That alone should cause a bit of excitement on what might be expected with the tight ends in the passing game during the second season of Norv Turner directing Minnesota’s offense.
“I think everyone knows last year when we got our new coaches and coach Turner comes in with his system, the tight end position plays a big part in that system,” Rudolph said during workouts last month. “It was exciting for me to be healthy in that system all spring, to have the opportunity to run around in the preseason games. Unfortunately, I had to have the surgery.”
That’s been the theme of Rudolph’s career to date. When healthy, he’s effective, but he hasn’t been able to break into elite status, partly because he has only been available for 17 games over the last two seasons combined.
However, even during his absence, the tight end position held its own. Chase Ford, playing in 340 snaps compared to Rudolph’s 434, and Rhett Ellison, playing in 552 snaps, combined for 43 catches for 439 yards. Rudolph finished with 24 catches for 231 yards.
So how did the Vikings’ tight end production compare to the rest of the teams in the league? The top two teams in the league in tight end catches and targets should be no surprise, given the talent they have there. With Jimmy Graham, the New Orleans Saints led the NFL with 119 receptions and 168 targets to tight ends. With Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots were second in each category with 111 receptions and 162 targets to tight ends.
While the Vikings finished in the middle of the pack in numerous tight end categories, they were fourth in the percentage of receptions on their targets at 77 percent. It was the highest they ranked among the eighth categories that Pro Football Focus tracked and Scout.com compiled into overall team rankings. Receptions, targets, percentage, yards, average, touchdowns, drops and missed tackles were all tracked and compiled.
They were also good in causing missed tackles with their 13 misses caused by tight ends, ranking seventh in the league last year.
The Vikings finished 19th in tight end receptions, 23rd in targets, fourth in percentage caught, 19th in yards, 19th in average yards per catch, 23rd in touchdowns, 17th for fewest drops and seventh in missed tackles.
What it all means for the Vikings, and Rudolph specifically, is about what you would expect. If he can stay healthy all season, he should be able to have his best season and improve the Vikings’ tight end numbers. He had a solid preseason in first game exposure in Turner’s offense last year, catching seven passes for 149 yards, the second of those numbers third among tight ends in the 2014 preseason.
“I’m a different piece than I was last year,” Rudolph said. “Having two good hips and being able to run around like I used to, I feel like I can have a much bigger impact on this offense like I did, say, in last November when I came back after the surgery.”
That surgery was for a sports hernia, but after several years of struggling with various injuries dating back to his college days at Notre Dame, Rudolph is hoping a change in offseason routine will keep him on the field full-time.
“For me, it’s just really focusing in on my diet, things outside of just the weight room,” he said. “I mixed in a lot more sand work this offseason in California, some different kinds of yoga. Just trying to become more limber, and when my body’s put in those situations, I’m able to get up and walk away, versus like last year having to have the surgery.”