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Minnesota tight ends

Uncertainty, but potential in Vikings group

Irv Smith had seemed like a potential sleeper tight end all offseason, with Kyle Rudolph gone from the Vikings. But now it's not certain Smith will play at all this season, and the Vikings' trade for Chris Herndon yesterday highlights that. Is there value in the situation?

Smith has a knee injury that will require surgery, and the Vikings don't know yet whether he'll miss a few weeks -- or the entire season. Story about it here. They've got Tyler Conklin (pictured) back from a preseason hamstring injury, and they sent a fourth-round pick to the Jets yesterday for Herndon and a sixth-rounder. If you've already drafted Smith, you should definitely be looking for a Plan B for September, and maybe the entire season.

Minnesota is a two-tight end offense. Last year Rudolph and Smith were a tandem for most of the year, and when Rudolph was sidelined late, it was a Smith-Conklin duo. If Smith winds up on IR in the next week, it will be a Conklin-Herndon duo. Production will be split, but Conklin -- who's been in the offense -- is the probable sleeper. Herndon looked like a possible breakout tight end a couple of years ago, but hasn't followed up on that promise; he's more of a last-round flier.

Since the Vikings funnel their offense two just 2 wide receivers, Dalvin Cook, and their tight ends, there's potential for Conklin to be a viable starter in fantasy leagues. Last year, Vikings tight ends combined to catch 78 passes, 22 percent of the team's receptions, for 899 yards and 7 TDs. That puts Minnesota in the top 12 in terms of reception share; not as high on yards and touchdowns, but still over a fifth of the team's total in those areas. (Table sorted by percent of team receptions.)

TIGHT END PRODUCTION / PERCENT OF TEAM (2020)
TeamNoYardsTD%Rec%Yds%TD
Las Vegas12814191335%32%46%
Philadelphia1071207732%32%32%
Denver97974631%27%29%
Tennessee949671230%25%36%
Cleveland90897929%24%33%
Baltimore73826928%28%33%
Kansas City11815151128%30%28%
NY Giants86812127%24%8%
San Francisco961146726%27%28%
Miami9110611125%27%46%
LA Rams89991623%24%30%
Minnesota78899722%21%20%
Detroit83899822%20%30%
Indianapolis82895822%21%33%
Tampa Bay8710921121%23%26%
Chicago857441021%19%38%
Green Bay778451621%20%33%
LA Chargers81928820%20%26%
Houston75913720%19%21%
Seattle75715619%17%15%
Washington75688619%18%38%
Dallas75737418%16%16%
Jacksonville68637218%16%8%
Pittsburgh71657517%16%14%
New Orleans60721916%18%32%
Atlanta66659616%14%22%
NY Jets43409315%13%19%
Cincinnati53489214%13%11%
Arizona48635712%15%26%
Buffalo42458910%10%23%
Carolina2720427%5%13%
New England1825416%8%8%

I had been intrigued by Smith as a possible breakout player, and I'll now shift that interest to Conklin. It will be two tight ends, but Herndon was awfully unproductive with the Jets last year, and he now needs to learn a new offense and prove he can be a part of the passing game. I wouldn't draft Conklin as a starter, but the potential for him to be a top-20 tight end.

As for Herndon, probably more of a last-round dart throw in TE-premium or best-ball leagues (similar to Conklin before the Smith injury). Since Conklin hasn't really done it over a sustained period and needs to prove himself as the No. 1, maybe it's Herndon who will surprise (not what I'm expecting, though).

--Andy Richardson

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