- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Often we spend more time obsessing over what's missing rather than noticing what's right in front of our face. So it goes, I think, with the group of pass-catchers the Minnesota Vikings have assembled here at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
I think we can all agree that their wide receivers don't match up with the elite groups you'll find elsewhere in the division. But by all accounts, they have a tight end who could be as good as any player at his position in the NFC North.
Kyle Rudolph is in many ways a perfect target for a young quarterback who could use a security blanket in the early stages of his development. Quarterback Christian Ponder will look often for play-making wide receiver Percy Harvin this season, I'm sure, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Rudolph finishes the season as his most frequent target.
Why not? Rudolph is 6-foot-6 with 34-inch arms and bigger hands (10 3/4-inch) than new Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil (10 3/8th). I know we've had fun with discussion of long arms and hand size relative to left tackles, but for a tight end it means Rudolph has extraordinary range to reach and catch the ball. He's a balltrap that last season dropped only one of the 37 passes thrown his way, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He caught 26 of them, including three touchdowns.
"He's a guy that has a chance to be special," coach Leslie Frazier said when we spoke Thursday morning. "He works very hard and is very talented, there's no question about that. But the way he can catch the football is second-to-none. … His catching radius is amazing. If Christian gets it close to him, he knows that Kyle is going to come up with the football. That gives him a lot of confidence."
If you follow Rudolph or Ponder on Twitter, you know the spent a good portion of the offseason together -- not only at the Vikings' facility, but also in social settings. You might think it's silly, but it stands to reason that their friendship will only enhance Ponder's confidence in throwing Rudolph's way.
"It was kind of like we came in as freshmen together," Rudolph said after the Vikings' morning practice. "We naturally formed a bond. This team, it's been very well-documented how young we are, but we all get along really well. We have a good group of friends on the team that almost reminds us of when we were in college."
But Rudolph is thinking big, too, after spending the offseason watching video of the NFL's top tight ends. He has tried to emulate the way Tony Gonzalez creates separation at the top of his routes, and he also watched how the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez play off one another.
"I've got a full season under my belt, and then an entire offseason to rep all the stuff that we're installing now," Rudolph said. "Going into last year, installs were all new. Now it's just review, and you're able to work on more things other than just learning the plays."
The Vikings will be a run-oriented team as long Adrian Peterson is on their roster, so I'm not sure we can project a monster season for Rudolph from a statistical perspective. And we should also note that he'll eventually share some time with veteran newcomer John Carlson, who at the moment is nursing a sprained knee.
Carlson is a nice, professional tight end. But in my travels already this summer, more football people have asked me about Rudolph than any player on the Vikings' offense not named "Ponder." I'll get more of a chance to see him over the next few days, but already there is some buzz about him. Rudolph has a chance, as they say, to have a chance.