Kyle Rudolph Is a Very Important Piece of the Minnesota Vikings Offense

Lost in the Minnesota Vikings early season success is the important role that Kyle Rudolph fills for them.

The Minnesota Vikings are now the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL, standing at 5-0 after Week 5.

After a preseason injury ended Teddy Bridgewater's season, the Vikings traded for Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. Needless to say, Bradford has filled in admirably so far.

Furthermore, the Vikings lost their starting running back, Adrian Peterson, in Week 2. Again, this hasn't mattered, as the Vikings continue to win despite their injury situation.

With the Vikings boasting the top defense according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, and with Stefon Diggs having somewhat of a breakout season, it's easy to overlook how important of a factor Kyle Rudolph has been for this Minnesota offense.

Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer

Before fully dissecting Rudolph, let's briefly look at his teammate, Diggs, who has rightfully earned lots of attention this year. Although he's only played in four games, Diggs has turned 33 targets into 25 receptions for 372 yards and 1 touchdown.

Even having missed a game, Diggs has the sixth-highest receiving yards per game (93) this year. Furthermore, he ranks 19th in Reception NEP (points added on all catches), 12th in Reception NEP per target (points added on a per target basis), and 15th in Reception Success Rate (percentage of positive catches made) among 59 wide receivers with at least 25 targets.

With his performance, Diggs is properly overshadowing Rudolph.

A quick search for Rudolph shows that he has perennially been an underwhelming breakout candidate since his second year in the league. That year, he scored nine touchdowns. Here's a look at his raw and Net Expected Points numbers throughout his career.

Kyle Rudolph Tar Rec Yards TDs Rec NEP Rec NEP/Target Rec Success %
2016 37 21 236 3 26.91 0.73 80.95%
2015 73 49 495 5 37.80 0.52 73.47%
2014 34 24 231 2 22.61 0.67 91.67%
2013 46 30 313 3 26.72 0.58 70.00%
2012 93 53 493 9 57.32 0.62 83.02%
2011 39 26 249 3 19.58 0.50 76.92%

Right now, Rudolph is on pace for his best statistical and NEP season ever.

Until now, Rudolph only had one above-average year for a tight end based on NEP -- that was his injury shortened 2014 campaign. For reference, since 2000, 394 tight ends have received at least 50 targets in a year. The averages for those tight ends were a 49.47 Reception NEP with a 0.61 Reception NEP per target and an 83.78% Reception Success Rate.

This year, Rudolph ranks third in Reception NEP, 12th in Reception NEP per target, and 23rd in Reception Success Rate among 41 tight ends with at least 10 targets. He's finally displaying his breakout potential.

Compared to the team's wide receivers, Rudolph is a giant standing six foot six inches tall. He dwarfs the teams' wide receivers, as no receiver is taller than 6'2''. Additionally, backup tight ends Rhett Ellison and David Morgan stand 6'5'' and 6'4'', respectively.

While the two are about the same height as Rudolph, they have only combined for two total targets. They're no threat to Rudolph's workload.

To illustrate the importance of Rudolph's height and usage, he has the third-highest red zone target share in the NFL with 40% of the Vikings' red zone targets.

Kyle RudolphTarRecYardsTDSsRec NEPRec NEP/tgtRec Success %
Red Zone633038.791.47100%
Rest of Field3118206018.120.5877.78%

Rudolph has dominated in the red zone. While he sees more volume over the rest of the field, his red zone work accounts for a lot of his efficient production.

Though his play in Week 5 suffered (2 receptions for 15 yards) against the tough Houston Texans defense, and it could continue when he faces the Philadelphia Eagles after the bye, Rudolph's red zone presence is huge for the Vikings.

And that's what's made him such an important piece for the Vikings this year.