The Health of One Star Will Impact the Vikings’ Plans for 2024

Questions Answered: Hockenson's Revenge, Jefferson OPOY Update, Joseph Cured?
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings have a very important offseason in front of them.

They have a number of questions to answer once free agency rolls around, and their nine draft selections in April offer ample opportunity to add playmakers and fresh faces to the roster. However, there is one question that remains out of the Vikings’ control, and yet, it may be one of the most important questions in front of the team. That question regards the health of one star, T.J. Hockenson.

Hockenson, of course, suffered a torn ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve against the Detroit Lions. He then had surgery to repair that ACL injury over a month later after his MCL had recovered. When will he actually be able to return to the field in 2024, though?

One Star’s Health Will Impact the Vikings’ Plans for 2024

Health of One Star
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) makes a catch for a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote on February 8th, “Hockenson, a fixture at one of the most important positions in the Vikings’ offensive scheme, tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee Dec. 24. In conjunction with the team’s medical staff, he delayed surgery for 36 days while the MCL healed. Dr. Neal ElAttrache repaired his ACL on Jan. 29. Multiple sources told ESPN there have been no complications from the surgery, but emphasized the typical recovery from the type of injury he suffered is nine months.”

That nine-month recovery period would mean Hockenson not only misses Week 1, but he could miss the first three to four games of the season. It also means he wouldn’t be available throughout minicamp in the spring or training camp, giving him no real “ramp-up” period going into the season.

This also could result in Hockenson being placed on the PUP list. If that were to happen, he would have to miss at least the first four games of the season.

Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) celebrates his touchdown with tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Seifert also noted on the possibility of Hockenson being placed on PUP, “It’s early in the process, and Hockenson’s schedule could either be accelerated or slowed based on the timing of various milestones. But the most relevant question is not whether he will be ready for Week 1, but instead, whether he will be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list — making him ineligible to play until Week 5 at the earliest. The possibility Hockenson could miss a chunk of the 2024 regular season, rather than be limited in the early going, raises the stakes of the Vikings’ offseason plan for the depth behind him.”

Indeed, if Hockenson is expected to miss the opening portions of the 2024 season, it would place an added emphasis on finding depth at the tight end position. Hockenson was on the verge of a 1000-yard season in 2023 before his injury, and after some early criticisms, he really carried Minnesota’s receiving game when Justin Jefferson was out with his hamstring injury.

As things currently stand, Josh Oliver is the only healthy tight end on Minnesota’s roster. He and Johnny Mundt shared the majority of the backup TE duties last season, and Oliver caught 22 passes for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns. All of these numbers were career-highs.

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the first half against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Oliver showed throughout his collegiate career at San Jose State that he is capable of being a primary receiver at the tight end position, but he has never truly been asked to do so at the NFL level. In fact, after Hockenson’s injury, the majority of TE targets went to Mundt over the final couple weeks of the 2023 season.

Mundt was targeted 16 times over the final three games of the season while Oliver garnered just seven targets. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Mundt now is set to enter free agency and could be wearing different colors in 2024.

If the assumption is that Hockenson will indeed miss the first few weeks of the 2023 season, the Vikings will have to make a plan to find production at the tight end position until he comes back.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Reference.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.

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