Sometimes I forget that Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is only 23-years old. He didn’t play like it at times this past season, and now he’s earned his way to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
The second-year tight end caught 53 passes for 493 yards with nine touchdowns in 2012. He showed the improvement that everyone hoped he would from his rookie campaign of 26 catches, 249 yards, and three touchdowns. His nine touchdown receptions this year put him in a tie for second in the league behind Rob Gronkowski‘s 11.
Clearly, his presence in the red zone was his greatest asset to the team this season. You could even argue that Rudolph is now one of the premier red zone targets in the game. But everywhere else on the field he disappeared at times. Rudolph’s season was up-and-down to say the least. One game he would haul in a touchdown with 60 yards, the next he’d catch three passes for 22 yards.
In fact, there were two games this season when he didn’t record a catch at all.
That’s where Rudolph has to take his game to the next level. The red zone he’s got down pat, but in order for him to be an elite tight end, he has to make plays consistently from anywhere on the field. Now part of the blame does fall on Christian Ponder for not finding Rudolph more, but it’s definitely a two-way street.
Another factor against Rudolph was the fact that he was the best receiver on the field after Percy Harvin went down. This allowed defenses to pay more attention to him and it naturally slowed his production.
Overall though, you have to like the progress Rudolph made in 2012. Again, he’s only 23. All you can ask for in a second-year player is that they improve. Rudolph did that for the Vikings in the red zone, and now in 2013 he’s got to focus on being a better all-around tight end. There can’t be anymore games where he doesn’t record a catch, he’s just too talented for that.
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