Vikings 2019 Roster Preview: Running Backs and Tight Ends

Dec 30, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) celebrates a first down in the third quarter against Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) celebrates a first down in the third quarter against Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This week, we are taking a look at the makeup of each position group on the 2019 Vikings. That means who returned, who is new and who departed that needs replacing. Next up, tight ends and running backs.

Returning Full-Time Starters: RB Dalvin Cook, FB C.J. Ham, TE Kyle Rudolph
Returning Significant Rotation Players: TE David Morgan
Returning Depth: RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Mike Boone, TE Tyler Conklin, TE Cole Hikutini, RB Roc Thomas
Veteran Additions: None
Rookies: TE Brandon Dillon, RB Alexander Mattison, TE Irv Smith Jr.

Two positions the Vikings addressed early in the draft, tight end and running back both boast solid starters and some question marks down the depth chart. Hence, the reason they are grouped together here. At running back, the only question at the top is Dalvin Cook’s health. When on the field, he is a dynamic play-maker, capable of running between the tackles, stretching the sidelines or stepping out as a receiver. His vision is excellent, his combination of power and elusiveness is exciting and as long as his legs hold up, he could approach elite status as an all-around weapon. 

Behind him is a wash of “who knows.” The only real guarantee to make the roster among the running back depth is rookie Alexander Mattison, given that third-round running backs have preferential status in many roster decisions. By all accounts, he was selected to be Latavius Murray’s replacement as the downhill spell back. While Mattison does not have Murray’s breakaway speed, he does add an element as a receiver, which has never been a strength for Murray.

Presumably, the Vikings will look to keep at least three running backs and fullback C.J. Ham, who also should be a lock to make the roster. Ham, as a former tailback, has shown flashes as a ball carrier. As such, the Vikings may be a little more conservative with the number of running backs they retain. But both Roc Thomas and Mike Boone made it last year as undrafted rookies, so it is possible that Minnesota will look to load up at the position again. Thomas may be in the dog house a bit this year due to legal issues, but he, Boone and Ameer Abdullah all will make strong cases for the last spots this offseason.

Each brings something a little different. Boone is the more prototypical ball carrier with better vision and explosion in cuts. Thomas is more useful out of the backfield and the better home run hitter. Abdullah adds special teams value and has by far the most experience of the three. At the moment, Boone and Abdullah probably have the leg up, but a lot could change in the coming months. 

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Tight end is a little more intriguing, given the Vikings’ strong need for a productive pass catcher. Kyle Rudolph has proven a solid, if unspectacular target over his Vikings career, especially in the red zone, and barring trade should continue to factor strongly into their plans.  That said, rookie Irv Smith was a second-round pick and already looks poised to be essentially another receiver for them. His smaller size and inexperience as an in-line blocker means he may split out a lot early. That would both play to his strengths and likely provide him with more targets. 

Their status is safe. With David Morgan and Tyler Conklin, there are a few more questions that need answering. Granted, Minnesota could keep four tight ends and this will all be moot. But if the Vikings retain only three as they have done the last two seasons, the prevailing assumption is that one of those two will take the hit.

Morgan’s role as the primary blocking tight end will give him a strong advantage. That holds especially true since neither Rudolph nor Smith figure to be significant assets in that regard this season. Plus, Morgan has been a threat in underneath routes on many occasions in his still-young career. But Conklin has impressed in OTAs as a receiver, possesses downfield ability that Morgan simply does not and improved mightily as a blocker in year one. His development could ultimately make Morgan expendable.  

Much could also come down to how the Kyle Rudolph saga from this offseason pans out. The contract talks have been up and down, with reports of extensions falling through, reigniting and falling through again. So if the young tight ends provide enough light, Rudolph may become a target for other teams.

Both these positions had significant depth concerns entering draft season. And to his credit, Spielman adequately addressed them. Granted, Minnesota will depend largely on contributions from unknown rookies, but as it stands, both these groups seem to be on the rise.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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