Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In this four-part series leading up to training camp, I’ll be profiling the Vikings you should target in your fantasy football leagues this year. Look for new additions every Thursday and Friday the next few weeks and stay tuned for a bonus selection at the end!

Kyle Rudolph, TE — Minnesota Vikings

If there were ever a year for Kyle Rudolph to break out, it would be 2015. He enters his fifth season as the clear-cut starter in one of the league’s most tight-end friendly offenses. Like Adrian Peterson, Rudolph should benefit from playing under Norv Turner — if, that is, he can stay healthy.

That’s always been Rudolph’s major concern, and I addressed it in an article I wrote defending him in April. In the two seasons since making the Pro Bowl, Rudolph has missed a combined 15 games because of injuries, from torn abdominal muscles to an MCL strain in his knee. This offseason, he revamped his personal offseason training program and is hopeful he can start every game in 2015, per Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune:

“You see what my position is capable of in this offense. I’ve proven that throughout the course of a 16-game season, when I’m out there every week, I’m one of the best players at my position.”

When Rudolph talks about proving himself, he’s talking about 2012, a year that saw him earn a trip to the Pro Bowl and win the inaugural game’s MVP award. That season, he caught 53 balls for 493 yards and 9 touchdowns, good enough for 103.3 fantasy points (6.5 per game). When healthy, he’s shown an ability to beat defenders with his length and take advantage of smooth route running to find holes in coverage. With Adrian Peterson in the lineup, he also has the potential to be a weapon in the red zone. But that was before Norv Turner joined the coaching staff. What elements does he bring to this Vikings offense in 2015?

To start, Turner loves using multiple tight ends. In his final season as the Browns’ offensive coordinator, he used 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers — on 36.9 percent of the team’s offensive plays. According to Matt Vensel, that mark was the second highest in the NFL, and Turner should make use of that grouping as he enters training camp with two dangerous tight ends — Kyle Rudolph and MyCole Pruitt (my pick to be the second-string tight end).

That year, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron exploded, hauling in 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Rudolph spent the offseason studying Cameron’s 2013 campaign, looking for ways to emulate the shifty tight end’s production in a Norv Turner offense. While not as quick or nimble as Cameron, Rudolph’s potential is through-the-roof, especially with the development of Teddy Bridgewater and the presence of Adrian Peterson in the backfield.

Fantasy Outlook

*All Fantasy Football statistics come from Footballguys.com (Standard FBG Scoring)*

Image courtesy of Vikings.com
Image courtesy of Vikings.com
ADP: 143/TE: 16

Assuming Kyle Rudolph stays healthy an entire season, he’s projected to improve on his numbers from 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised to see such a leap, as the Vikings have made quite the improvement in the quarterback department. Last season, Teddy Bridgewater targeted Rudolph on 34 of his passes, with 17 of those coming in the final six games of the season. That averages out to be about three targets per game, though that should also see a jump with a full offseason in Turner’s scheme.

A look at this year’s schedule reveals a rather difficult slate of games for Rudolph, though one matchup could prove worthwhile for owners. Last year, his most productive game post-injury came in Week 15, when he caught seven balls for 69 yards, scoring 6.9 fantasy points. Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Vikings play the Bears twice, and Chicago’s defense was the worst in terms of defending tight ends in 2014. That year, they allowed 9.6 points per games to tight ends, and Rudolph missed both games against the Bears that year.

If I were to predict Rudolph’s value for 2015, I’d go with Bob Henry’s stat line above:

92.5 Fantasy Points

52 receptions, 505 yards, 7 touchdowns

Based on these rankings, Rudolph will finish the season right below Tyler Eifert and right above Charles Clay. His ADP makes him a late-round selection in 12-14 man leagues, and currently, his auction value is $1. Rudolph is a borderline TE1 and is behind a few of the game’s most productive tight ends. He’ll likely be one of Bridgewater’s favorite targets, and may find opportunities thanks to loaded defensive fronts, making him a low-risk, high-reward prospect at the end of your fantasy football draft.

Tomorrow, I’ll preview everyone’s favorite second-year quarterback. Check out our profiles on Charles Johnson and Adrian Peterson, and tune in Saturday for a bonus selection!