Is Kyle Rudolph a Fantasy Football Value in 2015?

He's often been bit by the injury bug, but at his current average draft position, he's worth your confidence.

We all know the drill when it comes to fantasy tight ends: if you don’t get the honor of selecting Rob Gronkowski, you should probably just punt the position and be the last person to pick one. There will be the occasional owner in your league who still has a man-crush on Jimmy Graham or whose heart aches for a Travis Kelce breakout year, but for the most part, sharps that I’ve watched draft are aiming for one of the late-game options.

But which one do you take?

In standard 12-team leagues, I think there may be plenty of high-upside options out there to draft. However, if you’ve punted tight end all the way to the end of the draft and want a sleeper name, the one I have for you is the Minnesota Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph has always seemed to be an excellent receiver, but he’s just been somewhat injury-plagued throughout his career. Can Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer be a fantasy value for you in 2015?

Cost-Conscious Kyle

First of all, we have to make note of the fact that in order to be a fantasy value, one must be available for a cheap cost in fantasy. To that end, the ESPN average draft position (ADP) has Kyle Rudolph going for a measly late 14th round pick in standard leagues. That’s right: for a price less than 18 other tight ends (including Eric Ebron, never-proven Josh Hill, and the now-suspended Antonio Gates), less than 14 defensive units, and less than 5 kickers, you can have a starting tight end with immense physical and situational upside.

The latter we’ll get to shortly. How much upside in production does Rudolph actually have?

Bridgewater’s Boo

We can examine Rudolph’s own abilities by looking at our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric as it relates to Rudolph’s production in his time in the league, in order to see just how impactful he’s been, and whether he could be worth rostering. NEP helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows the Norsemen’s big man in terms of his NEP production and ranks among tight ends with at least 20 targets since he entered the league in 2011.

YearRecTgtRec NEPPer-PlayTarget NEP
2011263919.58 (39th)0.50 (35th)9.25 (33rd)
2012539357.32 (12th)0.62 (21st)18.06 (18th)
2013304626.72 (33rd)0.58 (33rd)8.45 (36th)
2014243422.61 (32nd)0.67 (21st)15.13 (19th)

He’s never had immensely impactful numbers in the league, but in his only full season in the league -- which was just his 2012 sophomore season -- he pulled in 493 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns, with 93 targets on the year. Had he not gotten injured during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he would have been on pace for the 16th and 14th Reception NEP scores among tight ends, respectively. He’s produced at rates above that of the 19th tight end off the board in fantasy drafts. It’s shocking how little regard for him there is.

Lest we forget, too, Rudolph is in prime position to make an NFL and fantasy impact. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is only in his second year in the league. While we’ve disproven the “rookie quarterbacks love tight ends” myth in the past, there is something tantalizing about the big receiving option in windy, cold Minnesota, and Rudolph has the speed and agility to offer a seam threat as well as a checkdown option.

Add in the fact that Norv Turner -- one of the friendliest coaches for tight ends -- runs the offense for the Vikes, and you have yourself a veritable gumbo of good opportunities for Rudolph. Our own JJ Zachariason notes in this article: “We shouldn’t assume this outstanding play was a result of Norv Turner’s love for tight ends. Rather, it shows us that, if Norv believes in his tight end talent, he’ll use him. And he’ll use him effectively.”

Offensive coordinator Turner should have every reason to believe that Rudolph is a big, fast physical specimen who could be one of the top receiving tight ends in the league. His one bugaboo has been injuries.

Injury and Identity

You might be thinking right now: “Joe, why are you so high on this guy anyway? He’s only crossed 90 targets only once in his four-year career.” You’d be right if you told me that. I’d respond to you then, saying that you haven’t looked deep enough into the numbers if you think that’s all there is to it. The table below shows Rudolph’s targets, games active, and games actually played each year of his four-year career.

YearTgtGames ActiveGames Played

Out of a possible 64 games in his career, Rudolph has been active for just 48 of them. This means that his injury-shortened years do project out better than they appear, as I said before, with rates of 92 and 61 targets in 2013 and 2014 if they were full seasons. But even more interesting is if we look at how banged-up he’s been overall.

Normally this wouldn’t be encouraging; injury histories are scary, but I think Rudolph has gotten a bad rap when it comes to the injury bug, and his perceived opportunities have nose-dived as a result. He was active for 48 games in his career, but he sat for an additional five of those. This means that Rudolph actually would have had a rate of 78 targets in 2014, and if he had proven himself in the new Norv Turner offense, those might have risen.

It’s impossible to predict the future, but you could do much worse than a tight end who has received a prorated 75 or more targets in each of his non-rookie years in the NFL. On top of that, his young quarterback is the best he’s ever played with so far, and the offense in Minnesota is burgeoning. All the signs point to Kyle Rudolph having that magical mix of talent and opportunity.

With such a minuscule draft cost, why don’t you take a chance on him? He could reward you handsomely.