Pro-Bowl TE Makes Sense for Falcons in Free Agency

Kyle Rudolph

Getty A 2-time Pro-Bowl TE makes sense for the Falcons in free agency.

The Atlanta Falcons shouldn’t be done with free agency, even with the start of training camp looming on the horizon. Instead, general manager Terry Fontenot needs to run the rule over a veteran tight end who has a lot to offer both phases of the Falcons’ offense in 2022.

This two-time Pro-Bowler would help solve the team’s issues in the red zone, an area where even record-setting rookie Kyle Pitts wasn’t much of a factor last season. A veteran with a knack for getting open at the goal-line would be invaluable while defenses naturally focus their attentions on Pitts.

Speaking of value, the Falcons could use a tight end who is a more physical blocker to help head coach Arthur Smith follow through on his desire to establish the running game. As things stand, the Falcons look set to rely on this year’s sixth-round draft pick to handle blocking at the position.

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It’s a risk Fontenot and Smith don’t need to take. Not when one veteran ticks both boxes as a red-zone threat and credible blocker. The Falcons should act fast, though, because this free agent is beginning to draw interest from a crowd of teams.

Falcons Can Make Room for 11-Year Pro

Kyle Rudolph is still on the market, and he’s a player the Falcons can make room for on the roster. Pitts currently headlines the depth chart at tight end, where he’s joined by free-agent arrival Anthony Firkser, who played for Smith when the latter was offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, and rookie John FitzPatrick.

He was selected 213th overall in the 2022 NFL draft, largely because of his physical style, according to Josh Kendall of The Athletic: “The sixth-round draft pick from Georgia caught only 17 passes in college, but he’ll block somebody, which is why the Falcons picked him. You can also expect him to be an occasional red-zone target because of his size and the attention London and Pitts are sure to draw close to the goal line.”

Rudolph has been doing those things throughout his career. He’s a proven commodity, having caught 49 touchdowns during stints with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.

Many of Rudolph’s scores have come from inside the 20, including this one for the Giants against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8:

Although Rudolph struggled on a bad Giants team a year ago, the Falcons need someone with his red-zone chops. Especially since Pitts struggled in this area.

The otherwise-electrifying playmaker caught just one touchdown during his debut season. Offering more of a threat near the goal-line is a regular request from those who pinpoint where Pitts can improve his game, including Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus.

Pitts is also never likely to make a significant impact as a blocker, an area where Rudolph is above average. The 6’6″, 265-pounder has played in run-heavy offenses most of his career, particularly with the Vikings, where he helped knock open holes for Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook.

Rudolph offered a reminder of his blocking skills when he flattened Washington defensive end Chase Young last season, a block highlighted by former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz:

Okay, so this was a pass play, but Rudolph still cleared a running lane for quarterback Daniel Jones to exploit. Imagine how effective Marcus Mariota’s dual-threat talents would be on a play like this.

Re-establishing the run is something Smith is keen to do after making it his hallmark with the Titans, per Kendall: “Look at the numbers of the 2019 and 2020 Tennessee teams for which he was the offensive coordinator: first in yards after contact (3.66), second in rushing attempts (483 per season) and yards per carry (5.09), fourth in EPA per carry (0) and first downs (123 per season) and eighth in rushing success percentage (42.0). Smith wants to be able to run the ball. His offensive plan depends on it.”

Adding Rudolph to supplement the offensive line and fullback Keith Smith would be a good way for the head coach to get back to basics. That’s provided another team doesn’t beat the Falcons to Rudolph’s signature.

Rudolph Drawing a Crowd in Free Agency

More than a few teams are beginning to show interest in Rudolph, including the Denver Broncos, per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports:

Aside from the Broncos, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported one of Rudolph’s former teams has been joined by one of the Falcons’ rivals from the NFC South:

It’s a growing list, but one the Falcons should join. Rudolph has the core attributes to improve Smith’s offense in two key areas. He also offers the experience and toughness a rebuilding team needs to add a more physical edge.

Rookies report for training camp on Tuesday, July 19, but if FitzPatrick doesn’t make an impression, Fontenot should move quickly to offer Rudolph a short-term deal.

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