Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the tight ends of each NFC North team. Today: Minnesota Vikings.
Tight ends can be a young quarterback’s best friend. That idea -- and the fact that Kyle Rudolph probably should not have lasted as long as he did on draft day -- was enough for the Vikings to pull the trigger on the talented two-way tight end even though they didn't seem to have a need at the position. Minnesota is now set to employ more double-tight end sets on early downs, getting their best players on the field while also helping their offensive tackles in the run and pass game.
Rudolph was not himself last year at Notre Dame, dealing with nagging injuries before tearing his hamstring in September and undergoing season-ending surgery. What he will bring to the Vikings this year is a bit of a mystery, though with his size and two-way skills Rudolph should get a chance to contribute immediately. He also could quickly become the best friend of rookie QB Christian Ponder, with the two poised to grow up together in the NFL.
Like many Vikings, Visanthe Shiancoe took a step backward in 2010. Shianco struggled to get separation in his routes and didn’t look to have the same burst and acceleration he had in 2009. He is still a very good athlete for a tight end, though, and should improve his production as a receiver. Because of Minnesota's offensive line woes Shiancoe was asked to block more than usual in 2010, where he was a major liability and took too many penalties. Personally, I think he is a better player than he showed last season, but probably not at the level of his 11-touchdown performance in 2009. Adding Rudolph might help get more from Shiancoe as well.
You know exactly what you are going to get from Jimmy Kleinsasser. He will catch a pass or two and rumble around the field after securing the football, but he is by no means a weapon in the passing game. Kleinsasser is a superb blocker. though. He is a great help to the Vikings’ tackles in protection and the kind of tight end you run behind in short-yardage situations. He is a true professional.
Jeff Dugan was in the mix last season but brought very little to the table. The addition of Rudolph might move Dugan off the roster.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.