I really, really don’t like Kyle Rudolph as player all that much. He has limited offensive upside between the twenties, lacks explosiveness and separation ability and has zero flash. However, he’s big, has good hands and makes plays in the end zone, which translates to fantasy success. And now, with Norv Turner joining him in 2014, I’ve gone from a hater to an investor.
Turner, one of the game’s more respected offensive minds, has been bringing out the best in his tight ends for years. Whether as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, Turner knows how to utilize the position in a way that no one else can, almost how Jimmy McGinty helped the great Shane Falco in The Replacements. Pain heals, chicks dig scars. Anyway, it appears that Turner will now try to get the best out of Rudolph with the Vikings. I guess you can call Norv Santa?
No. No, let’s not do that.
Turner’s TE Production
*2006 was in 8 games started for Davis.
Novacek also had another nice campaign in 1993, and made his first three Pro Bowl appearances with Turner on the sidelines. And as for Antonio Gates, we are all aware of how dominant he was in fantasy land back in the day, but Turner had a ton to do with that. In each of his six seasons alongside Norv, Gates hauled in at least seven touchdowns, while posting more than 110 targets in two of those seasons. Gates was a red zone machine during that time, but it’s also worth noting that Turner fully utilized him all over the field, as he averaged 13 yards per catch during those years, a very friendly number for a tight end. And during that span, only twice did Gates finish worse than TE3 in fantasy (7 and 13).
As for last season, Turner really did an incredible job with a Cleveland Browns offense that didn’t appear to have much going offensively before the season. He helped Cameron emerge into a top tier fantasy tight end, finishing as the number-five player at the position. In his first two seasons, Cameron hauled in 26 total passes. In one season with Norv Turner, he caught 80 balls, racking up an insane 117 targets, the third-most among tight ends. Interestingly enough, according to Pro Football Focus, Cameron ran 60.3 percent of his routes out of the slot, serving as a glorified wide receiver. Only Tony Gonzalez ran more routes out of the slot last year. That type of uptick in the slot could be huge for a guy like Rudolph who tends to make the majority of his noise in the red zone. Rudolph operated out of the slot just over 40 percent of the time last year, a respectable number, so if that trends upwards, his receptions and targets should also see an uptick. And you already know he is going to get looks up close, you know, when Adrian Peterson isn’t running it in.
According to Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports, in six of the last seven seasons, Turner’s primary tight end has finished no worse than TE7 in fantasy land. And in 2012, Rudolph finished as the number 11 fantasy tight end, despite catching a pedestrian 53 balls. History tells us that Rudolph is going to see more looks this season, and if he can make more of a presence with the receptions, the sky is the limit, because we already know the type of touchdown potential this guy has. Unfortunately, Rudolph was limited to just eight games last season due to injury, but thanks to the improvement in his slot usage (37.1% to 40.2%), Rudolph would have at least caught 60 passes and seen 90 targets, a nice little spike in production from 2012.
After the top guys like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, the tight end position is pretty much identical. You rarely know what you are going to get week-to-week, so why not look at a guy who has numbers behind him (or next to him)? There is serious upside here with Rudolph, and if you are worried about the ugly quarterback position in Minnesota, just remember Cleveland’s trio of below average signal callers from last year. Besides, the Vikings could very well land a guy like Johnny Manziel in the draft, and if they don’t, Matt Cassel is at least competent, and prefers checking it down to the tight ends and running backs, anyway. It’s hard to tell if I’m more of a believer in Norv than I am Rudolph.
Only time will tell.