EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings tight ends played a major role in Minnesota improving its red zone offense in 2017.
The Vikings improved their touchdown rate on possessions inside an opponent's 20-yard line from 46.0 percent (28th in the NFL) to 57.9 percent (ninth in the NFL). That success rate was the highest by a Vikings team since 2009 when Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre helped Minnesota to a success rate of 62.3 percent in the red zone, which ranked third in the NFL.
Kyle Rudolph recorded eight touchdown receptions to tie receiver Stefon Diggs for the Vikings lead, and David Morgan added another scoring catch, as the position group accounted for more than one-third of Minnesota's 25 total touchdown receptions.
Rudolph's eight touchdown catches were the second most he's totaled in seven seasons. He and Diggs were tied with nine other players for eighth-most in the NFL in 2017.
Seven of the tight end's touchdown receptions were on plays that began inside the red zone.
Rudolph also ranked 77th in the NFL and 14th among tight ends with 532 yards and appeared in the Pro Bowl for the second time.
He was named Vikings Community Man of the Year and the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner.
Morgan took advantage of an increased role in his second pro season. Morgan's prowess as a blocker and versatility allowed Minnesota to find success in a double tight end set and even implement three tight ends.
Blake Bell was claimed off waivers from San Francisco before the season started, and the third-year pro played in 13 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury at Carolina.
Kyle Carter, an undrafted free agent signing in 2016, was added from the practice squad to replace Bell in December. Carter, however, was waived during the playoffs and has been claimed by the Giants.
View the best photos of the top Vikings catches of 2017.
70.4 catch percentage — Rudolph's targets, receptions and yards dipped from 2016 when he had career highs in all three categories, but he had the second-best catch percentage of his career, totaling 57 receptions on 81 targets. His catch percentage improved from 62.9 in 2016 to 70.4 this season and helped the offense become more efficient.
Morgan, who recorded his first career catch at Green Bay near the end of 2016, helped Minnesota work its way through a couple of tough situations against the Packers.
Morgan filled in admirably in the second half for Kevin McDermott after the long snapper suffered a shoulder injury. The tight end successfully snapped on three punts and a pair of short field goals to help Minnesota record its first shutout at Green Bay.
He also helped Case Keenum improvise for a 23-yard gain on third-and-13 in the third quarter.
Initially blocking on the play, Morgan slipped but saw Keenum escape the pocket and run toward the line of scrimmage to buy more time. Keenum avoided crossing the line of scrimmage as Morgan moved down the field. Morgan caught the ball at the Green Bay 45 and slipped tackles in spectacular fashion and with a little help from Adam Thielen for the key gain. The conversion was entertaining and effective in helping Minnesota use nearly five additional minutes of clock before a 20-yard field goal.
Regular Season Stats
57 receptions for 532 yards and eight touchdowns on 81 targets; started all 16 games for a third consecutive season
10 receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown on 12 targets; started six of 15 games played
3 receptions for 19 yards on four targets; caught 2-point conversion pass at Carolina; started three of 13 games played
After starting the season on the practice squad, Carter made his NFL debut on his 25th birthday against Cincinnati. He played in the final three games of the season but did not record any stats.
"It's important to me. I know we had an opportunity to win the NFC North, and I just asked [Director of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman] to give me a chance. Wasn't a great chance, but the guys here on our training staff, our doctors, they did a great job. Like I said, it's something that's important to me, I wanted to be out there with those guys, and I did anything I could to get out there.
"You don't need more motivation when you're playing for the NFC North Championship, and it didn't matter who we were playing, I wasn't going to miss it."
— Rudolph on rallying from an ankle injury at Carolina to play against his hometown Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 (he helped the Vikings build a lead and caught a 1-yard touchdown in limited action)