Vikings OC Praises 270-Pound Freight Train

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

“Have you seen the guy?”

That’s the rhetorical question Vikings OC Wes Phillips directed toward Minnesota media members in his recent press conference. His point is that Josh Oliver is a massive, strong tight end, someone capable of adding some snarl to the team’s offense. The offensive coordinator even added a wry smile and a brief pause to underscore the point about Oliver’s massive frame.

During free agency, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made the reasonably stunning move to hand over a 3-year deal to TE Josh Oliver. In his opening season, Oliver will carry a cap hit just beyond $2.5 million. The 6’5″ tight end is said to be around 250 pounds, but the recent word is that he’s far larger than the listed total. Phillips puts him above 270 pounds.

Hockenson Contract Extension
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

To be clear, T.J. Hockenson is going to remain the TE1 in 2023. The former Lion is an excellent pass catcher, someone capable of doing plenty of damage in the short and intermediate areas of the field. During the playoffs, Hockenson put forth fantastic numbers: 10 catches (11 targets), 129 yards, and 6 first downs. In his 10 regular season games, Hockenson had 60 catches go for 519 yards and 3 TDs.

Oliver’s role is to be the bully. The massive tight end was a Jacksonville 3rd-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, an indicator that there was optimism about his ability to shine in the NFL. Picking a TE 69th overall – at the top of the 3rd – is notable because it suggests he’ll be more than just a depth option.

Phillips spoke to that upside when discussing Oliver’s pass-catching abilities:

Kinda the interesting thing about Josh is coming out he was really more of a pass catcher. He was like, “Oh, he’s got the size, but we’re going to have to teach this guy how to block if we were to bring him in.” Because he caught a lot of passes at San Jose and he ran 4.5-something. So he’s got, when he gets that train rolling, he’s just a tough cover just due to his size, his length, his catch radius.

The overwhelming bulk of the discussion surrounding Josh Oliver has been to highlight how he’ll help the run game. And, to be sure, there’s good reason to think he’ll help in that facet of the game. The Vikings retained C.J. Ham in a different offseason move, an indicator that they’re interested in playing more bully ball. Do you want to be on the receiving end of a block from Oliver and/or Ham?

Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham (30) runs the ball while pursued by Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith (58) during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The pass-catching upside, though, is a topic that warrants further exploration.

Possessing the size and speed that Oliver does will certainly help him to snag balls, especially when it comes to moving the chains and scoring touchdowns. His current statistical career highs occurred last season. For the entire year, he had 14 catches, 149 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. Modest, ho-hum numbers.

Sharing an offense with Hockenson isn’t going to help his target load, and nor will the presence of Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn. However, all of those players will command a ton of attention from the opposing defense. As a result, Oliver is sure to get plenty of one-on-one coverage. The poor LB or DB tasked with manning up with him is going to have a tough time.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Jan 15, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) lines up before a field goal attempt during the first half in a wild card game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

In fact, Phillips describes that precise scenario later in his answer about Oliver. He describes how one of the linebackers tried to hang with Oliver in OTAs but got boxed out since the TE has so much size and strength. Oliver is the kind of player where even when he’s covered there’s a good chance he isn’t covered.

Don’t be surprised to see Josh Oliver surpass his previous career bests in receiving stats. And, at the very least, expect to see him routinely plow through defenders as a run blocker.

Watch out once the TE train gets going. Oliver is going to be tough to slow down.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.