3 Minnesota Vikings who were a nice surprise in 2021

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) K.J. Osborn
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) K.J. Osborn /
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Minnesota Vikings
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) Tyler Conklin /

Tyler Conklin – TE

When it was announced that 2019 second-round pick Irv Smith Jr would likely miss the season with a meniscus injury, 2018 fifth-round pick Tyler Conklin was thrust into a starting role only a week before the start of the regular season.

While Conklin had done solidly as a third tight end behind Smith and Kyle Rudolph previously, he then had to make the jump from being used sparingly to playing the majority of snaps.

He exceeded all expectations in 2021, posting 61 catches on 83 targets for 593 yards and three TDs. His 593 yards were the most by a Vikings tight end since Rudolph had 634 yards in 2018. Appearing in every game, Conklin provided a reliable target for Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Conklin‘s breakout came at a good time for him, as he now enters the 2022 offseason as a free agent fresh off his best season yet. He has proven to the league that he can be a viable tight end option, and that will make it difficult for the Vikings to retain him, although they surely will try.

Even the Minnesota front office was not 100 percent confident in Conklin as their top tight end during the 2021 season, as they traded a 2022 fourth-round pick for New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick.

Herndon was largely a disappointment with the Vikings in 2021, only having seven passes thrown his way all season. That trade was a big-time panic move by former Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman, but thanks to Conklin’s progression, it did not sting as bad.