With the 32nd overall pick in 2014 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The presumption and hope is that Bridgewater will become the franchise quarterback the Vikings have long desired. In order for Bridgewater to have success, he is going to need a “go-to guy” and that player is tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings drafted Rudolph in the second round in 2011. Since then, he has proven to be an above average pass catcher and a solid blocker. A lot of this success is likely due to an athletic 6-foot-6, 258-pound frame that has become the NFL ideal for the tight end position.
However, Rudolph has recently had some trouble remaining healthy. Most recently he suffered a fractured foot, which forced him to miss eight games last season. If Bridgewater is to have success, whether that is in 2014 or in the future, he will need Rudolph to stay on the field and continue to develop his impressive skill set.
Every quarterback has a “go-to guy”, like Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham or Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Interesting enough, both of these elite quarterbacks’ favorite target is an elite tight end.
Rookie quarterbacks need a “go-to guy” even more than veteran quarterbacks. Generally, tight ends are the perfect option to be this guy. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are a perfect example of this theory.
Rivers became the San Diego Chargers‘ starting quarterback in 2006. In his first season as a starter, Rivers won 14 games as the Chargers won the AFC West. Rivers’ top target in 2006 was Gates, his tight end. Gates led all Chargers wide receivers with 71 receptions, 15 more than the next highest total. On top of his 71 receptions, Gates was also targeted a massive 118 times, far and away the highest total on the Chargers roster.
These numbers should come as no surprise for a number reasons. Tight ends have the ability to create mismatches against smaller cornerbacks and slower linebackers. This allows quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks, to find a rhythm and form trust in a specific option. Also, tight ends like Rudolph have proven that even the best coverage may not be enough to stop an athletic, physically gifted player from making a difficult reception.
As a whole, when it comes to the development of a young quarterback, tight ends have historically proven to be an important asset. With wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson still developing and Greg Jennings seemingly on the decline, Rudolph’s ability to have success and stay on the field will play a very important role in the success that Bridgewater has as the Vikings’ starting quarterback.