Kyle Rudolph knew his call to the NFL was coming, he just didn't know when it would come. Rated as the top tight end in the Class of 2011, Rudolph's football future was based more on the evaluations of doctors than it was his on-field ability.
Rudolph knew there would be interest – the Vikings were one of 15 teams to do one-on-one interviews with him at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February – and said he expected that he wouldn't slide down draft boards because his hamstring was no longer an issue as far as he was concerned.
"The hamstring checked out completely 100 percent," Rudolph said. "It was something that I got fixed over six months ago and, by the time my pro day came around, I was 100 percent and the MRI showed it is 100 percent healed. All the doctors dug and prodded on it and they can't find anything."
The hamstring injury proved to be a testament to Rudolph's single-minded determination to play through pain. He initially suffered the injury in July during preseason workouts, made it worse early in the season and, in a late-season game against Pitt, actually tore the hamstring off the bone. Hindsight being 20/20, Rudolph said he would have been better served to take the time to let the injury heal, but, at the time, his only concern was getting back on the field by any means necessary.
"I learned a lesson from it – taking the time (to heal) and missing a few games instead of trying to be a tough guy and grind through it. Looking back it would have probably been smarter and better for my leg if I would have just taken some time off when I did it originally instead of trying to grind through it."
While Rudolph thought the injury was a thing of the past, teams at the bottom of half of the first round weren't quite as convinced. He had expected to go in the final third of the first round and admitted it made for a long night Thursday.
"I was under the impression that it was more likely than not that I would go yesterday (in the first round), but my dream has come true and I'm in the NFL now," Rudolph said. "It was definitely tough because my hamstring is not an issue anymore. It's something that is part of the past and it was a freak injury and it doesn't happen that often in football – if ever. It was something that I got fixed and it's not a problem anymore, so I was definitely disappointed. But I have my family and friends around to keep me positive and we're really excited."
As it stands, Rudolph comes into a veteran-laden tight end core of Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan – all grizzled vets of the NFL wars. It would seem at first glance to be a position of as little need as any on the Vikings roster, but all of them are entering the final year of their contracts. The tight end unit in 2012 could look a lot different than it will this year, but Rudolph said he hopes to use this season to pick the brains of the veterans and learn from them as he starts his own career.
"They have three veteran guys there," Rudolph said. "I have a lot of respect for those guys and I'm excited to learn from them. I can't be more thrilled to be a Viking and I have a lot of respect from those three veterans and hopefully I can learn a thing or two from them and play as long as they have."
For those who thought the Vikings had abandoned their "best player available" mantra after reaching for Christian Ponder in the first round, it seems that their mantra of staying the course to the draft board held true. Rudolph was the best tight end on the board and, despite not being an immediate position of need, they drafted a player they expect will be a vital cog in the Vikings offense for the next decade to come.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Rudolph believes hamstring dropped his stock
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