The Minnesota Vikings are entering training camp with at least three tight ends primed to make the team, but they may have no choice but to keep four.
Starting tight end Kyle Rudolph was forced to miss the final eight games of last season with a fractured bone in his foot. John Carlson stepped in and played solidly overall, but he left in free agency and signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
Rudolph had a fantastic 2012 season that consisted of 53 catches, 493 yards and nine touchdowns. His role is expected to expand in the Vikings offense since Norv Turner is the new offensive coordinator.
Turner is known for getting the most out of his tight ends, as demonstrated by players such as Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron. Rudolph has surefire hands and efficient blocking skills, so Turner’s tutelage may transform him into an elite tight end.
Rudolph may take snaps in two-tight end sets with Rhett Ellison, who is expected to take over for Carlson as Rudolph’s backup. Ellison was primarily used in blocking plays last season, and his role is expected to remain that way.
Chase Ford will battle with A.C. Leonard for the No. 3 tight end spot, but they may both be able to make the roster. Ford has prior experience in the Vikings offense, and he performed solidly as a backup and caught 11 passes.
Leonard is an athletic specimen who was undrafted out of Tennessee State despite being considered a top tight end prospect in the draft. Leonard ran a 4.50 40 and showed promising receiving skills in college.
The former Tennessee State tight end has great speed and pass-catching ability, but he will be hard-pressed to make the team since he has virtually no blocking ability.
His athleticism and upside will likely give him a spot on the team though, and Ford may be on his way out the door.
The Vikings have plenty of depth at tight end, and they may have too much talent to keep their roster size at just three. Ford or Leonard would be practice squad waiver treasure if they were cut.