NFL Rookie Watch: Kyle Rudolph
Kyle Rudolph has impressed NFL types with good size and string character
Rudolph missed a total of 10 games over last two years with Notre Dame
With lots of receivers and perhaps a new QB, Rudolph may find chances limited
After flooring fans with their first pick, the Minnesota Vikings made another puzzling pick in round two, claiming Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph. It wasn't that Rudolph wasn't worthy of the No. 43 selection -- many projected he could land at the end of round one -- it was just that no one imagined Minnesota would pick a tight end so early when the team seemingly had more pressing needs.
Durability was the biggest red flag raised by scouts, as Rudolph missed a total of 10 games in his final two seasons in South Bend. As for positives, Rudolph has ideal size (6-foot-6, 259 pounds) and was praised by former coaches for his character and locker room presence. "He's going to be a great value for the Vikings," Notre Dame's Brian Kelly told reporters in May. "... In a couple of years they're going to look back and say, 'We got a steal here.'"
Could be, coach, but what about right now?
Dissecting the depth chart: The Vikings already possess one of pro football's best pass-catching tight ends in Visanthe Shiancoe, who has surpassed the 500-yard mark in each of the past three seasons. But the soon-to-be 31-year old is not likely be resigned following the 2011 season, leaving the door open for Rudolph. In the meantime, the two should complement one another in the Vikings offense. Shiancoe will enter camp as the starter, but the team will slowly increase Rudolph's workload as the season wears on.
Just the stats: On the surface, Rudolph's numbers might seem less than impressive for someone pegged as the top-rated tight end in the draft. But injuries stole chunks of his sophomore and junior seasons and limited his production. He caught 33 balls in nine games in '09, highlighted by a 95-yard effort against Michigan State. Last season Rudolph only played in six games but still managed to collect 28 receptions. He again had a big day against the Spartans (80 yards), but the performance everyone remembers was his eight-catch, 164-yard game against Michigan. The bulk of his yards in that contest came on a 95-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Projection for 2011: 27 receptions, 375 yards, 2 TDs.
2010 rookie comparison: Jimmy Graham
Graham, like Rudolph, was added to a team with an established veteran; the Saints picked Graham in the third round last year, hoping he could grow behind Jeremy Shockey. But by season's end the two players had comparable numbers. Most of Graham's 31 catches came in November and December, and four of his five touchdowns came in the final three weeks of the regular season. His play made New Orleans' decision to part ways with Shockey in February an easy one. Rudolph could experience a similar transition to the NFL.
Interesting fact that won't help you: At Cincinnati's Elder High School, Rudolph was named the conference player of the year in basketball three years in a row, and graduated as the school's all-time leading rebounder.
What he's worth: The situation in Minnesota is shaky. In addition to Shiancoe, the Vikings have a wealth of receivers to feed, and the team may enter the season with a rookie quarterback under center.
Unless Shiancoe suffers an injury or is let go before camp closes, Rudolph's time on the field will be limited, making him all but useless to fantasy owners in traditional leagues.
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.
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