As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is June 19th, and there are 86 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. That means it's time to look at a young tight end who took an unlikely path to the NFL.
Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 86 Days
Player Preview: Brandon Dillon (No. 86, Tight End)
- College: Marian (NAIA)
- Drafted: 2019 UDFA
- NFL experience: One season on Vikings PS
- Age: 23 (Birthday was in April)
- Size: 6'5", 250
- 2019 PFF Grade: N/A
- Notable 2019 stats: N/A
The most unlikely player to make the Vikings' initial 53-man roster in 2019 was Brandon Dillon, an undrafted tight end from a small NAIA school in Indiana. One year later, he'll try to make the team once again – and this time stick around on the active roster all year.
Dillon attended Carroll High School in tiny Flora, IN, and played college football at Marian University in Indianapolis. Over his four years at Marian, Dillon totaled 105 catches, 1,661 yards, and 14 touchdowns, including a 35-603-5 (17.2 yards per catch) line as a senior. He then ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at Purdue's pro day.
In April 2019, the Vikings signed Dillon as a college free agent. For a team that had just drafted Irv Smith Jr. in the second round to join a tight end room featuring Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Conklin, David Morgan, and Cole Hikutini, adding Dillon may have seemed like a low-upside move.
Then training camp and the preseason happened.
Dillon impressed the coaching staff with his work in camp, proving himself to be an athletic receiving option at the position. He translated that success into the preseason by catching all eight of his targets and leading the Vikings with 95 receiving yards in four games. Much of that production came in a five-catch, 48-yard performance in the preseason finale.
With Morgan on the PUP list due to a knee injury, Dillon was able to beat out Hikutini for the fourth tight end spot. But the Vikings didn't just stick him on the practice squad, they kept him on the 53-man roster when they broke camp. Dillon played seven snaps in the Week 1 win over the Falcons, and then was waived to make room for Brett Jones. He spent the rest of the season on the practice squad.
Entering 2020 training camp, the opportunity is there for Dillon to seize an expanded role. The Vikings' top two tight ends are locked in as Rudolph and Smith, but the No. 3 TE job is within reach. That's an important role in Gary Kubiak's offense even if neither of the top two miss any time with injuries. Last year, Conklin played 27 percent of the Vikings' offensive snaps and caught eight passes.
Conklin is the presumptive favorite to win that battle, but he'll receive significant competition from Dillon and 2020 UDFA Nakia Griffin-Stewart (read about his background here). Of those three players, it's likely that one will make the roster, one will make the practice squad, and one will be cut.
Dillon's upside as a receiver gives him a legitimate chance to beat out Conklin, but he'll have to continue to prove he has what it takes as a blocker in the run game. Ultimately, that's the most important skill for the No. 3 TE in Kubiak's offense.
Join the conversation at InsideTheVikings by clicking the follow button in the upper right-hand corner of this page (mobile users, tap the bell icon – you may have to click ‘News’ first), and follow @WillRagatz on Twitter.