The Minnesota Vikings have unique plans for former Minnesota State Mankato wide receiver Shane Zylstra.
Zylstra, who agreed to a contract with the Vikings on Tuesday, per his agent, totaled 227 catches, 4,297 yards and 55 touchdowns in 54 career games with the Mavericks over his four-year career as the program’s all-time leading receiver.
“It’s a blessing, that’s for sure,” Zylstra told Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson. “Obviously, being from Minnesota and getting to sign with the home team, it means a little more.’’
The Spicer, Minn., native broke Adam Thielen’s single-season school records for catches (81), receiving yards (1,676) and receiving touchdowns (18) in his senior year in 2019. Thielen posted 74 catches for 1,176 yards and eight receiving touchdowns his senior year.
Zylstra will look to follow Thielen’s path as an undrafted prospect coming out of Mankato to making Minnesota’s roster and becoming an impact player.
However, Zylstra will have to blaze his own path as the Vikings have asked the 24-year-old to change positions entering the NFL.
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Zylstra Fills Void at Tight End
Zylstra, who was undrafted in 2020 and unable to attend any NFL training camps due to COVID-19, bulked up this past season to make a transition to tight end. Standing 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Zylstra put on 15 pounds in the past year.
The Vikings have a need at the position after longtime starting tight end Kyle Rudolph was released in March and practice-squad tight end Hale Hentges unexpectedly retired. Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin are likely locks as the top-two tight ends on the roster, followed by 2021 fifth-round pick Zach Davidson and practice squad tight end Brandon Dillon.
Zylstra will have his work cut out for him as the leanest tight end on the roster but could carve out a role for himself with his receiving skills and as a special teams player.
“I expect to probably gain a little bit more by the time the season comes around,” Zylstra said, per Tomasson. “I’ve been working out at the Training Haus (in Eagan) with MarQueis Gray (a longtime NFL tight end and former Gophers quarterback), and he has been helping me. … I’ve got to fight and claw to earn a (roster spot), and that’s the mentality I’m going to take.”
Zylstra’s NFL Pedigree
Zylstra may be considered a longshot to make an NFL roster, but he has not only Thielen’s path to draw from but also his brother Brandon’s journey.
Brandon, 28, went undrafted in 2016 but impressed scouts with his athleticism and catching ability. Brandon played in the CFL for two seasons before signing a rookie contract with the Vikings in 2018. He was waived by Minnesota the next offseason after playing primarily as a special teams player. He did have one catch for 23 yards against the New York Jets.
Brandon was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers in the 2019 offseason. He had a breakout game in the 2019 season finale, catching six passes for 96 yards. He earned two starts in 2020 and earned a one-year contract with the Panthers in February.