Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph isn’t a player you’d call under the radar. His 4,154 receiving yards rank eighth among active NFL tight ends and he has the fifth-most career touchdowns (47) in that same field as one of the most recognizable Vikings players of the past decade.
Rudolph, 30, has made two Pro Bowls in his career, but recently put up the lowest amount of receiving yards as a starter in 2019. However, he did prove himself as a go-to red-zone threat and a model of reliability with his smaller workload.
Those reasons are why Sports Illustrated’s Connor Orr selected Rudolph as the Vikings’ most underrated player. Here’s what he had to say:
“Yes, Rudolph has made Pro Bowls before, but I think we completely misinterpret how valuable someone in his position is. The Vikings thrive on a two-tight end setup, which means Rudolph takes a heightened responsibility in pacing both the passing game and run blocking to develop play action. There was not a receiver in football who finished 2019 with a better catch percentage than Rudolph, who hauled in more than 80% of his targets.”
Rudolph was the only tight end that saw 30 or more targets not drop a single target last season, finishing the season with an 81.3 percent catch rate.
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Rudolph Reasserts Himself as Scoring Threat
Rudolph’s 39 catches for 367 yards was his least productive year since 2014 — largely in part of the introduction of Irv Smith Jr. — but he reasserted himself as the Vikings’ best threat in the red zone.
His walk-off touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card round not only showed the NFL he is still a threat but also helped General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer’s cases for contract extensions, which will be upcoming this coming year.
Rudolph scored five of his six regular-season TDs in Weeks 9-12, arguably the toughest stretch of the season for the Vikings who faced the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
The veteran tight end has fumbled just once during his entire career and, when he scores, the Vikings have won 74 percent of their games since 2015, according to The Viking Age’s Dustin Baker.
Vikings Run the Most Two-Tight End Sets in the NFL
There’s been much speculation as to Rudolph’s role moving forward as Smith has been tagged a breakout candidate by outlets across the country. The Vikings ran two-tight end sets the most frequently in the NFL at 55 percent and Rudolph could stay involved this season.
Offensive Coordinator Kubiak could commit to the run even more than Kevin Stefankski did a season ago, which would keep Rudolph and Smith on the field even more than a season ago.
This season could be a year where we see the passing of the torch from Rudolph to Smith, but Rudolph’s proven ability in the clutch delivers some of the intangibles the Vikings will need in 2020.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire