"Me," Rudolph told the Pioneer Press.
While he doesn't have the resume yet to back that claim, it's nice to hear that he has the confidence that he is in that group. Last year, his season was cut short by a foot injury. He told Viking Update during training camp last August that he wanted to be more of a factor in the Vikings offense than being a dominant red zone threat. In terms of passes near the goal line, nobody caught passes as regularly or scored as many touchdowns among tight ends as Rudolph.
Had Rudolph had the kind of season the Vikings envisioned he would, Leslie Frazier might still be the head coach. But, he's not. The house got cleaned and the Vikings offense, regardless of who is at the QB helm of the ship, is going to have Norv Turner running it.
Turner made his pay grade in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. When Jimmuh and Jerruh were hugging after winning Super Bowls, Turner was photo-bombing the moment as the offensive coordinator. He helped develop a young quarterback (Troy Aikman) and, as an ace in the hole, he had Emmitt Smith – the pre-eminent running back of the day.
Hired away from Dallas after their second straight Super Bowl championship by division rival Washington, Turner held the dubious honor or being the first modern-era head coach fired during a season when his team had a winning record – the 7-6 2000 Redskins that had started the season 6-2 – and his coaching career was at a crossroads.
It would be seven years before he got another head coaching opportunity and that was with San Diego, where he helped develop a young quarterback into a star (Philip Rivers) and made the most of a converted college basketball player (Antonio Gates) – turning him into a likely Hall of Famer and putting Rivers one Super Bowl away from potentially joining him in Canton.
Gates created mismatches because of his size and girth. Rudolph can create mismatches with his athleticism.
When he said he was the best tight end in the NFL, Rudolph clearly has never seen Jimmy Graham play or, when healthy, Rob Gronkowski. But, with Turner as his advocate, the best may be yet to come for Rudolph and the Vikings may want to consider holding onto some of their cap money to give Rudolph a second contract.
Is Rudolph accurate when he says he's the best tight end in the NFL? Not by a long shot. Can he be? Most definitely – and with Turner calling the plays, it may only be a matter of time before Rudolph is viewed among the elite tight ends in the game.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.