As the Vikings try to find cap room to sign their draft class, Ian Rapoport reported the first way the Vikings tried to do so:
When the Vikings drafted Smith, I said I would only love the pick if Smith and Rudolph could play together. I am firmly against trading Kyle Rudolph and here’s why:
Smith and Rudolph are Different
Smith and Rudolph are not similar players despite playing the same position. After Smith was drafted, Vikings Director of College Scouting, Jamaal Stephenson called Smith a “move tight end” used to create mismatches, as opposed to the traditional ‘in-line’ tight end that Kyle Rudolph plays.
Rick Spielman’s post-draft press conference expanded on that, saying Smith’s presence has no impact on Rudolph’s status (not that he would have said anything different), calling them “totally two different types of tight ends.” Spielman continued by comparing him to Jordan Reed, triggering reminders of the success that Kirk Cousins had in Washington when he was throwing to both Vernon Davis and Reed.
Rudolph has Been Durable and Solid
After battling injuries in his first four seasons, Rudolph has played all 64 games in the past four years, averaging 63 receptions, 625 yards and 6 TDs per season. Not elite number, but solid production for the tight-end position.
This past year, Rudolph provided a sure-handed safety valve for Cousins. He’s not explosive but he can convert third-downs and forces defenses to respect him in the red zone.
One More Pass Catcher
Diggs and Thielen had minimal help last year, so there was a need to add another playmaker so defenses couldn’t double BOTH of them at the same time. Rudolph is not athletic enough to take that upon himself. Irv Smith is also not strong enough to take that upon himself.
However, if the Vikings were to roll out Smith and Rudolph together, there are four options that will allow the Vikings to create the mismatches Jamaal Stephenson referenced. By going from Diggs, Thielen and Rudolph to Diggs, Thielen and Smith, it’s unlikely the offense improves in 2019, especially considering tight-end is one of the hardest positions to adjust to in the NFL. Diggs, Thielen, Rudolph and Smith? Now that’s potent.
12 Personnel ‘Base’ Could be Major Advantage
The Vikings struggled to run the ball last year, and a major reason of that is blocking. The team made moves in the draft to solidify the offensive line, but don’t discount the impact that Irv Smith could play on the running game.
In recent years, NFL offenses have transitioned from 12 personnel (2 TEs ; 2 WRs) to play 11 personnel (3 WR ; 1 TE) as the standard formation. As such, defenses countered to put 3 CBs on the field, making ‘nickel’ their base defense (5 DBs). It’s the reason Mackensie Alexander played 54% of snaps last year while Ben Gedeon played 29%. Last year, the Vikings main offensive formation was 11 personnel with Diggs, Thielen, Treadwell and Rudolph playing most snaps.
By adding Irv Smith, you are replacing Treadwell and moving in the opposite direction of the league’s ’11 personnel’ trend. Playing with 12 personnel adds Smith to a formation of Diggs, Thielen and Rudolph, forcing teams to pick their poison. If they play nickel, their small cornerback will be tasked with blocking the bigger Smith, opening a mismatch in the run game, while in base, a linebacker will struggle to keep up with Smith in coverage on passing downs.
But the Cap Space..
Kyle Rudolph is a good player and great leader for this team. If there was no such thing as cap space, there would be no argument, so I understand that moves must be made for the Vikings to remain under this year’s salary cap, and Rudolphs $7.5 million contract would do just that.
With that said, there are other ways to do it, while keeping the team’s aforementioned advantages intact, such as converting Danielle Hunter’s base salary to bonus (For a breakdown, it’s what the Chicago Bears did with Khalil Mack to create cap space). Linval Joseph and a number of others could be prime ‘restructure’ candidates.
With the offensive struggles this team went through last year, the Vikings cannot get rid of proven commodities. Irv Smith was drafted to complement to Rudolph, not replace him. Let’s hope we see that happen.