Bucs Tight End a ‘Must Make’ Change Before Saints Game: Analysis

Kyle Rudolph

Getty Kyle Rudolph could get more involved against the Saints on September 18.

Amid the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ win at Dallas, the highest-profile replacement for Rob Gronkowski never took the field.

The Bucs signed free agent tight end Kyle Rudolph in July before training camp after Gronkowski retired in June. Rudolph, a former Pro Bowler, didn’t play against the Cowboys as a healthy scratch.

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox noted that Rudolph could have helped the Bucs make the 19-3 win “even more lopsided” with a strong red zone pass-catching presence. The Bucs settled for five field goals, one missed, in five red zone trips during the first half of the game.

Knox noted that the Bucs’ “tight ends were barely factor in the game” as Cameron Brate only had a “catch for seven yards” while no other tight end made a catch. Rookies Cade Otton and Ko Kieft both saw snaps, too, on offense and special teams.

“Tampa needs to find a way to fit Rudolph into the active lineup because he can be a contributing pass-catcher,” Knox wrote.

While Rudolph can’t match Gronkowski’s resume, the former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowler has the Saints’ number. Rudolph caught a game-winning touchdown against the Saints in the 2019 playoffs, and he served as a decoy on the “Minneapolis Miracle” play that sent the Saints home in the 2017 playoffs.

Rudolph Could Fill a Hole on Offense

Rudolph, the Vikings’ all-time touchdown leader among tight ends, amassed 479 receptions for 4,745 yards and 49 touchdowns in 11 seasons — 10 with the Vikings. His 2021 season with New York Giants didn’t pan out amid 26 catches for 257 yards and a touchdown, but Bucs quarterback Tom Brady has enough confidence in Rudolph to recruit him.

“While he may not be the playmaker he was earlier in his career, he’s still a fine complementary option,” Knox wrote. “Having another outlet option at tight end should help Brady be more efficient in the red zone. Rudolph will also give the QB another proven target while wideout Chris Godwin recovers from the hamstring injury he sustained in the opener.”

Godwin won’t play against the Saints per the Friday, September 16, injury report. The Bucs also have wide receivers Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Russell Gage, and Breshad Perriman listed as questionable on the final report. All four of them were limited participants at Friday’s practice.

Todd Bowles: ‘We Needed the Spot’

Whether or not the Bucs suit up Rudolph could come down to special teams. That’s how Bucs head coach Todd Bowles made the call for Week 1 since Rudolph doesn’t play special teams.

“You know, we needed the spot,” Bowles told reporters on Wednesday. “Not that Kyle [Rudolph] couldn’t play, but the other two guys [we chose] are more active on [special] teams.”

Bowles noted that he liked what he saw of the rookies Otton and Kieft against the Cowboys.

“I thought both of them did a good job. You know, the game wasn’t too big for them,” Bowles said.

Greg Auman of The Athletic called it “a surprise” that Rudolph didn’t play but noted the blocking and special teams ability of Kieft. Auman also noted that Otton made three tackles on special teams against the Cowboys.

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