Rudolph ready for a breakout season?

Receivers usually hit their stride in their third season. If that applies to tight end Kyle Rudolph, he could be in for a monster year after the progression in his first two NFL seasons.

There is a rule of thumb when it comes to NFL receivers that is well-documented – a receiver doesn't hit his full potential until his third season. The evidence supporting that theory is overwhelming. Whether it is a Hall of Fame receiver or a pedestrian one, typically his numbers increase in each of his first three seasons and the third is the standard by which his career success (or lack of success) is measured.

My work in the fantasy football industry was what got me interested in the subject and, in the years since, I've made a point to ask as many coaches that deal with the offensive side of the ball about it to get credence to the hypothesis. The standard response varies somewhat, but the general theme is that, as rookies, receivers are adjusting to the speed of the game and the physicality of NFL defensive backs, as well as learning the new offense. In their second year, they get accustomed to the speed of the game and start to improve their route running and dealing with jams at the line. By their third year, when they really learn how to study film, they spend much more time studying the tendencies of defenders and not concerning themselves with their own job duties nearly as much.

It's a natural progression that repeats itself over and over again. What does that mean for the Vikings? Kyle Rudolph may be in store for a monster 2013 season.

As a rookie in 2011, Rudolph caught just 26 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. In six games with Donovan McNabb at quarterback, he caught just nine passes and no touchdowns. In 10 games with Christian Ponder as the starter, he caught 17 passes, but three of them went for touchdowns. It was the bright spot of the season for Rudolph, who had three TDs in his final six games, but the fact remained he never caught more than three passes in any game.

In 2012, his second season, Rudolph emerged as a red-zone go-to threat and a much more critical part of the Vikings offense. His receptions more than doubled (from 26 to 53) and his touchdown numbers tripled from three to nine. He became one of the most prolific touchdown scorers in the league and his nine touchdowns represented half of Ponder's TD passes.

After never catching more than three passes in any game as a rookie, Rudolph caught four or more passes in seven games last season. He made the jump from first year to second year that has been so indicative of the top receivers in the recent history of the game and, as the trend goes, his numbers for 2013 could pop even higher … perhaps much higher.

If there is something that is missing from Rudolph's game, it is the big-play quotient that, given his athleticism and ability to stretch the field down the middle, has been sorely lacking. Through two seasons, he has averaged just 9.4 yards per catch and didn't have a single reception of 30 yards last season. If that comes along, he could be in line for some huge numbers in 2013.

The Vikings gushed over Rudolph when they drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft. At the time, tight end wasn't a pressing need – the team already had Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe. But, a year later, both of them were gone and Rudolph was moving into the role the team envisions for him for going forward – as perhaps the go-to receiver for the Vikings offense.

The team has added Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson to replace Percy Harvin as their top wide receivers, but, in the end, 2013 may become the year that the rest of the NFL takes notice of Rudolph as one of the elite tight ends in the NFL.


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.

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