Kyle Rudolph and Travis Kelce have been two of the league’s most consistent tight ends for the better part of the last decade. Since Kelce entered the NFL in 2013, he and Rudolph sit in the top 10 for tight end receptions and touchdowns, while nobody has more yards over that span than Kelce.
While Rudolph actually got a two-year headstart on Kelce in the NFL, the two of them came from the same Ohio high school graduating class. Kelce graduated in 2007 from Cleveland Heights High School; Rudolph from Elder High School.
“Thankfully, when we came out of high school, Travis was a quarterback,” Rudolph said, “so I could be the highest-rated tight end in the state of Ohio in 2008 because Travis was a quarterback. If he had been a tight end I probably wouldn’t have been first.”
Kelce chose to play for in-state Cincinnati, where he used up all of his eligibility en route to becoming a third-round pick. After redshirting as a true freshman and missing his sophomore season due to a rules violation, Kelce needed a 722-yard breakout senior year to catch the eyes of draft scouts. By that point, Rudolph was already two seasons into his Vikings career after starring for three seasons at Notre Dame and becoming a second-round selection.
But of the two Ohio products, Kelce has the edge when it comes to NFL accomplishments. The four-time Pro Bowler has never recorded fewer than 862 yards outside of his injury-plagued rookie season, and he’s currently on pace for his fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign.
“I watched him at Cincinnati when we were in school, and I followed his career with the Chiefs,” Rudolph said. “He’s playing at a high level, arguably the highest in our game right now, and he’s fun to watch. That offense in general is pretty fun to watch.”
Kelce’s 604 yards leads all Chiefs receivers this season. His meeting against Rudolph on Sunday will be the first time he has faced the Vikings in Kansas City’s home stadium — well-known for its boisterous atmosphere.
“The crowd noise and music when we’re indoors is up as loud as it can go,” said Rudolph, “and you just have to understand that you’re not going to be able to hear the person next to you. I haven’t played at Arrowhead since 2011. When we played at Arrowhead, they were 0-3 and we were 0-3, so it was two pretty bad football teams, yet that place was rocking. Now we’re going in this weekend with two good football teams in a big game, I anticipate it’s going to be even more raucous.”
HOW’S THE HAMMY?
While the Vikings await word on which Chiefs quarterback will start on Sunday, Kansas City will be monitoring the health of a key Vikings receiver.
Adam Thielen was back at practice Wednesday but in a limited capacity. The star wideout stretched with the team, did some light rehab on the side and joined the receivers for individual drills during the portion of practice open to reporters. Thursday he seemed to take a step forward as he went through individual drills without any rehab breaks.
Thielen missed last Thursday’s game after injuring his right hamstring during a touchdown catch at Detroit in Week 7.
“It’s definitely tough,” said Thielen of waiting for the all-clear. “It’s a way that God’s testing me because I’m not very good with patience.”
The Vikings would love to get Thielen back to bolster their offense against the potentially-explosive Chiefs, but they’ll have to proceed carefully. Running back Dalvin Cook and corner Xavier Rhodes also dealt with hamstring injuries a season ago that lingered throughout the season.
When asked how close he is to 100%, Thielen declined to get specific.
“It’s hard to put a number on it,” Thielen said while wearing a sleeve on his right leg. “But I feel good. I feel like we’ve progressed.”
A look at where several notable Vikings are projected to finish the year statistically, based on their eight-game performance:
- QB Kirk Cousins: 3,994 yards (fewest as full-time starter), 26 TDs, 6 INTs (career-best as full-time starter)
- WR Stefon Diggs: 1,412 yards (career high), 8 TDs
- WR Adam Thielen: 831 yards (based on seven-game average), 12 TDs (career high)
- RB Dalvin Cook: 1,646 yards (most for a Vikings RB since 2012), 18 TDs (most for Vikings RB since 2009)
- TE Kyle Rudolph: 294 yards (fewest since 2014), 2 TDs
- DE Danielle Hunter: 16 sacks (career high)
- LB Eric Kendricks: 136 combined tackles (career high, most for a Vikings player since Chad Greenway in 2012)