In 2015, Kyle Rudolph managed to stay healthy for a full 16-game season for just the second time in his five-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings. The former Notre Dame standout also established a new career-high with 495 yards receiving on 49 receptions. Rudolph led the team with five touchdown catches while helping the Vikings capture the NFC North title.
Rudolph’s career has been slowed by injuries, a run oriented offense, changes in coaching staffs, and the development of two first-round rookie quarterbacks. It’s true, his production has not yet lived up to his talent level or lofty contract status. Sporting News goes as far as to rank Rudolph as the Vikings’ worst contract situation in their 32-team study of worst contracts per team.
Vikings fans are still waiting for Rudolph’s breakout season, and ESPN’s Ben Goessling believes Rudolph has the most to gain from the Vikings improved offensive line. According to Goessling, the Vikings’ instability on the offensive line affected how they used him last season. If the Vikings can protect Bridgewater better in 2016, he thinks Rudolph stands to benefit more than anyone else on the roster.
Rudolph only ran a pass route on 48.8 percent of his snaps in 2015. The previous two seasons, he ran routes on 55.5 and 54.9 percent of his snaps. When a defense can force a pass-catching weapon like Rudolph to stay at home and help in pass protection, that’s an important element a defensive coordinator is tickled to accomplish.
Not only should an improved offensive line help Rudolph’s stat line, but the move indoors should also help Bridgewater and the Vikings passing attack take a step forward. The hiring of new tight ends coach Pat Shurmur is also icing on the cake as Rudolph seeks to become a fixture as a pass catcher.
Shurmur broke into the NFL as a tight ends and offensive line coach for the Eagles in 1999. He later coached quarterbacks for the Eagles before getting his first coordinator position with the Rams from 2009 to 2010. After a two-year run as head coach in Cleveland, Shurmur has spent the previous three seasons as offensive coordinator for Chip Kelly’s wide open offense in Philadelphia.
How much of the high-octane Eagles offensive will Mike Zimmer look to implement in Minnesota?[pull_quote_center]“Maybe some of it, but we’re not going to have two-minute possessions on offense. We’re going to try to possess the ball if we can. But I’m sure there will be some concepts,” Zimmer said. “We looked at them quite a bit before, but I think every offense there’s things that you can implement – things you like and try to get better.”[/pull_quote_center]
Shurmur quickly accepted the tight end coaching position with the Vikings this offseason giving up the opportunity to land a coordinator position elsewhere. What did he like about the Minnesota Vikings?[pull_quote_center]“We’re not really into titles,” Zimmer said. “We just want guys that want to work and guys that want to be there. Pat was excited to be there. I think he was excited with the guys offensively to work with in [Kyle] Rudolph and also the team. I think he thinks they have a chance to do some good things.”[/pull_quote_center]
Historically, a big part of Shurmur’s system has focused on featuring great production from the tight end position. Last season for the Eagles, Zach Ertz caught 75 balls for 853 yards. Ertz is top talent, but the intangibles favor Rudolph as he is bigger, just as fast, and has great hands as a pass-catcher. As a matter of fact, Rudolph’s hands are an inch bigger, his arms are 2 1/2 inches longer, and his vertical is four inches higher.
Shurmur has plenty to be excited about with Rudolph. If the Vikings’ new position coach can implement some West Coast ball control concepts featuring his athletic tight end, Rudolph just might find himself in the right situation at the right time.