Fantasy Football Forecast: Kyle Rudolph

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Daily Norseman takes a look at what we can expect from Kyle Rudolph in fantasy football.

Has Kyle Rudolph had his "breakout season" yet?  Some would argue that 2012 was his breakout season, and I definitely think his nine touchdowns that year put his name on the NFL radar, not to mention his Pro Bowl MVP appearance.  But there could be more untapped potential for the Notre Dame product, especially after a foot injury derailed what could have been a promising year last year.  With a new offensive coordinator on board and a different quarterback throwing him the ball, Rudolph's prospects for the 2014 fantasy season look pretty good.  So, let's break it down.

First off, Rudolph was the first tight end taken in the 2011 draft, ranked as the top prospect by many scouting services.  I did a little comparative research to find the tight ends that had similar height/weight/40-time stats as Rudolph, and then compared their statistical production.  The table below shows you who Rudolph most closely compares to athletically, and the kind of average production they all have had the past 2 years as starters.

Name

Height

Weight

40-time

Rec/Game

Yards/Game

TDs/Game

Kyle Rudolph

6'6"

259

4.68

3.5

35

0.5

Martellus Bennett

6'6"

260

4.68

3.8

43.3

0.31

Jermaine Gresham

6'5"

261

4.66

3.7

38.3

0.32

Jason Witten

6'5"

265

4.65

5.7

59

0.34

Anthony Fasano

6'4"

260

4.72

2.6

21.5

0.32

Average Comp TE

6'5"

262

4.68

4

40.5

0.32

Obviously, the first thing to mention is that all of these tight ends have different offensive coordinators, different quarterbacks and different teams which are going to influence their production totals.  But Martellus Bennett and Jermaine Gresham not only are most closely related in measurables, but they are also most closely related in production.  All three have a similar amount of receptions and yards per game, but it is in touchdowns where Rudolph shines above them.  Witten does better in receptions and yards than Rudolph, while Fasano does a little worse in all categories.  If you were to take the average statistics of the four tight ends that compare most closely to Rudolph, you get the final "Average Comp TE" statistic line.  When you compare that line to Kyle Rudolph you get a pretty close approximation.  The four comp players catch the ball just a little more and gain a few more yards per game, but Rudolph is more of a red zone threat.  Now, let's look at their actual fantasy football production on a per game basis for these same players over the past two years:

Name

Points/Gm 2012

Points/Gm 2013

Avg Points/Gm

Kyle Rudolph

6.5

6.2

6.35

Martellus Bennett

5.8

6.5

6.15

Jermaine Gresham

6.4

4.6

5.5

Jason Witten

7.6

8.3

7.95

Anthony Fasano

4.0

4.2

4.1

Average Comp TE

6.0

5.9

5.9

This is all well and good, and paints a pretty good picture of Rudolph the past 2 years.  But what can we reasonably expect out of Kyle Rudolph now that he's in a brand new offense?  Will Rudolph look more like Jason Witten or Anthony Fasano?  The first thing to consider is the type of tight end that Norv Turner has used in the past, and what kind of production they have had.  This article from Apex Fantasy Leagues breaks it down very well.  They include the following comparison of Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron, the tight ends that Turner has most recently worked with as well as some of my own additions in terms of career fantasy points per game when working with Norv Turner:

Name

Height

Weight

40 Time

Vertical

Points/Gm

Antonio Gates

6'4"

255

4.6

39"

9.4

Jordan Cameron

6'5"

254

4.53

37.5"

8.9

Kyle Rudolph

6'6"

259

4.68

34.5"

?

As you can see, Gates and Cameron were both just a little bit smaller than Rudolph and also a little more athletic.  But they averaged a similar amount of fantasy points per game.  If you were to remove Antonio Gates last two years from the equation (when age and health problems were catching up to him) he would look even better than Cameron.  Although that could also be a by-product of Gates having Philip Rivers throwing him the ball (who was almost always a top 10 finisher in fantasy football during his most productive years) and Jordan Cameron having a revolving door of suck-i-tude in Hoyer, Campbell and Weeden.  But noticeably, their production is much higher than what Rudolph has done recently, and much higher than any of the comparable tight ends Kyle Rudolph most closely resembles.

