Well, it looks like the Cincinnati Beast is gone.
According to ESPN via a report from IrishIllustrated.com, Notre Dame tight end and current junior Kyle Rudolph has signed with an agent and will declare for the NFL draft.
The report is not completely shocking, although it is somewhat surprising given that Rudolph is still rehabbing from a season-ending injury for the second straight season.
What does this mean for all of the concerned parties?
Why’d You Do It, Rudy?
I am sure the biggest reasons that Rudolph has apparently decided to bolt a year early for the NFL are because he is still tabbed as the No. 1 tight end in the draft and because he probably does not want to risk yet another injury in college before turning pro.
From that perspective it makes plenty of sense.
For my money, I’d say he’s a second-round pick, although his potential and skill set could move him into the first round if there is a team with a pressing need at tight end.
When he is healthy, Rudolph is a great pass-catching tight end, but he will also have to improve upon his blocking and speed at the next level. But even with those flaws he is built perfectly for the tight end position and should have a long NFL career.
Rudolph was a wonderful player at Notre Dame and a strong leader, and while I don’t want to call his career a disappointment because it doesn’t feel that way, he does exit South Bend leaving fans with a sense of frustration and regret.
His career could have been so much better if the team was winning more games, if he could have stayed healthy and if he didn’t both suffer an injury and deal with a new quarterback just as he was coming into his prime at Notre Dame.
Going into the 2010 season, there were many who believed that Rudolph could potentially put up Jermaine Gresham-like numbers circa 2008 (66 receptions, 950 yards, 14 touchdowns), but due to injuries his statistical career is the same as former Irish tight end Anthony Fasano.
For his career, Rudolph finishes with 90 receptions, 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s still a nice career for most tight ends, but Rudolph was looked at as perhaps the best Irish tight end since Dave Casper or Ken MacAfee.
For the record, Fasano finished his career with eerily similar numbers: 90 receptions, 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. Rudolph started in five more games during his career, but Fasano played in five more games total in his career.
Where Does This Leave the Irish on the Depth Chart?
If you had to pick between Rudolph and wide receiver Michael Floyd to leave early, you would have to pick Rudolph because there is excellent depth at tight end right now.
First, redshirt freshman Tyler Eifert (yet another crazy athletic 6’6” tight end) stepped in after Rudolph’s injury and played surprisingly well, ending 2010 with 27 receptions to go along with 352 yards and two touchdowns in about seven games of work.
To put it into perspective, that is essentially the same pace set by Rudolph as a sophomore (364 yards in about eight games), so it looks like Eifert could be something special in his own right.
Also, with Rudolph leaving, it becomes more likely that senior Mike Ragone will be granted a fifth year of eligibility to provide quality depth on the roster.
Ragone has had a tumultuous career in South Bend and has been a disappointment so far (only 10 receptions for the No. 3 tight end nationally), and there may be the chance that Brian Kelly simply moves on, but I would think the team could use his experience in 2011.
Likely to move up the depth chart next season and see significant playing time is current freshman Alex Welch (No. 12 tight end nationally), who has drawn some praise from Kelly this season although he was redshirted.
Welch comes from the same high school as Kyle Rudolph and was his backup as an underclassman and probably for that reason is drawing many comparisons to the current Irish junior.
Welch is a little smaller at 6’4” and probably lacks the level of athleticism of Rudolph or Eifert, but all indications are that he will be a solid starting tight end in the future.
To add to the depth at this position is current verbal commitment Ben Koyack (6’5”, 230 pounds).
Koyack, the top-rated player in Pennsylvania and the No. 4 overall tight end in the country, is currently wowing scouts and fans at the Under Armour All-America practices down in Florida and is being talked about as the best tight end in the nation.
Assuming that Ragone is asked back, Koyack will likely be sitting behind three older players on the roster, so there is a good chance that he sits out 2011, adds a little weight and becomes more acclimated to the college speed and Kelly’s offense.
So even with Rudolph leaving for the NFL, the depth and talent at tight end for Notre Dame is still looking very positive.
So Long, No. 9!
So how does this announcement make you feel, Irish fans?
Did you expect this and prepare for it?
Are you sad, mad or happy for Rudolph?
Will Eifert, Welch or Koyack surpass the level of play that Rudolph brought to Notre Dame?
Which NFL team is going to pick him up?
From the FanTake blog: One Foot Down
Follow on Twitter: @OneFootDown