Protecting your tailback

Last week, we took a look at the Minnesota Vikings’ running back situation. If you happened to miss the article, you can find it on Facebook through the web address that’s listed below.

Jordan COLUMN BOXFullback

The Minnesota Vikings have predominantly been a power running team, often lining up with a fullback or extra tight ends on the field to produce better blocking. Will the Vikings continue to be a power running team or will they shift to a spread out approach this season?

Zach Line was the starting fullback last season and finished with a player grade of 57.2 according to Pro Football Focus, good for 15th in the league. An average at best blocker, Line was able to demonstrate his value in other ways. He only ran the ball six times for 10 yards, but found the end zone twice. Line also caught six passes for an impressive 95 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Blake Renaud will be competing with Line for the fullback position. A linebacker in high school and college, Renaud was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2015 to play fullback. He also spent some time on the Vikings’ practice squad last season.

Starter: Zach Line

Full back is one of the least important positions for the Vikings in 2016. Even though Adrian Peterson has publicly stated he prefers running behind a full back, it’s clear this team is becoming Teddy Bridgewater’s, who prefers to spread out the offense and throw from the shotgun. The only way Renaud passes Line on the depth chart is if he proves to be a better blocker while also bringing value as a ball carrier and pass catcher.

Tight ends

Kyle Rudolph was able to play all 16 games of the regular season for only the second time of his career and caught 49 passes for a career high 495 yards (which was second on the team behind Stefon Diggs). PFF gave Rudolph a player grade of 71.9, good for 23rd in the league. An above average pass catcher, Rudolph will need to improve his blocking to be considered one of the better tight ends in the league.

MyCole Pruitt was drafted last year and proved to be an excellent back up for Rudolph. A player who is known more for his pass catching ability, Pruitt was actually graded as a better blocker than Rudolph in 2015 according to PFF.

Rhett Ellison proved to be very valuable for the Vikings in 2015. A “Swiss Army knife” on the field, Ellison was able to play both tight end and full back. Out of all the fullbacks and tight ends on the Vikings’ roster, Ellison was the highest rated blocker according to PFF.

David Morgan was drafted just a few months ago but faces an uphill battle to make the Vikings’ roster in 2016. Morgan will essentially try to take Ellison’s spot on the roster as a player who is known more for his blocking and less for his pass catching.

Brian Leonhardt and Kyle Carter are the two players who round out the list of players in the tight end group. Leonhardt is entering his fourth season in the NFL, and will have a hard time beating out any of the players listed above for a roster spot. Carter is an undrafted rookie from Penn State who is a below average blocker but has tons of athleticism.

Starter: Kyle Rudolph

There should be no doubt who the starter will be for the Minnesota Vikings in 2016. Rudolph will look to improve on last season and become a dominant force in the NFL. Norv Turner’s offenses of the past have had great tight ends, and Rudolph has all the ability to join the list.

Backups: MyCole Pruitt and Rhett Ellison

In 2015, the top three tight ends (Rudolph, Pruitt, Ellison) all played more snaps than the starting fullback, Zach Line. Pruitt will be the primary backup to Rudolph, while Ellison will be similar to one of my all-time favorite Vikings, Jim Kleinsasser, a player who takes just as much pride in blocking as he does catching the ball.

On the bubble: David Morgan, Brian Leonhardt, Kyle Carter

Even though the Vikings spent a draft pick on David Morgan, he will have a hard time making the 53-man roster. Brian Leonhardt will have the hardest time of any tight end to make the roster, since he doesn’t possess much upside. Kyle Carter has a real chance to make the practice squad, giving the Vikings a chance to tap into his athleticism and potential.

Next week we will be taking a look at the wide receiver position. If you have anything specific you’d like to know about them, or if you have any comments or questions about the fullbacks or tight ends, reach out to me! E-mail: skoljwright@gmail.com, Facebook: facebook.com/skoljwright, or Twitter: @skoljwright