Vikings rookie Bucky Hodges brings bold game, jersey pick

Published 10:49 pm Friday, May 5, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE — Bucky Hodges has brought a tantalizing set of skills to the Minnesota Vikings, a rookie tight end whose athleticism is easily matched by his ambition.

His choice of jersey number sure gave that away.

Hodges picked 84, the flashiest digits available in purple. That’s the number Randy Moss once wore when he was racking up acrobatic catches and long touchdowns for the Vikings, with football-loving youth like Hodges watching in awe on television around the country.

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“My favorite player,” Hodges said.

He was recruited as a quarterback by Virginia Tech. But halfway through his redshirt freshman season in 2013 the Hokies were preparing for a game against North Carolina and standout tight end Eric Ebron, an eventual first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster asked Hodges if he’d emulate Ebron on the scout team that week.

“So I did it, and I just felt like a little kid again,” said Hodges, whose given first name is Temuchin, after his father.

The move that paved the way for him to turn pro was made permanent the following spring. Though there was a mental challenge in the huddle of learning to hear the play instead of calling it, his knowledge of coverages and routes carried over to the new spot that ultimately just felt more natural.

The quarterback-to-tight end transition is relatively atypical, but Hodges is a unique player at 6-foot-6 and 257 pounds.

“It is a rare change. I mean, I am a rare player,” he said.

At the NFL scouting combine, his 4.57-second 40-yard dash time was fifth among tight ends. With a 39-inch vertical leap and a 134-inch broad jump, Hodges topped all players at his position and finished 10th and fifth among all participants in those two categories.

“Athletically, he’s off the charts,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said.

Virginia Tech essentially used Hodges, who left with one year of eligibility remaining, as a wide receiver. The Hokies also put him in the slot and H-back positions, and even handed him the ball a few times on jet sweep plays.

“Anything coach Zim and the staff want me to do, I feel like I’m open to it and I feel like I can execute it very well,” Hodges said.

After watching him practice Friday with the rest of the prospects at rookie minicamp, Zimmer called Hodges a “top-shelf guy.” Developing more strength will be his primary offseason focus in an attempt to become a reliable run blocker, a skill he acknowledged is “very raw.” With 20 touchdowns in 40 college games, though, he has displayed that unteachable ability to simply jump over the defense to get the ball.

“He has got great hand-eye coordination,” Zimmer said.

With a deep class of tight ends this year, Hodges slipped to the 201st overall selection in the sixth round. His lack of blocking experience and evidence of dropped passes didn’t help his stock, either. The lower-than-expected draft status didn’t hurt his determination, though.

“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder,” Hodges said that afternoon he answered the call from the Vikings.

Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed are the established NFL tight ends that Hodges mentioned when asked about players he’s patterned his game after. But he has a bold mindset to become his own big name.

Though Moss made his NFL debut in 1998 with the Vikings when Hodges was 3 years old, growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Hodges said he distinctly recalled a game of catch with his dad when he first called out “Moss” as the player he was trying to emulate. When Cordarrelle Patterson, the holder of that jersey for the previous four seasons, signed with the Oakland Raiders, the opportunity to wear 84 was created.

“This is a legendary number,” Hodges said. “I’m just hoping I can throw my name into that hat and maybe some kid will want to be like me one day.”