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Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

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Kyle Rudolph will be the Vikings’ offensive X-Factor for 2019

Kyle Rudolph will be the Vikings’ offensive X-Factor for 2019

The Minnesota Vikings and two-time Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph reached an agreement on a four-year extension, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

With Rudolph now signed through 2023, the tight end is free to go back to focusing on perfecting his play on the field. This extension has come at a good time for both Rudolph and the Vikings. Minnesota dramatically underachieved in 2018 and the team will need as many qualified players as they can get moving forward to avoid another disaster in 2019.

Rudolph has more than just the chance to be another veteran presence though. Because of his spot in the offense, Rudolph has the chance to be Minnesota’s X-Factor. With Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs at wide receiver and Dalvin Cook working toward a healthy third season at running back, Rudolph is in a sneakily good position.

It’s rare to see defenses that can cover two 1,000-yard receivers, a dual threat like Cook, and a star tight end. When it comes time for defenses to decide who to cover, they’ll worry about everyone other than Rudolph and by the time they realize he’s open, it will be too late.

It’s worth noting that Rudolph is a very successful player in his own right. Over the last four seasons, he has appeared in every game and has recorded 253 receptions, 2,501 receiving yards, and 24 receiving touchdowns. Keep in mind, the quarterbacks he’s played with during his career include Case Keenum, Christian Ponder, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater. The team’s current quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is the best quarterback Rudolph has ever had the chance to play with. Now that Cousins had a year to adjust to Minnesota, we can expect the passing game and Rudolph’s production to pick up.

Besides improvements in the passing game and the other great weapons around him, Rudolph has a notable set of advantages over most defenders. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, there’s almost no linebacker or safety who can possibly compete with him in the red zone. That size also comes in handy for short yardage situations, as Rudolph is able to shield the ball when he goes for a catch.

There’s a reason why he hasn’t averaged more than 10 yards per reception over the last two seasons, and that’s because he’s so crucial in those short distance situations. He’s also got a great set of hands. He caught just over 78% of all passes thrown his way in 2018. Comparatively, Diggs and Thielen caught 68.4% and 73.8% of their respective targets. Even All-Pro tight ends George Kittle and Travis Kelce only caught 64.7% and 68.6% of their respective targets. Considering how effective Rudolph is when he gets targeted, expect Cousins to be looking for his security blanket more this coming season.

Reliable, well-built, and surrounded by talent, Rudolph will benefit from the perfect storm in Minnesota this year. What really will make him the X-Factor though is his ability to uplift the team. When he missed the Pro Bowl last season and Diggs and Thielen both had great seasons, the team only finished 8-7-1.

Rudolph will be a big part in fixing that record this coming season. With the whole offense finally healthy and heading into its second season with Cousins, we could see 2016 numbers from Rudolph. That year he produced 83 receptions, 840 receiving yards, and seven receiving touchdowns. The Vikings only went 8-8 that year, but the team has a better quarterback and running back now. This team looks prepared to finally deliver a deep playoff run now.

We’ve seen the limitations of the Vikings when Rudolph isn’t at a Pro Bowl level. Even going on 30 years old though, the Notre Dame product will be the Vikings X-Factor this coming season. With plenty of other talented players around him, Rudolph is primed for a big year and will work to finally carry the Vikings to an NFC Championship.