MINNEAPOLIS -- There are a number of levers available to the Minnesota Vikings as they try to build a more explosive offense in 2017. They hope they've created a better offensive line for themselves by signing veteran tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. They believe Latavius Murray will headline a more versatile running back group. And while they are waiting for more from Laquon Treadwell, they at least have an impressive pair of young receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
The tight end position, though, could provide another reservoir of productivity.
Even with Kyle Rudolph coming off the best season of his career, having led the team with 83 catches in 2016, the Vikings made a push to sign Jared Cook in free agency, for reasons that should offer some insight into why they might pursue another tight end in the draft. The Vikings were interested in what Cook could provide as a vertical threat -- his 10.1 yards per target were the third-most in the league among tight ends last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- and it wouldn't be a shock to see them look for a player with similar skills in the draft next week.
With Rhett Ellison leaving for the Giants in free agency, Rudolph and David Morgan are the only tight ends on the roster who played in a game for the Vikings last season. Morgan can fill some of Ellison's role as a blocking tight end, but especially if the Vikings want to add another player who can help open up the middle of the field, tight end could be a position to watch.
Current TEs (2017 cap number in parentheses): Rudolph ($6.8 million), Morgan ($573,864), Kyle Carter ($465,000).
Player with most to prove in 2017: Rudolph answered many of the questions about whether he could post big numbers in 2016; though his 10.1 yards-per-catch average stayed the same as it did in 2015, he seems to have established himself as a fixture in the Vikings' offense. Morgan might have more to show; he'll likely get more work as he helps to succeed Ellison, and with no blocking back currently on the roster, the second-year tight end could carve out a role in the running game.
Draft need: There are a number of impressive pass-catching tight ends who might provide for the Vikings what they seemed to be seeking in Cook. Mississippi's Evan Engram, for instance, ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. The Vikings met with Florida International tight end Jonnu Smith, who had the second-best vertical jump and 20-yard shuttle time of any tight end at the combine. Those players might not be the complete package at the position, but there's a case to be made the Vikings could use another playmaker or two. And with Rudolph getting most of the work at tight end, the Vikings might be able to add another player who'd fill a specific role as a pass-catcher.