High Praise

Our third prediction for 2010 examines the potential greatness of junior tight end Kyle Rudolph.

This is the third in our summer-long prediction series. For the first two predictions, click the links at the bottom of the page.

Prediction #3 – Rudolph will break MacAfee's career (tight end) receptions record …this season

If you're a long-time fan of the program, you know that nearly every meaningful mark among Irish tight ends is held by the legendary Ken MacAfee, whose 128 receptions over a four-year period (1974-77) has remained unapproached by all comers over the last 33 years (not a small feat at Tight End U).

John Carlson (04-07) ranks second with 100, Anthony Fasano (03-05) third at 92 and Tony Hunter (79-82) fourth with 70. Fasano would have had a chance had he stayed for a 5th-season in 2006, though he'd have shared time with the up-and-coming Carlson.

Kyle Rudolph enters the season with 62 receptions, tied for No. 5 on the charts with Derek Brown (88-91) and Dean Masztak (78-81).

Rudolph needs 67 receptions to pass MacAfee, that's an average of 5.58 per contest through the 12-game regular season. (In the process, Rudolph would then break MacAfee's single-season mark of 54 receptions as well.)

The junior's single-game high for receptions is just six (twice last season vs. MSU and WSU).

The game has changed enough, and the Irish personnel (i.e., Golden Tate) has turned over to the point that I'm confident Rudolph will become the No. 2 pass target in Brian Kelly's 2010 offense.

And that's the impetus for the prediction.

Throughout his six seasons as a FBS/Division 1-A head coach, Kelly's offenses have featured a pair of pass-catching targets that shouldered the bulk of the responsibility.

  • 2009 (Cincinnati): Mardy Gilyard (87 receptions, 1,191 yards, 11 TD) and Armon Binns (61 receptions, 888 yards, 11 TD). Of note, Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar offered that Floyd was "very, very similar" to the 6'4" 200-pound Binns, noting that "Both are big, physical players who can go up over a DB to get the football."
  • 2008 (Cincinnati): Gilyard (81 receptions, 1,276 yards, 11 TD) and Dominick Goodman (84 receptions, 1028 yards, 7 TD)
  • 2007 (Cincinnati): Marcus Barnett (62 receptions, 862 yards, 13 TD and Goodman (68 receptions, 869 yards, 8 TD)

In two of Kelly's three seasons with the Bearcats, Cincinnati's third most productive receiver caught significantly fewer balls than did its top pair:

  • 2009: D.J. Woods (51 receptions, 640 yards, 4 TD)
  • 2008: Marcus Barnett (30 receptions, 277 yards, 1 TD)
  • 2007: Marty Gilyard (36 receptions, 536 yards, 3 TD)

At Central Michigan, the pattern followed among the wideouts/tight ends, with Kelly's two main targets doing the heavy lifting. (Though the Chippewa's third most productive pass catcher was running back Ontario Sneed, who caught 103 balls in two seasons.)

  • 2006 (Central Michigan): Bryan Anderson (73 receptions, 867 yards, 5 TD) and Damien Linson (55 receptions, 812 yards, and 5 TD). The team's third receiver, Obed Cetoute, caught just 36 balls for 525 yards and 5 TD while running back Sneed finished third in receptions with 52.
  • 2005 (Central Michigan): Linson (56 receptions, 832 yards, 4 TD) and Justin Harper (64 receptions, 607 yards, and 4 TD). Cetoute finished with 27 receptions as the team's third receiver with a running back (Sneed: 51 grabs) and tight end Jacob Brown (33 catches – the high water mark for Kelly tight ends to date), providing support in the offense.
  • 2004 (Central Michigan): Kelly's first season at the helm featured a run-first offense, with Linson (37 receptions, 574 yards, 7 TD) and Harper (39 receptions, 526 yards, 5 TD) easily out-pacing the team's third most productive target, tight end Dave Kurzen: 15-163-1 TD.

To counter the prediction, the highest number of pass receptions registered by a Kelly tight end over the last six seasons is 33 by Jacob Brown in 2005 at Central Michigan. Other tight end leaders for Kelly at either school hauled in 31 (2006), 27 (2009), 18 (2008), 15 (2004), and 14 (2006).

With all due respect to Brown, Connor Barwin, Ben Guidugli, Sam Williams, and Dave Kurzen, – four of which I've never seen compete – none of them are Kyle Rudolph. (And Barwin is a member of the Houston Texans.)

Statistical history aside, the most important aspect of the prediction is the possible greatness of Rudolph, whose size, quickness out of his break, and coordination and competitiveness with the ball in the air are already at an elite level. Likewise, Rudolph is a player whose downfield speed is impressive at 265 pounds (and growing) and one that has proven capable and willing to make the big play.

Rudolph caught 29 balls as a not-ready true freshman in '08 and snared 33 more last season in what amounted to 8.5 healthy contests. He was well on his way to All-America honors prior to suffering a shoulder injury vs. Navy.

Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said it first in April and I'll echo his sentiments here:

"If there's a better tight end in the country than Kyle Rudolph, I'd like to see him."

Floyd will likely win the Triple Crown for Irish receivers in 2010, leading the team in receptions, yardage, and touchdown catches (I'm so sure of this, a separate prediction is hardly necessary).

But Rudolph will mark his spot in Irish lore by passing the great MacAfee's career reception total of 128 by season's end.

Ken MacAfee's Irish Records for a Tight End: I'll tackle Rudolph's pursuit of MacAfee's remaining tight end records at a later date. For more on McAfee's stranglehold on the tight end record book, including the surprisingly low single-season touchdown mark, click here.

Receptions: Career (128) and Season (54). Touchdowns: Career (15) and Season (6). Total Yards: Career (1,759) and Season (797).

Note: McAfee played in 12 games in '77 for the National Champion Irish. In the spirit of fairness, we'll hold Rudolph to the same standard in 2010. The bowl game doesn't count for this prediction, Kyle.

Prediction No. 1

Prediction No. 2

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