This was supposed to be a breakout year for the Minnesota Vikings' Kyle Rudolph. After leading the team with nine touchdown passes last season and earning the Pro Bowl MVP honors, the expectations were extremely high for the third-year tight end from Notre Dame.
Instead, a broken foot, suffered on his team-leading third touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 9, has forced him to the sidelines for at least a month.
Rudolph's injury has opened the door for John Carlson to fill the void and justify his roster spot.
Carlson was the Seahawks' leading receiver in 2008 as a rookie, catching 55 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns. The following year he dropped to third on the team with 51 receptions, but he still led the team with seven touchdown receptions.
|John Carlson's Statistics|
|Pro Football Reference|
After Carlson missed the 2011 season with an injury, the Vikings signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract in 2012.
What they got for the money was an eight-reception season for a whopping 43 yards and no touchdowns.
In his first game as the Vikings' No. 1 tight end, Carlson led the Vikings with seven receptions for 98 yards. It was the most receiving yards for a Vikings tight end since Week 16 of the 2008 season. In that game, Visanthe Shiancoe had 136 yards against the Atlanta Falcons.
It was also the second-most yards in a game for Carlson.
Perhaps Carlson just needed to step out from behind Rudolph's shadow in order to produce the kind of results he had his first two years in Seattle.
Carlson and Rudolph have a lot in common. Both are from Notre Dame and both have similar builds.
|Minnesota Vikings Tight Ends|
|Kyle Rudolph||24||6' 6"||259|
|John Carlson||29||6' 5"||256|
|Rhett Ellison||25||6' 5"||251|
|Chase Ford||23||6' 6"||245|
|Pro Football Reference|
Against the Redskins, Carlson used his size and athleticism to lead the Vikings in receiving.
In a sign of things to come, the Vikings opened the game with a short pass that gained 10 yards.
On a 1st-and-10 from the 27-yard line, the Vikings open with a double-tight end set with one wide receiver and a fullback. From this formation, the Vikings most often hand the ball to Adrian Peterson.
Carlson blocks down on the defensive end and then quickly rolls to his left.
Carlson catches the ball at the line of scrimmage and uses his speed to avoid the defensive end, now in pursuit.
The result is a 10-yard gain and a first down.
This illustrates one of the advantages for a tight end over a linebacker, or in this case a defensive lineman.
Another advantage Carlson has is his strength against smaller defensive backs.
On the following play, the Vikings use the same formation.
Again, Carlson releases from his block and crosses into the middle of the field. Ponder fakes the handoff to Peterson again and rolls to his left—a move I completely do not understand. The Vikings roll Ponder to his left far too often, forcing him to throw across his body.
On this play it does work though.
Ponder hits a wide-open Carlson on the 17-yard line. He has plenty of room since the safeties are giving him more than a 10-yard cushion.
Using his size and strength, Carlson pushes the first safety to the ground at the 6-yard line as he makes his way to the end zone.
As the second safety closes to make the tackle, Carlson uses his athleticism to dive toward the end zone, holding the ball over the pylon.
The result was a touchdown, closing the Vikings to within six points at 27-21 in the third quarter. The Vikings would add another touchdown in the quarter to take the lead at 28-27. In the fourth quarter, with Matt Cassel at quarterback, Carlson would catch two more passes as the Vikings scored two more field goals for the final margin.
Now, if this could only be the start of a great Vikings career for Carlson, especially when Rudolph makes his return.