On Thursday, news broke that Vikings TE Chase Ford had a broken foot. Friday, Ford was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which he’ll probably remain on for several months, as foot fractures typically take 6-8 weeks to heal. Ford himself has says he doesn’t expect to be back for the start of the season.
This is a somewhat important loss for the Vikings offense. Ford, an undrafted free agent in 2013, came on strong at the end of last year after an injury to Kyle Rudolph. He has the physical attributes of a pass-catching tight end, but wasn’t that bad of a blocker, either. Coming into this year, Ford was expected to be the second-string TE, but now the Vikings are left to find someone else to fill that role.
On Friday, Minnesota also signed Mike Higgins, a tight end who played for the Saints last year. The Vikings signed Higgins as an UDFA back in 2011, but he was cut following camp. Higgins really doesn’t have a chance to make the team; he was brought in to provide four true tight ends in training camp.
With Ford out, AC Leonard has an open path to the #2 tight end spot. Dismissed from the University of Florida after he was charged with battery, Leonard was maybe the biggest land in the 2014 UDFA crop. On the field, Leonard compares well to many of the best tight ends in the league. He is tall, fast and has hops. Even if Ford was healthy, I think Leonard still would have beaten him out; expect AC to have a substantial role in this offense. He projects an Aaron Hernandez-type wide receiver-tight end hybrid. Norv Turner loves his tight ends, and Leonard is a nice little (big, actually) project for him to work on.
With Leonard most likely taking Ford’s place, there will be one offensive spot left empty on my predicted roster. That will be occupied by fullback Zach Line. In my Pre-Camp Prediction article about the fullbacks, I said there would be a two-horse race between Leonard and Line for that last spot. With Leonard basically getting a free pass onto the roster, Line should be able to secure a place as well. He can be a dynamic fullback in the Turner offense, with the ability to block, catch passes, and rush. With Line, Peterson, and McKinnon in the backfield along with Patterson and Jennings out wide, the Viking offense will be dangerous.
Forgive me if this sounds mean, but Ford’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Vikings. In my mind, not only is AC Leonard a better tight end than Chase Ford is, but Zach Line is also more valuable to the offense than Ford. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when Ford returns, he is the one who ends up getting cut. If not him, I think Line will be the one released, or maybe like last year he is placed on Injured Reserve with a phantom injury.
It will be interesting to see how this whole saga plays out during camp and once Ford returns. My guess is one of Leonard, Line and Ford will end up getting “hurt” and placed on IR.