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Josh Oliver’s impact already present with the Vikings

Four of the eight free agents the Minnesota Vikings signed this off-season appeared in its first pre-season game against the Seattle Seahawks. One of the more notable performances of the four came from tight end Josh Oliver, who didn’t register a single reception the entire game.

Who is Josh Oliver and what is he bringing to Minnesota?

Oliver, 26, previously spent the past two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and before that, was on the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2019-20. While the Ravens roster includes Mark Andrews, Oliver played a significant role in how their offense operated.

In 2022, all three Ravens tight ends, Isaiah Likely, Oliver, and Andrews, graded out one-two-three as Pro Football Focus’s top run-blocking tight ends. This contributed to the Ravens having one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks. Oliver, whose run-blocking grade was a 74, also finished with a 71.9 pass-blocking grade, 16th among all tight ends, and being ahead of both Andrews and Likely.

Oliver’s skillset, in a small sample size, was on display at Lumen Field

Against the Seahawks, Oliver finished with a 75.6 PFF grade. Only Nick Mullens, Jordan Addison, and Ty Chandler graded out higher. The first offensive play from scrimmage shows why Oliver received a high grade. With the help of left tackle Vederian Lowe, the two wash Seattle’s Derrick Hall out of the play, helping clear room for Chandler to pick up a couple of yards.

In this next play, John Rattigan becomes a victim of Oliver’s presence by not only being washed out, but Oliver also finishes the block by tossing the Seahawks linebacker to the ground. Running back Abram Smith follows Oliver picking up a sizeable gain.

The ability for tight ends and wide receivers to seal the edge is essential for any outside running game. In the fourth play of this clip below, Oliver provides a key block on Levi Bell, which also forces Hall to take a difficult angle. This results in Chandler picking up nine yards, putting the offense in a second-and-short situation.

Bigger picture and 2023 outlook

The Vikings signed Oliver to a three-year, $21-million contract this off-season. The addition of Oliver will surely give Minnesota’s rushing attack a boost after finishing 27th in yards and 26th in yards per attempt a season ago. At 6-foot-5, 259 pounds, Oliver is the biggest tight end on the Vikings roster and can easily take on defensive ends and linebackers. This will also allow the Vikings to use more 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends), allowing T.J Hockenson to excel more as a receiver while creating mismatches all over the field.

He also has plenty of room for him to add to the passing game as. He caught just 14 balls for 149 yards and two scores for the Ravens last season, but Baltimore didn’t air the ball out as much as the rest of the league. Coming out of San Jose State, Oliver was more of a receiving threat, with 709 yards on 56 receptions in 2018. He had an 8.16 RAS score and a 4.63 40-time in the NFL Scouting Combine, tying…Irv Smith Jr.

There’s an excellent case to be made that Oliver has been underutilized during his time in the NFL. It will be intriguing to see if he’s utilized to his maximum potential under Kevin O’Connell, one of the younger offensive masterminds in the NFL. Oliver didn’t come to Minnesota to be a traditional backup tight end; he came here to be a contributor in this offense. It was on display in the first week of preseason, creating excitement of what’s to come.

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