In the lead-up to the 2020 NFL Draft, Vikings.com is taking a position-by-position look at prospects who have garnered a range of attention from national outlets. The series will include rankings by national outlets, stats and background information for multiple prospects. We'll also include comments that experts shared during interviews.
Vikings Status at the TE Position
Minnesota is returning four of its five tight ends from the 2019 season: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, Jr., Tyler Conklin and Brandon Dillon. The Vikings released 2016 draft pick David Morgan.
The Vikings inked Rudolph to an extension in 2019 to keep the veteran tight end in Minnesota, and he made splash plays in multiple key games last season, including the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime in the Wild Card game at New Orleans.
After Minnesota selected Smith in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the rookie stepped in and made an impact throughout his first pro season. His first pro touchdown occurred in Week 11 and helped spark Minnesota's late-game comeback victory over Denver.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2018, Conklin primarily contributed on special teams in his first two seasons but did see an uptick in offensive participation in 2019.
The Vikings signed Dillon as an undrafted rookie out of Marian University (Indiana) last spring. He played seven snaps in Minnesota's season opener against Atlanta before being added to the practice squad, where he remained for the rest of the season.
About the expert
For tight ends, we reached out to NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, who coached tight ends for the Vikings from 1992-93 and served as Minnesota's offensive coordinator from 1994-98. During that time, the Vikings made six playoff appearances and in 1998 set a then-NFL record for most points scored in a season (556) and a team record for touchdown passes (41).
Billick then transitioned to head coach of the Ravens; he held that role from 1999-2007, during which he led Baltimore to a Super Bowl XXXV win.
Prior to Billick's coaching career, he played tight end himself at Brigham Young University, where he earned All-WAC honors in 1976.
Follow him on Twitter @CoachBillick for his expert analysis.
While the Vikings don't have a pressing need at tight end, we asked Billick for his thoughts on one prospect who likely will be one of the first off the board and another prospect who could add some value for a team on Day 2 or 3. Billick's evaluation of Notre Dame's Cole Kmet and Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant are included below.
We also asked Billick to provide his thoughts on the 2020 tight ends draft class as a whole. He emphasized that the tight end position is "becoming more and more marquee" and that a team needs to have a talented one to be at its best offensively.
"They are a premium; they're more and more athletic, because they're asked to do more and more now, as opposed to the point-of-attack tight ends. As the game has changed, they seem to have increased in value," Billick said. "And this is a good, solid class. … I don't know if there's as many guys in the first round as we've seen [in past drafts]. And I don't know how that goes. Everybody's going to have their different opinions in how they view that.
"But this group, for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to have as strong a group," Billick added. "I'm not sure any of these guys right now – they could work themselves into it – are going to be a first-round selection. And that could change."
He said that all of the touted tight ends in this year's class have degrees of athleticism teams are seeking.
"That's the element everybody's looking for, to have that size and have that ability either with their speed or their body position to be able to come up with the ball," Billick said. "That's what you're looking for. Because your tight end is likely to be the best matchup on the field for you – whether they try to put a safety on him or maybe a bigger corner … that's going to be your best matchup on the field."
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah currently has just one tight end in his overall Top 50: 41. Cole Kmet
ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., did not list a tight end in his overall Top 25.
PFF included five TEs in its overall Top 100: 36. Hunter Bryant, 53. Brycen Hopkins, 86. Adam Trautman, 96. Kmet, 97. Cheyenne O'Grady
Positional rankings by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., analytics site Pro Football Focus and The Athletic's Dane Brugler impacted the players listed for this series. Rankings by each are noted under each prospect.
School: Notre Dame | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-6 | Wt. 262 pounds
Rankings: No. 1 TE by Brooks and Kiper; No. 2 by Brugler; No. 7 by PFF
2019 stats: 11 games (11 starts); 43 catches for 515 yards and 6 touchdowns; missed the first two games of the season with a broken collarbone
Diamond and the gridiron: Kmet attended St. Viator High School (Illinois), where he stood out on the football and baseball field alike. When he started his college career at Notre Dame, just over two hours away from his hometown, he played baseball and football as a freshman. Kmet led the Fighting Irish baseball team with eight saves in addition to playing in all 13 football games as a reserve tight end. In 2018, he pivoted to solely focus on football.
