put him in an offense with several playmakers ahead of him in the pecking order, and he’ll be an excellent value.”

Ebron, 29, is coming off a knee injury that ended his season in Week 12 with the Pittsburgh Steelers but still has a few good years left in the tank. After departing from the Lions in 2018, Ebron proved to be a matchup nightmare that the Indianapolis Colts took full advantage of. He led all tight ends with 13 receiving touchdowns and tied for second among all players in the league.

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Vikings Could Still Use 2 TEs Under O’Connell

While former  Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell‘s installation of a more pass-happy offense as the Vikings’ head coach is underway, many foresee Minnesota using 11-man personnel (three wide receivers, one running back, one tight end) more often — much like Los Angeles did in its Super Bowl run, deploying the 11-man personnel sets 83.6% of the time.

While the Rams made magic, turning Cooper Kupp into a triple-crown winner and the Super Bowl MVP, the decision to run more 11-man sets wasn’t made out of necessity, but instead, a pivot in offensive philosophy after Mundt went down with an ACL tear in October 2021.

“When you’re looking at what we were doing in L.A., at one point we had Robert Woods, we had Cooper Kupp and then we kind of mixed in Odell [Beckham, Jr.] toward the end when Robert was out. So it’s really about the personnel that you have. We were more 12 personnel early in the year when we had a guy in [tight end] Johnny Mundt, who was an effective blocker in 12 personnel to go with [tight end Tyler] Higbee. Later on, that wasn’t the case,” said Vikings offensive coordinator and former Rams tight ends coach Wes Phillips, per Vikings.com.

In 2020 with a healthy Mundt and Tyler Higbee, the Rams had several games where they used 12 personnel packages (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) more than any other package.

That’s not to say Minnesota won’t show more 11-man sets under O’Connell, but their offense hasn’t been predicated on the formation, but moreso the talent at their disposal.

“Now we go with more 11, and it’s also about how the defense is matching you. But we want to have a lot of different tools as an offense to attack a defense, and maybe sometimes that’s getting bigger,” Phillips added. “They’ve had some success with some different personnel groups here, just watching the tape. They have a really talented fullback (C.J. Ham) here. All those things are intriguing. We’re really just trying to get the best players on the field.”

Adding a red-zone threat like Ebron who could be a serviceable replacement at a starting tight end could round out an otherwise deep core of skill players on the roster.

The Vikings currently have $10.9 million in cap space, per Over The Cap.

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