Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was in line for a breakout season last year, but he missed the the final eight games after suffering a broken left foot against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9. He wound up finishing with 30 receptions for 313 yards and three touchdowns, after catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012, and Rudolph will be a key part of the Vikings’ offense this year.
The arrival of offensive coordinator Norv Turner is great news for Rudolph, as he helped Jordan Cameron to a breakout season in the same post with the Cleveland Browns in 2013. Going back a bit further, Antonio Gates had at least seven touchdowns in all six of Turner’s seasons as head coach in San Diego (2007-2012). Rudolph is likely to be used out of the slot more this year, which will make it more difficult for defenses to match up with him.
Rudolph was on pace to have 60 catches for 626 yards and six touchdowns last year before his injury, which is a reasonable enough pace to highlight when you consider he had more than four catches just twice in eight games. He only played two games that Matt Cassel started, but his best game of the season (nine receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6) came in one of those contests. If Cassel starts Week 1 and holds onto the job for awhile, it won’t be a death knell for Rudolph’s fantasy value.
After catching just 53 of his 93 targets in 2012 (56.9 percent), Rudolph reeled in 30 of his 46 targets (65.2 percent) last year. Further improvement in his catch rate should come this year, as long as Christian Ponder does not play at all.
An expanded role for wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is all but certain this year, and if running back Adrian Peterson has a bigger role as a pass receiver Rudolph stands to lose some opportunities.
Rudolph is big (6’6″) but not overly athletic, and if last year’s foot injury robs him of any down field speed he may be even more limited.
Rudolph will be a top-10 tight end in most preseason fantasy rankings, but even with positive momentum surrounding Turner’s arrival I think he may still be a bit undervalued. The top handful of tight ends are pretty much locked in as the first to go off the board on draft day, but after that I think Rudolph is a more reliable option than similarly ranked tight ends like Dennis Pitta, Jordan Reed and Charles Clay.
Bye Week: Week 10
Projected Round: 10th or 11th (12-Team Leagues)
Auction Value: $7 (Fantasy Sharks.com)
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter.