EAGAN, Minn. - The 2022 Vikings tight ends were heavily utilized in a new offense under Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.
There also was a fair amount of roster fluctuation among the group, which saw its share of injuries.
Optimism surrounded Irv Smith, Jr., entering the season, after he missed all the 2021 campaign with a knee injury suffered in a preseason game at Kansas City. But then he was sidelined for most of this year's training camp with an injured thumb. Smith played in Minnesota's first eight games, but he landed back on Injured Reserve after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Cardinals Oct. 30.
In the same week that Smith was placed on Injured Reserve, the Vikings traded with the Lions for Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson - an interdivision, splash transaction that likely wasn't on anyone's BINGO card for 2022. He made an immediate impact for Minnesota, catching all nine passes thrown his way for 70 yards against Washington Week 9.
2022 Vikings Position Recap: Quarterbacks
Hockenson finished the 2022 season with career highs in catches (86), yards (914) and touchdowns (6) in his time with Detroit and Minnesota, earning himself a second career Pro Bowl nod.
He provided another big target for quarterback Kirk Cousins, catching at least five passes in eight of 11 games (including playoffs).
First-year Vikings tight end Johnny Mundt was familiar with O'Connell's system, having played under him in Los Angeles. While largely used in a blocking capacity, Mundt showed off his pass-catching skills more than ever before, recording career highs of 19 receptions and 140 yards. He also caught his first NFL touchdown (more on that later).
Ben Ellefson played just four games for Minnesota before being placed on IR with a groin injury.
Rookie tight end Nick Muse, whom the Vikings recently signed to a futures contract, played in 10 games for Minnesota but only in a special teams capacity.
Notable Number: 107
Vikings tight ends combined for a total of 107 catches during the regular season, which is the most by tight ends in a Vikings season.
In the Vikings first home Thanksgiving game, Hockenson scored his first touchdown as a Viking.
Minnesota faced third-and-goal against the Patriots. Cousins faked a handoff to running back Dalvin Cook, took a few steps back and then threw to Hockenson, who was able to secure the catch over DB Kyle Duggar in the front corner of the end zone.
The score capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive and gave the Vikings a 16-13 lead in an eventual prime-time win.
Hockenson's first touchdown was part of a five-catch game, his fourth consecutive with at least that many receptions in purple.
Recorded 60 catches for 519 yards (8.7 average) and three touchdowns on 86 targets; started seven of 10 games and played 589 offensive snaps (84.3 percent after joining team)
Irv Smith, Jr.
Recorded 25 catches for 182 yards (7.3 average) and two touchdowns on 36 targets; started one of eight games and played 285 offensive snaps (24.4 percent)
Recorded 19 catches for 140 yards (7.4 average) and a touchdown. Started 12 of 17 games and played 443 offensive snaps (37.9 percent).
Recorded three catches for 26 yards (8.7 average). Started one of four games and played 43 offensive snaps (3.7 percent)
Contributed on special teams but did not play an offensive snap
The highest highs
1. Have a day, T.J.
Hockenson put on quite the holiday show for Vikings fans during Minnesota's "Winter Whiteout" game against the Giants on Dec. 24.
Hockenson racked up 13 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns to help the Vikings pull off a last-second win capped by a Greg Joseph 61-yard field goal.
His targets (16) and catches (13) that day both were career highs, and the Christmas Eve contest marked just his second career game with two touchdown catches.
2. After playing in 53 career games, Mundt scored his first career touchdown in his 54th.
The tight end became an easy target for Cousins on a passing touchdown against the Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Mundt's 1-yard touchdown catch was his only reception of the game, but it helped Minnesota defeat Arizona 34-26 and created a memory for Mundt, who of course kept the ball.
The play even prompted FOX analyst Mark Schlereth to wax poetically about Mundt's playing style - so much so that he called Mundt his "best friend."
The lowest low
1. Hockenson had a couple of missed opportunities against Dallas.
One of those was a would-be touchdown that could have helped Minnesota gain some momentum early in the game. But everything that could have gone wrong certainly seemed to that day for the whole team in a 40-3 loss to the Cowboys.
2 pressing questions for 2023
1. What does Hockenson's role look like after a full offseason?
Hockenson's ability to quickly integrate within Minnesota's offense was impressive.
It's clear the Vikings received an immediate return on their investment, and it seems likely they want to build on his contributions and will be able to do so with a full offseason program.
The Iowa native has one more year on his rookie contract and has expressed wanting to stay with the Vikings for the longterm. Will the Vikings try to solidify a long-term deal with Hockenson?
General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah called Hockenson a "really great, ascending young player."
"[We have] the ability to keep [him] around for a long time," Adofo-Mensah said. "He fits so well into our culture."
Of course, new deals aren't quite as simple as that, being that teams must stay within the boundaries of the salary cap. But don't yet count out any player due to financial numbers.
"Every team has those constraints," Adofo-Mensah reminded. "First, you start off with the players - and we have good players and good people.
"Ultimately, we have a lot of tools at our disposal with extensions and different things like that where you can get under the cap and continue on," he continued. "We'll consider everything we have, and ultimately it will be to fit our vision with the end goal in mind of meeting that talent threshold to win a championship."
The quick chemistry with Cousins and rapid learning of how to make an impact could lead to even more results in 2023.
2. What happens with Smith?
A 2019 second-round pick and classmate of Hockenson, Smith's rookie deal is set to expire.
The Vikings missed him all of last season in an offense that planned to use multiple tight ends at the same time. This year, O'Connell was intrigued by what Smith could provide.
The injuries, however, made it tougher for Smith to contribute. He caught a touchdown last week against the Giants but also was unable to secure a high pass to convert a first down much earlier in the game.
Smith will have the opportunity to assess the market, and the Vikings will have the opportunity to decide if he can and should return.