The Minnesota Vikings made one of the more ridiculed free agent signings this offseason by signing tight end John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract with $11 million guaranteed. The decision to pay Carlson so much looked bad when you consider he missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury, was not particularly good in 2010 (31 receptions for 318 yards, one touchdown) and the Vikings seemed to have a rising young player at the position in 2011 second-round pick Kyle Rudolph.
If the early reports out of training camp are any indication, Rudolph will be a favorite target of quarterback Christian Ponder and having him lose playing time or targets to Carlson would be bad for the Vikings’ offense as a whole.
But Carlson suffered a sprained MCL in his knee in practice on Tuesday and is slated for an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. His status for the team’s preseason opener on August 10 against the San Francisco 49ers has to be considered up in the air, and he could miss up to a month if the injury is just a sprain and obviously much longer if he has a tear.
Rudolph was already the more fantasy-worthy of the top two Minnesota tight ends, and that only increases now with Carlson sidelined regardless of how long he is out. Rudolph has the size (6’6″) to be a very effective red zone target, as evidenced by his three touchdowns as a rookie last season despite totaling just 26 receptions, and he was already in line for an increased role this season with the departure of Visanthe Shiancoe.
Fantasy football owners that miss out on one of the upper echelon tight ends, or simply choose to wait to fill the position, should have Rudolph on their radar as a low-end TE1 with nice upside. Carlson was not draftable outside of very deep leagues prior to the injury, and now he is undraftable regardless of league size or format until his prognosis is more clear.