Kyle Rudolph Offers Enticing Upside in Fantasy Football

With Kirk Cousins in the fold, Rudolph has a sneaky-good ceiling in 2018, and he's one of the best non-elite options at the position.

Tight end strategy has been a hotly-debated topic throughout the fantasy industry.

With most leagues employing a single tight end slot, the position as a whole tends to be devalued with the exception of an elite few at the top. Our own JJ Zachariason recently did a study on tight end strategy and found it to be one of the most unpredictable positions. Outside of Rob Gronkowski, employing a late-round tight end tactic has been viable due to the position's volatility.

However, Kyle Rudolph, one of the tight ends in this year's middle tier, provides sneaky upside and is a dark horse candidate to finish the year among the position's elite. Per Fantasy Football Calculator, Rudolph has an average draft position of 6.10 in standard formats (TE7), and he offers a ceiling that can rival that of those at the top tier of the position without having to burn an early-round pick to get it.

Efficiency and Volume

No stranger to heavy volume, Rudolph once led all tight ends in targets, seeing 132 looks in 2016. Despite a down 2017 campaign, Rudolph remained heavily involved in the Vikings' offense, finishing with 81 targets and 57 receptions for 532 yards and 8 scores.

Some of the reason Rudolph's 2017 numbers appear slightly depressed is likely due to a Week 14 ankle sprain that eventually led to surgery after the season. From Week 15 to 17, Rudolph recorded saw a mere 6 targets, which he turned into 4 receptions for 26 yards.

Rudolph plays an important role for the Vikings in the red zone. He is one of two tight ends to post red-zone target shares of more than 25 percent over the last three seasons. He rode that role to a TE6 finish in standard leagues last season after being the TE3 in 2016.

He also checks out well via our in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per-play basis. (You can read more about NEP in our glossary). Last season, Rudolph finished with a Reception NEP per Target of 0.61, which was above the league average for tight ends (0.57).

Among the five tight ends being taken in the middle rounds -- we'll say Round 5 through the end of Round 7 -- Rudolph led the pack in Reception NEP per Target last season.

Player ADP 2017 Targets Reception NEP per Target
Jimmy Graham 5.04 95 0.56
Greg Olsen 5.11 38 0.38
Evan Engram 6.06 115 0.54
Kyle Rudolph 6.12 81 0.61
Delanie Walker 7.04 111 0.51

And he's being selected fourth among this group.

Offensive Fit

Rudolph has been a mainstay in the Vikings' offense throughout his career, and he's had a pretty set-in-stone role in his last three seasons. Over that span, he has played at least 85 percent of the team's snaps. Last year, Rudolph accounted for 82 percent of the team's tight end yardage.

Of course, the Vikings' offense could look different in 2018 as they made a splash move this offseason, landing Kirk Cousins. But that's something that should only help Rudolph. Over the course of his career, Cousins has targeted tight ends with 24.5 percent of his throws, above the league average of 20.8 percent.

Additionally, Rudolph should continue to operate as Minnesota's de-facto number-three receiver. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen lead the way in the passing game, but the Vikes have only Laquon Treadwell and Kendall Wright as realistic number-three options at receiver.


Coming off the board late in the sixth round, Rudolph offers a safe floor and solid upside, making him one of the best picks at the position once you move past the elite tier of Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce.

He has garnered league-leading volume in the past, will be paired with a good quarterback who loves to target tight ends and finished above the other mid-round tight ends last year by our advanced metrics.

Going behind Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, and Evan Engram, Rudolph presents sneaky value in a range in which tight ends often fail to live up to expectations.