Kyle Rudolph has been a mainstay at the tight end position for the Minnesota Vikings for the past eight seasons, but declining stats and the acquisition of Irv Smith Jr. have put the future of the “Red Zone Reindeer” in jeopardy.
Rudolph enjoyed arguably his best season with the Vikings in 2016 when he turned 120 targets into 83 receptions, 840 yards and seven touchdowns en route to a career-high receiving grade of 75.3. However, despite those impressive box-score stats, he still only ranked 15th among 47 qualified tight ends in overall grade (73.2). In fact, over his eight-year career, Rudolph has never finished a season inside the top 10 among tight ends; he has only earned a single-game grade of 80.0 or higher in 12 of 116 career contests, and he only has three 100-yard games in his career.
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that Rudolph hasn't been able to replicate the success of his career year. His overall grade fell from 73.2 in 2016 to just 64.1 last season, while his receiving grade dropped from 75.3 to 66.5 last season. In 2018, Rudolph only caught four touchdowns — his lowest total since 2014 — and his targets have gone down over 37% from the 120 in 2016 to only 76 in 2018. Whether it's a lack of confidence from the team or the emergence of players such as Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Rudolph simply hasn't been the same player since his career year.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the team used their second-round draft pick to select Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama — the fourth tight end on PFF's draft board. Smith was tied for first among tight ends in this year's draft class with 2.56 yards per route run, and he racked up 44 receptions for 707 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. He led the draft class with a 157.7 passer rating when targeted and was second in the SEC last season with 27 combined first downs and touchdowns.
The Vikings likely didn't spend a second-round pick on a top-tier tight end prospect to sit him on the bench and Rudolph is due to make $7.6 million this season in the final year of his contract, so, as they say, something's got to give. If Rudolph isn't prepared to take a pay cut to stay in Minnesota — and reportedly he's not — then his days playing for the Vikings could be numbered.