Of all the fantasy football positions, tight end stands out as the one that’s easiest to fill with an every-week starter late in fantasy drafts. Many teams don’t both drafting a backup tight end, meaning there are only 14-20 tight ends taken in most standard fantasy drafts. One has to expect at least one guy from that 15-20 group to emerge as a quality starter. Last year it was Aaron Hernandez. This year it’s Kyle Rudolph.
Rudolph was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 11th pick of the second round in the 2011 draft. Unquestionably the best tight end of the 2011 draft class, Rudolph lost the end of his final collegiate season with a hamstring injury that required surgery. It’s fair to suspect that the injury slowed him down in the critical pre-draft process and may have deflated his value just a bit. He proved to be an excellent pass-catcher at Notre Dame.
At 6′6″ and 258 pounds, Rudolph has the size to be a severe matchup problem for potential defenders matched up with him one on one. For comparison, Patriots breakout TE Rob Gronkowski measures 6′6″ and 265 pounds and is often granted a mismatch on pass routes. While Rudolph doesn’t have nearly the arm throwing him passes, he certainly compares well with Gronkowski in terms of size and talent. The Patriots took a wise gamble with their tight end when they drafted an injured Gronkowski, and the Vikings may have hit the same lotto ticket.
While still recovering from the hamstring injury, Rudolph had a disappointing rookie season, catching 26 passes for 249 yards and three TDs. Not only was he at less than 100 percent, the rookie tight end also had to deal with playing behind Visanthe Shiancoe, who caught 36 passes for 409 yards and three TDs. Now Shiancoe is gone and Rudolph is the clear No. 1, even with John Carlson signing a five-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings this offseason and even before Carlson’s MCL sprain.
In fact, Rudolph may become the No. 1 offensive option early this season for Minnesota. Percy Harvin has proved brittle in his career and is already banged up. No. 2 receiver Jerome Simpson is suspended for the first three games. Adrian Peterson looks on track to be available at the start of the season, but the team may well ease him back into a prominent role. That could leave Rudolph as the focal point of the offense early and potentially catch a few teams off-guard. Once the offense gets healthier, the additional weapons should help to take pressure off the tight end.
With Christian Ponder getting a full offseason to work in the Vikings offense in 2012, he’s primed to take a step forward, and he should take the Vikings offense forward with him. Last year, no Vikings player had 1,000 rushing yards or 1,000 receiving yards. In fact, no player other than Harvin had even 500 receiving yards. We should expect Rudolph’s floor to be the 650 yards and six touchdowns produced by the Vikings’ top-two tight ends last year. His ceiling could be that of a top-five fantasy tight end.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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