Another element to consider is how Gates and Cameron have done in relation to other tight ends while operating under Norv Turner.  The same article I referenced above provides their ranks in a number of helpful categories:

Norv Turner Tight Ends

Year

Games

Target Rank

Rec Rank

Yards Rank

TDs Rank

PPR Fantasy Points Per Game

PPR Fantasy Finish

Average

11th

8th

7th

4th

5th

5th

Antonio Gates

2007

16

4th

4th

4th

2nd

3rd

3rd

Antonio Gates

2008

16

6th

6th

7th

2nd

4th

4th

Antonio Gates

2009

16

6th

4th

1st

5th

4th

3rd

Antonio Gates

2010

10

22nd

13th

4th

1st

1st

3rd

Antonio Gates

2011

13

16th

10th

10th

4th

4th

7th

Antonio Gates

2012

15

19th

19th

19th

6th

14th

13th

Jordan Cameron

2013

15

3rd

3rd

2nd

6th

5th

5th

The most consistent stat that catches my eye is the TD rank.  For the past 7 years Gates and Cameron have finished no worse than 6th in touchdowns, and guess which statistic Kyle Rudolph excels in?  That's right: touchdowns.  I generally advise against drafting fantasy players who are touchdown dependent, but history has shown that Kyle Rudolph is a great red zone threat, and history has shown that Norv Turner's offensive scheme nets a lot of touchdowns for tight ends.  So, even if Rudolph disappoints in the receptions and yards department, he should make up for it easily in the TD department.  Having said that it's easy to explain the discrepancy in reception and yardage ranks for Gates in 2012 and 2013, it was due to age and injury.  Once Turner had a young and healthy player in Jordan Cameron, the ranks shot right back up to the top 10 again last year.

Kyle Rudolph's ADP right now, according to Fantasy Pros (and again, it's still a little early to read too much into it right now) is as the 10th TE off the board and 95th overall.  Here's a table that compares the same comp players again by ADP:

Name

TE Rank

ADP Overall

2013 Points/Gm

Kyle Rudolph

10

95

6.2

Martellus Bennett

11

125

6.6

Jermaine Gresham

33

n/r

5

Jason Witten

5

59

8.3

Anthony Fasano

73

n/r

4.2

A couple of things first.  Jermaine Gresham has fallen off the ranks because of Tyler Eifert's rise to prominence in the Bengals offense last year, and Gresham is also still rehabbing off-season surgery.  Fasano's rank seems a little low as he finished as the 38th best tight end last year with the Chiefs, after he took over when Tony Moeaki went down in the preseason last year.  He might split time with Sean McGrath like he did last year, but being ranked 73rd is a little harsh.  In any case, in a standard 10-team league, Rudolph can be had in the 9th round and as the 10th best tight end, behind guys like Dennis Pitta, Jordan Reed and Jordan Cameron (who is now Norv Turner-less).  Dennis Pitta and Jordan Reed in particular both averaged less fantasy points per game than Turner's typical tight ends and I personally would put Rudolph ahead of all three of those players.

I expect as more people work through these kinds of player comps and recognize the effect that Norv Turner can have on the tight end position, that Rudolph's Average Draft Position will steadily climb between now and August, especially if he has a strong training camp and Preseason.  But I think that Rudolph is currently a little underrated right now.  When you consider that on average, similarly athletic tight ends have done slightly better than Kyle Rudolph, and that the more athletic tight ends that have worked in a Norv Turner offense have produced even better than that, it leads me to believe that Rudolph is in line for a slight uptick in his fantasy production when compared to the past two years.  So buy low on him while you still can.  Rudolph has averaged 6.2 fantasy points per game over the past 2 years in Musgrave's offense, and I expected him to average at least 7 by season's end in Turner's offense if not more.

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