Vikings’ 25 and under top 10: Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph might not seem like one of the team’s younger players, but he could remain a Viking for years to come if he can overcome the injury bug.

Kyle Rudolph was the Vikings’ second-round pick in 2011 after he declared for the draft following his junior season. There was a red flag surrounding him after he missed time during his sophomore and junior seasons because of injuries, but in the Vikings’ eyes, his potential seemed to outweigh the risk.

Unfortunately, since being drafted Rudolph has played in all 16 regular season games just once and played in less than 10 games in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. If there is a bright spot to his list of injuries, it would be that they do not appear to be reoccurring injuries, just unlucky ones that seem to continue to show up early in his career.

The Vikings seem to still be high on his potential even though he has continued to miss time with injuries. In 2013, he missed half of the season with a fractured foot but the team still signed him to a five-year, $40 million extension.

That’s the type of money teams will give an elite tight end in the NFL, so it speaks to the amount of respect the Vikings have for what he can do on the field. During the 2012 season, which was his best year, Rudolph recorded 53 receptions for 493 yards and nine touchdowns, and that is when he had Christian Ponder throwing him the ball.

It is often hard to find a tight end that has a big body, is athletic, and has the ability to run good routes and catch the ball well. When a team finds one, such as the Vikings did with Rudolph, they will pay them big money in order to keep them on their roster. Now the Vikings are just hoping that Rudolph’s injuries come to an end so he can begin to produce on a consistent basis.

This season, the tight end will have Teddy Bridgewater, a quarterback that showed a lot of promise as a rookie, throwing him the ball. That is a big reason why Rudolph should be able to have his best year if he is able to stay healthy.

Bridgewater showed last year that he likes to throw to his tight ends and offensive coordinator Norv Turner has taken advantage of talented tight ends throughout his career. Rudolph is 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, which makes him an ideal target in the red zone and down the middle of the field.

If 2015 is a continuation from the last couple of year, however, the Vikings are going to need to replace Rudolph again. They did a good job doing so last year using a combination of Chase Ford, a pass-catching tight end, and Rhett Ellison, a blocking tight end. Then in this year’s draft they added MyCole Pruitt, who has been compared to Charles Clay as a player that has the ability to do everything and move all over the field.

After his extension, Rudolph is set to be with the Vikings until he is 30 years old (31 that November). If he is able to start to produce consistently, that could be a blessing for the team as a good tight end is hard to find and can be a quarterback’s best fried. But if the injuries continue to pile up for Rudolph it will be hard for the Vikings to justify keeping him on the roster for that much money, especially when he is only playing in eight or nine games a season.

That could also be a reason why the team drafted Pruitt this offseason – just to make sure they have a safety net in case they ever need to part ways with their 2012 Pro Bowl MVP.

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