By Jason Wisniewski
Since he was drafted in the 2nd rd back in 2011 Kyle Rudolph has been a mainstay with the Minnesota Vikings. After battling through injuries earlier in his career Rudolph has put up solid receiving numbers hitting a peak in 2016 where he caught 83 passes largely due to then QB Sam Bradford having to throw the ball very quickly due to a porous O-line not giving the QB enough time to go further downfield (sound familiar?). So why then am I suggesting the Vikings part ways with Rudolph?
If you look around the league at the upper echelon offenses and more skilled TE’s their numbers absolutely blow Rudolph’s away in terms of the Tight End making big plays downfield. Comparatively in 2018 Rudolph averaged just 9.9 yards per catch and had only 6 plays of 20 or more yards downfield in 16 games. You put those numbers up against the likes of Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz & OJ Howard and the disparity really jumps out at you. Here’s a look:
Kelce: 13 yards per catch, 18 plays of 20+ yards. 16 games.
Ertz: 10 yards per catch, 13 plays of 20 + yards. 16 games.
Howard: 16.6 yards per catch, 11 plays of 20+ yards **only 10 games played**
Now a Rudolph defender might say something like “well the O-line was bad so it’s not on Rudolph”. However that point would be invalid because in 2017 when the Vikings O-line was not bad it was a similar result for Rudolph. In 2017 his yards per catch average was even worse at 9.3 yards per catch and he had only 4 plays of 20+ yards downfield. Is Kyle Rudolph a good red zone threat? Yes he is, but if a TE is worth anything as a receiver they usually are due to their size mismatches in tight quarters against DBs & LBs. Rudolph does possess solid hands and his height is certainly attractive on jump balls and Hail Mary prayers but between the 20’s he is really lacking and the Vikings offense as a whole would probably do better with a Tight End that can stretch the field and make big plays. Rudolph is also a poor blocker which hurts the running game so if the Vikings were to look for a new young TE in this year’s draft they should probably look at a TE who is not only athletic enough to stretch the field but who can also hold their own as a blocker.
Several names in this year’s draft who can fit that bill? How about TJ Hockenson of Iowa in Rd 1 or Irv Smith JR in Rd 2? A Rd 3 target could be a guy like Jace Sternberger or Kaden Smith. If they are looking at Rd 4 to address the position perhaps Isaac Nauta can play this role? With Rudolph set to count $7.6 million against the salary cap and the Vikings needing to find all the cap space they can get to make an upgrade on the O-line and re-sign promising young players players like Anthony Harris it would make sense to part ways with him considering there would be no cap penalty for doing so due to the fact that there were would $0 in dead cap if Rudolph is released. If the Vikings are serious about upgrading the TE position in the draft this is one of the better year’s to do it with the Rookie TE class being as deep and talented as it is with plenty of complete TE’s available this April.
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Special thanks to NFL.com for the individual player statistics on Tight Ends.