The period before free agency and the NFL Draft is my favorite time of year as a dynasty owner. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the upcoming season. Dynasty owners thrive on the uncertainty by crunching statistics and reading over team reports to find the next breakout players.
Around this time each year, I target a few players in my dynasty leagues that have breakout potential. Some of it is based on gut feel, but mostly from watching game footage and finding players that have excelled in a limited role. Over the next few weeks, I will cover players I have targeted for my own teams. Leading off my list of breakout candidates is Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Kyle Rudolph was the 43rd pick (second round) of the 2011 NFL Draft after an impressive career at Notre Dame. His time in college was cut short due to injuries, but that did not stop him from declaring after his junior season. Rudolph was the first tight end taken in the draft.
Despite only playing less than half of the time (49.2% of total snaps), Rudolph enjoyed a solid rookie season. As the Vikings fell out of contention, Rudolph’s playing time increased at the expense of Visanthe Shiancoe. Rudolph showed in his limited role that he could contribute in the passing game and as a blocker (combined +5.0) when given the opportunity. Although Rudolph only ranked as the 34th best tight end in PPR leagues, he ranked an impressive 11th in our tight end rankings.
Given his size (6’06”, 259 lbs.), Rudolph is the prototypical inline tight end and his snap data backed that up:
While Rudolph’s fantasy success was limited due to a lack of playing time, there are encouraging signs for a potential breakout based on his rookie statistics:
Rudolph only scored three touchdowns in his rookie campaign, which made it easier to break them down in detail. Each touchdown showed off his versatility (Click links for the NFL.com highlights):
Fourth Quarter: 1 and Goal from OAK 1. Left tight end. Defender: SS Tyvon Branch
Rudolph ran a simple drag route behind the line of scrimmage to the right and QB Christian Ponder found him for an easy completion in the front of the end zone.
Second Quarter: 1 and 10 from DEN 19. Right inline tight end. Defender SS Quinton Carter
Rudolph ran an up route to the right corner of the end zone and caught the jump ball from QB Christian Ponder over Quinton Carter. He held on for an impressive catch and maintained possession of the football over his head.
Third Quarter: 2 and 8 from WAS 17. Right inline tight end. Defender: LB Perry Riley
Rudolph beat Riley on a corner route to the back of the end zone. QB Joe Webb placed the football over Rudolph’s right shoulder for the touchdown.
It is natural to try to find a current comparable player to Rudolph. During the live telecast of the NFL Draft on the NFL Network, Rudolph was compared to Rob Gronkowski because of their almost identical workout numbers – something that now seems preposterous given Gronkowski’s record-breaking 2011 season. In November, I compared Rudolph to Todd Heap in his prime. Heap was a top four tight end from 2002 to 2006, except for 2004 (six games), and was the top tight end overall in fantasy leagues in 2002. Comparing Rudolph to the top rookie tight ends from the last few years gives us a good idea of what we could expect from him:
|Year||Pos||Name||Team||Games||Snaps||Pass||Pass %||Block %||Run Block||Pass Block|
The main take away here is that Rudolph played a low number of total snaps in comparison to his peers. The percentage of snaps Rudolph blocked on is only eclipsed by Gronkowski, Jermaine Gresham and Brandon Pettigrew – all known for their willingness to block as needed.
|Year||Pos||Name||Team||FP||FP / SN||FP / Gm||TA / SN %||TA / PR %||TA / G||TA||% Ct||Rec.||Yds||TD||TD Rate %|
The only category that Rudolph leads his peers in is his catch rate. His catch rate of 78.8% is impressive, although his average depth of target was only 7.0 yards downfield. His targets may have been close to the line of scrimmage, but he did have several highlight reel catches. In addition to his impressive touchdown catch against Denver – his Week 10 one-handed grab at Green Bay may have topped it.
2012 and Beyond
Rudolph is going to see an immediate boost in fantasy value if Shiancoe leaves as an unrestricted free agent. Even if Shiancoe does return to Minnesota, Rudolph has earned the starting nod and is one of the foundation players for the young Minnesota Vikings:
“We think (Kyle Rudolph) is going to develop into and is going to be a really good player.” – Vikings GM Rick Spielman
Putting Rudolph’s rookie season in to context helps us see a clearer image of his future success. Here is a look at the career touchdown rates of the same tight ends mentioned earlier:
|Player||Catch %||TD||RZ TD||RZ TD %||TD Rate|
I have Rudolph ranked ninth and fellow dynasty writer Chad Parsons has him seventh among all tight ends in our dynasty rankings. According to startup dynasty average draft position data that Chad has compiled indicates that Rudolph is going off the board as the TE12 with an ADP in the tenth round of 12 team leagues.
Rudolph’s value continues to increase, so the best time to acquire him on your dynasty roster is now.
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