Exactly one month ago, Bo Mitchell wrote about Irv Smith and his non-existent presence in the Minnesota Vikings passing game. It’s undeniable that Smith could be more involved in Kubiak’s offense, but he hasn’t been the only disappointment in the tight end room. So, I don’t know if the 6th of each month is going to be “Vikings Tight End Day,” but it’s time to look into Kyle Rudolph’s usage.
Last weekend Rudolph was extremely successful in creating space for Dalvin Cook, but you don’t hand out a four-year, $36 million extension to a blocking tight end. Remember, this is the same guy that saw a career-high 83 receptions in 2016, and has been one the most dangerous red zone threats on the team since being drafted in 2011.
Through seven games this season, the 31-year-old is on pace for 25 receptions (his lowest total since 2014 when he played nine games).
This isn’t a new trend, however, as Rudolph’s role has diminished since Kevin Stefanski became the offensive coordinator in 2019. Part of this is due to the overall emphasis on the run, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw Rudolph out of the game plan. With one drop since 2018, he’s about as sure-handed of a target you’ll find, not to mention his clutch touchdown reception in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last season.
When Rudolph has been targeted this year, he’s actually been very successful. In only 11 receptions, he has 7 first downs. So, he doesn’t need a lot of opportunities to make things happen, it’s just a matter of getting those opportunities in the first place.
As demonstrated by Sunday’s victory in Lambeau, this team is at its best when they rely on the run game and use play-action calls as an element of surprise. I think this is where Rudolph can have a bigger role in the offense. On those run fakes where Kirk Cousins rolls out, Kubiak should release Rudolph down field as a receiver instead of just always keeping him in the flat.
The 10-year veteran also deserves a much bigger role in the red zone offense, especially when pounding it up the middle for Cook won’t work every single time. The Vikings will have to pass every once in a while, and with teams paying extra attention to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson that leaves Rudolph in situations where he’s covered by a linebacker.
I’ll take Rudolph in single coverage versus a linebacker any day of the week.
If Minnesota could get at least one of his tight ends going, this should also help open up the game for his other offensive weapons and makes the Vikings much harder to game plan for.
It’s not like Kubiak doesn’t know how to utilize a tight end. He had Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe at his disposal from 1995-1999. I also don’t think Rudolph’s lack of production is a result of him falling off quite yet. Rather, it’s a matter of getting the ball in his hands. With an uphill battle towards the playoffs looming, the Vikings will need all hands-on deck, and that includes getting productions from everyone on the offense.
This weekend will be a good test. The Vikings match up against a Detroit Lions team that allowed both Jack Doyle and Trey Burton to hit paydirt for the Indianapolis Colts last week. Opportunities for the Minnesota’s tight end’s will be available, it’s just a matter of whether or not Kubiak and Cousins seek them out.