In 2018, Kyle Rudolph established himself as one of the key pieces of the Vikings’ passing Offense, even with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen posting 1,000+ yard seasons themselves, with the highlight having to be a Hail Mary touchdown reception against Detroit despite the disappointing 8-7-1 Season.
To say it was a loud year is a massive understatement for the Tight End, who was targeted 82 times for 64 receptions, 634 yards and 4 touchdowns and 32 first downs, producing a return quite usual for the TE’s career. However, even boasting some impressive numbers, Rudolph managed to do more with less under a Case Keenum-led Offense in 2017 (57/81, 532 Yards, 8 TDs) and has somewhat been a forgotten factor in 2019, despite scoring three touchdowns in his past four games. Both down years have come under Kirk Cousins, with 2019 providing crucial with 30 targets after 10 games, with 12 of these producing first downs. So are the numbers because of a downturn in Rudolph’s production or simply due to a lack of targets.
The lack of targets side of the argument can be illustrated by his 2016 production. After receiving a career-high 132 targets, he posted career-highs for receptions (83), yards (840) and first downs (50), and his second-highest touchdown tally (7). This proves that, when given the ball, Rudolph can play towards a level similar to the top Tight Ends currently in the game, and therefore has production value that correlates to his targets, which might sound simple but the amount of times players still see snaps, they do nothing, and yes I am looking at YOU Laquon Treadwell. With a career-low 30 targets through 10 games (which is only 9 fewer than his Rookie season) the return of 184 yards and 4 touchdowns is therefore understandable, as Rudolph has already showcased the elite production level when given the ball, so perhaps the new scheming of two-TE sets to open up the running game is what’s harming his production, rather than his own level of play, which begs the question as to why Rudolph signed a new four-year deal worth $36million (which did grant $4million in cap space and keep the eight-year veteran on the roster) knowing how the new scheme would hamper him. Although this contract is on par with the top tight ends in the league (averaging $9million per year), it is still somewhat cost-effective is the Vikings get rid of the player, so maybe the deal works better as a win/win for this season to keep the player happy, and beyond such if he wishes to leave.
Targets, as opposed to production, do seem to be more of the issue, however. While Rudolph saw a career-high in targets and receptions from 2016, the similar rate he saw the ball between 2017 and 2018 proves he may can play up to an elite level as first thought. He saw one more target (82 up from 81) in 2018 compared with the season before, recording 7 more receptions (64 from 57) and 102 yards (634 from 532) but four fewer touchdowns (down from 8). This may be due to seeing the ball in midfield as opposed to the Red Zone as both seasons he recorded 32 first-down receptions, but in 2018 Rudolph registered more yards per catch 9.9 from 9.3) and yards per target (6.6 from 6.4) suggesting more room to run after passes and therefore midfield play. Plus, given the fact that Cousins’s Red Zone threats were primarily Thielen and Diggs, who registered nine touchdowns apiece (the Vikings’ most-prolific combination in 2018) then it is understandable as to why such production appears down.
This, therefore, makes Rudolph’s 2019 numbers understandable. 30 targets rank as the fourth highest on the team, with the game plan more orientated to deep balls and pass plays using the running backs (Thielen and Cook rank 1st and 2nd respectively for targets with 59 and 48) the ball is appearing more distributed amongst the team, with Rudolph matching fellow tight end Irv Smith Jr. for receptions. Though Rudolph’s quality is shown by the fact he is overshadowing his, arguably athletically superior understudy, in one key metric – he has outscored him four touchdowns to none. However, it appears Smith Jr. is trusted more on the deeper routes, registering 57 more yards than the Veteran (241 to 184), and that is from the same number of receptions (24). It is, therefore, better to say Rudolph is adapting to be more of a Red Zone threat as he comes to the latter stage of his career, as opposed to the multi-purpose deep threat he once was when he was younger.
In conclusion, for a veteran TE playing in what is basically a new system under Kubiak/Stefanski it is completely understandable as to why Rudolph’s numbers may not, on paper, seem overly impressive, however the playmaker still clearly has the ability to be TE 1 for the team, and that isn’t a typical bold take by yours truly, that’s just facts.
Featured Picture – Credits: John Autey