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Injuries didn't concern Vikings

4/30/2011
Kyle Rudolph was the top tight end in this class, but injuries cost him nine games the past two years. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Be it the truth or a wives tale, there is an adage about assessing the injury history of NFL prospects: Players with a high frequency of injuries in college often mirror that rate at the professional level.

Put more bluntly: Injury-prone is injury-prone, no matter where you're playing.

Clearly, the Minnesota Vikings are hoping the top of their draft proves the exception. Thursday night, we discussed the impact of shoulder and arm injuries on Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. (ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, for one, is skeptical that Ponder will have any better luck in the NFL.)

In the second round Friday night, the Vikings drafted Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph -- a top prospect who missed portions of the past two seasons because of shoulder and hamstring injuries, respectively. Both injuries required surgery.

The Vikings, however, gave Rudolph a clean bill of health, have no concerns about his future and considered him a first-round talent worthy of selection despite a more-than-competent trio of incumbents at the position.

"We had no issues with him medically after he was cleared by our doctors," vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said. "When he fell to us, he was too good of a player for us to pass up. He has some unique skills as a tight end, and we're going to stay true to our board. Normally, if he hadn't had that hamstring injury, I don't think we have a shot to get him. We feel we got great value where we got Kyle."

Rudolph is a 6-foot-5, 266-pounder who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. He caught 90 passes in 29 games over three seasons for Notre Dame. Typically a tight end with those measurables would be a surefire first-round pick. But Rudolph didn't just have a hamstring injury last season. It tore completely from the bone in October, three months after he originally pulled it. He missed the final seven games of last season and soon had surgery.

That episode was enough to drop Rudolph from the first round. Friday night, Rudolph insisted he's 100 percent healthy but admitted the injury was an issue for some teams.

"The hamstring checked out completely 100 percent," he said. "It was something that I got it fixed over six months ago. By the time my pro day came around, I was 100 percent. The MRI showed it is 100 percent healed. All the doctors dug and prodded on it and they couldn't find anything."

I don't doubt that to be the case, but when a player misses nine games over two seasons, it's fair to at least inspect his history further. The Vikings have done that and have no long-term questions.

Incumbents Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan are all under contract for 2011, but it's worth noting each is entering the final year of his deal. Rudolph could prove a fortunate turn of events for the Vikings, providing he can stay on the field.

"I know we'll sort it all out as we get there," Spielman said. "We just wanted to stay true to our board, and he was by far the highest player on our board at that time."