School: Washington | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-2 | Wt. 248 pounds
Rankings: No. 1 TE by PFF; No. 4 by Brooks, Kiper and Brugler
2019 stats: 12 games (11 starts); 52 catches for 825 yards and 3 touchdowns; 52 catches for second-most in UW single-season history; named First-Team All-Pac-12 and Second-Team All-American (Associated Press)
At home on the football field: According to an article by The Athletic's Chantel Jennings, Bryant moved out of his family's home following his senior season of high school football because "his home life wasn't providing him a 'healthy family dynamic.' " He spent time staying with different friends before being invited to move in with a family friend in order to train until moving to the University of Washington for his freshman season. Bryant's ultimate goal through football, which he said he's had since the age of 6, is to provide for his own future family "the childhood he wished he had for himself."
School: Florida Atlantic | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 243 pounds
Rankings: No. 2 TE by Brooks and Kiper; No. 3 by Brugler; No. 4 by PFF
2019 stats: 12 games (12 starts); 65 catches for 1,000 yards (which led FBS) and 7 touchdowns; received the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end; named First-Team All-American (Associated Press)
Both sides of the ball: Bryant grew up in Georgia and attended John Milledge Academy, where he played tackle on both offense and defense. As a junior in 2014, he recorded 16 "pancakes" on offense; on defense, he had 54 tackles, including 11 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Bryant moved to tight end for his senior season at John Milledge. He will turn 22 on April 23, the first day of the NFL Draft.
Billick's thoughts: "If you're talking about picking up the athleticism of these kind of guys on the second day, Harrison Bryant is a perfect example – a very fluid, versatile athlete. He's the kind of guy that you can flex out into that wide receiver position, as well. So that's certainly attractive to a lot of people because a lot of people want to be able to have that flexibility to be able to do that with a guy. There's a guy that, again, if you don't have to [use a first-round pick], could be a real good value."
School: Dayton | Year: RS Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 255 pounds
Rankings: No. 1 TE by Brugler; No. 3 by Brooks and PFF; No. 5 by Kiper
2019 stats: 11 games (11 starts); 70 catches for team-leading 916 yards and 14 touchdowns; 70 receptions set a Dayton school record across all positions; First-Team All-American (Associated Press); named White Allen MVP by Dayton football
Academic standout: In addition to impressing on the football field, Trautman earned recognition in the classroom. Trautman was part of the National Honor Society at Elk Rapids High School, and he made the PFL Academic Honor Roll all five years at Dayton. Trautman majored in electrical engineering.
School: Vanderbilt | Year: RS Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-4 | Wt. 257 pounds
Rankings: No. 5 TE by Kiper; No. 6 by PFF; No. 8 by Brugler
2019 stats: 11 games (11 starts); 20 catches for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns
Blue Devil before Commodore: Prior to playing collegiately at Vanderbilt, Pinkney stood out at Norcross High School near Atlanta, Georgia, where he helped lead the team to consecutive 6A state titles. Other notable graduates of Norcross include Saints running back Alvin Kamara, Giants tight end Jason Croom and Broncos guard Max Garcia.
School: Missouri | Year: RS Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt. 258 pounds
Rankings: No. 3 TE by Kiper; No. 5 by Brooks and Brugler
2019 stats: 11 games (9 starts); 26 catches for 306 yards and 6 touchdowns; named Second-Team All-SEC; topped all tight ends at the NFL Scouting Combine with a time of 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash
Nigerian roots: Okwuegbunam's father and namesake emigrated from Nigeria to America at the age of 19 and lived with family members in Springfield, Illinois, "in search of better educational opportunities." He played goalkeeper at Lincoln Land Community College and later studied business at the University of Illinois. The father and son are extremely close, and the latter said he sought his father's direction and advice before forgoing his senior year to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.