Fantasy Football Sleeper Spotlight: Will Kyle Rudolph Emerge as a Viable Option?

Eric StashinSenior Writer IJuly 17, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 4: Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings catches the ball over Quinton Carter #28 of the Denver Broncos for a touchdown in the second quarter on December 4, 2011 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

We’ve already discussed the idea of selecting a tight end early in your fantasy draft (click here to view), but if you decide not to target Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham or are hit by injuries to your starter, you could easily find yourself searching for a sleeper. Who could emerge as a viable option that others in your league may not be looking at?

One option is the Minnesota VikingsKyle Rudolph, a player who I think is a prime sleeper candidate.

He posted decent numbers in his rookie season, with 26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns.  When you look at those numbers and his three years at Notre Dame (never more than 33 receptions, 364 yards or three TDs), you may wonder why there is any reason to be excited.

First of all, it’s rare for college tight ends to post big numbers in the passing game.  It’s just not a position that is generally utilized the same way as it is in the pros. Just for comparison, Coby Fleener, who was the first tight end drafted in 2012, never exceeded 34 receptions in college (he did post 667 yards in 2011 and 17 total TDs over his final two seasons). However, it just shows that the receptions cannot be taken fully into account.

Secondly, he clearly became a bigger red zone target as the season progressed, with all of his touchdowns coming in the final seven weeks of the season.

If those aren’t good enough reasons to at least have him on your radar, his role in the offense has clearly changed. He is no longer behind Visanthe Shiancoe on the depth chart, as he is no longer on the Vikings roster. Shiancoe was fourth on the Vikings in receptions (36) and yards (409) a year ago and also had three TDs. While all of those looks won’t go to Rudolph, at least some of them will.

You also have the injury to Adrian Peterson, which will open up opportunities for others (most notably Toby Gerhart, but you have to wonder if they will throw a little bit more in the red zone) and Christian Ponder should be opening the season as the team’s quarterback. Both of those just further help things point in Rudolph’s direction as he could easily factor as a safety valve for the young quarterback.

Rudolph is listed at 6’6”, 258 lbs., which makes him an ideal candidate in the red zone.  At 22 years old he has likely just skimmed the surface of his potential. The Vikings are going to open the season with him as their TE1 and, with all of the other factors, it makes him a very intriguing TE2 with the potential to be a low-end TE1 by year’s end. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him score 8+ TDs, so make sure he has your attention in all formats.

What are your thoughts of Rudolph? Is he a player that you think has sleeper potential?  Why or why not?

Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: