Fantasy Football: Why Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph Is Worth Wait in 2012

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Fantasy Football: Why Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph Is Worth Wait in 2012
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

The 2011 season saw the Minnesota Vikings rank 28th overall in the passing game while playing most of the season with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to a tune of 3-13 record.

Ponder has received some big endorsements from general manager Rick Spielman on his high expectations and went as far as to compare him to Drew Brees and Eli Manning via the Pioneer Press.  

"I looked at the statistical analysis, and they were all very similar their rookie years," Spielman said. "And you look at where they developed and where their numbers came in their second years."

The Vikings will be looking for another rookie from the 2011 NFL Draft Class to improve the passing attack.

That would be TE Kyle Rudolph (6-foot-6, 259 pounds) who had his issues as a rookie to create separation and get off jams, but he has soft hands and a massive catch radius, and he can make plays even when he's not open.

Rudolph has the measurables to develop into a strong-side blocker and might see more action there because TE John Carlson profiles as a backside pass-catching type. 

"I don't think Rudolph has any physical limitations not to be a serviceable blocker. He's big. He's got length. He can bend. He can sink his hips. It's just -- I still think some of it's power, some of it's explosiveness on contact, some of it's a little bit of leverage, some of it's technique, and the last tidbit would be want-to. I'd look for that in training camp to see how much improved Rudolph is as a blocker, and then I think that tandem will work better if Rudolph can do some of that strong-side stuff. If he can't, then I don't know what they're looking for at that stage."
-- AFC personnel executive

Rudolph was a 2011 second-round draft pick (43rd overall) out of Notre Dame. He played in 486 snaps (46.9%) over 15 games, starting eight and missing one with a quadriceps injury.

He finished with 26 catches in 33 targets (78.8%) for 249 yards (9.6 average) and three touchdowns.

He led the Vikings tight ends in snaps the last three games, and he needs to be on your Fantasy Football radars in 2012.

If you are looking for a "sleeper" pick in your upcoming fantasy drafts at the tight end position, Rudolph is one to earmark.  This is not only my opinion, as his quarterback Christian Ponder is among those who has been singing Rudolph's praises, according to Star-Tribune. 

"He gets open," Ponder said, simply. "And if he's barely open, I'm going to give him the ball. He has such great mismatches and he has such a catching radius it's unbelievable."

In addition, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave plans to move him all over the field to try to create mismatches.

Even with so many glowing reports about Rudolph, he is largely an after-thought in fantasy drafts.

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Rudolph is not being drafted in most 12-team, 15-round standard drafts.  

This will make him an excellent 'flier' for owners that want to wait until the end of the draft to get a tight end.

While I won't go as for as putting him in the same class as Patriots Rob Gronkowski or Saints Jimmy Graham, he should climb the list quickly in 2012.

A quick look at the rookie numbers from the two standard setters at tight end show that Rudolph wasn't too far off their rookie pace.  

Gronkowski had 42 receptions for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Graham had 31 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns as rookies.  

Gronkowski followed that up with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, with Graham posting 99 receptions 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.

If I was to make a prediction of Rudolph's stats for 2012, my conservative approach would be 65 receptions for 850 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Sure, that may seem like a bold comparison, but with Vikings’ passing game featuring Percy Harvin and no proven No. 2 option at wideout, Rudolph may be poised to take advantage.

If Rudolph is available in the later rounds of your fantasy draft, you could do worse.  

In a keeper or dynasty league formats, Rudolph is a must-own tight end.

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