Coming into this season, there were huge expectations surrounding Kyle Rudolph. He was the team’s leading returning receiver from last year with 53 catches and nine touchdowns, and when he was discussed at training camp, the expectation was that he would catch 80 or more passes and be one of the most dangerous tight end threats in the league.
Instead, Rudolph is tied for 92nd in the league with just 12 receptions and his 103 receiving yards isn’t in the top 100. He hasn’t been injured, and what makes his lack of production more astonishing is that he is among the league leaders in playing time percentage.
Through four games, Rudolph has been on the field for 96 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Only Jason Witten, who has been on the field for every offensive play the Cowboys have run, has been on the field more. Rudolph is one of only eight tight ends to play more than 90 percent of his team’s offensive snaps, along with Witten (100 percent), Greg Olsen (96), Jermaine Gresham (96), Julius Thomas (95), Owen Daniels (93), Tony Gonzalez (93) and Brandon Pettigrew (90).
Those other players have all had an impact for their teams. Rudolph has yet to make a similar kind of difference. His single-game high in yardage this year is 42, with single-game totals of 27, 42, 28 and 6. While Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings are both averaging 18.0 yards per reception, Rudolph is averaging just 8.6 yards per reception and, over the last two games, his average is just 4.9 yards.
The Vikings have a diverse offense that is supposed to include Rudolph. For a player who is on the field and running routes on just about every pass play, Rudolph has become a near afterthought in the pass game. Whether the result of increased defensive attention, an inability to get open, play calls designed to go elsewhere or a combination of the three, the Vikings are getting very little out of Rudolph.
That lack of explosiveness was on display Sunday against Pittsburgh. Rudolph was targeted just twice by Matt Cassel. He caught both passes thrown his way – one for six yards and the other for no gain.
As the Vikings coaching staff spends the bye week assessing what they’ve done right and wrong through the first quarter of the 2013 season, one of the glaring points on offense will be the lack of use and production from Rudolph. One of the reasons the Vikings signed John Carlson in free agency last season was because Bill Musgrave’s offense has historically used the tight end heavily. Carlson hasn’t been much better. In four games, he has been targeted just seven times, catching three passes for gains of three, four and seven yards.
The Vikings came into this season looking to expand their offense and take some of the pressure off the shoulders of Adrian Peterson. That’s why they re-signed Simpson. It’s why they made a splash in free agency to sign Jennings. It’s why the drafted Cordarrelle Patterson. The onus of moving the football was going to be shared by the passing game and Rudolph was expected to be front and center with that plan.
To date, he hasn’t. He’s been on the field for 239 of the Vikings’ 250 offensive plays. The Vikings have the potential to be a more diverse and potent offense. They have scored 24, 27, 30 and 34 points in their four games and have shown signs of being an offense that can drive the ball up and down the field. Considering they’ve done it largely without a contribution from Rudolph, there is room for improvement.
Will his situation change after the bye week? It should, because Rudolph is a rare talent who was looking to be more of a downfield threat in games. He was expected to have 100-yard games, not 103 yards in four games. As the coaching staff reviews the film from the first month of the season, one glaring omission has been Rudolph. If the Vikings are to turn around their 2013 season and get back in the playoff hunt, they’re going to need to find ways to get Rudolph the ball. If they do, the Vikings offense could be more explosive and give defenders another player to worry about – something that has been sorely lacking in the first four games.
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.