The free-agent signing of veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph was not the most glamorous or expensive of the offseason for the New York Giants. It might, though, be one that pays big dividends.
Let’s take a closer look at Rudolph as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
Position: Tight end
Contract: Year 1 of two-year, $12 million contract | Guaranteed: $4.5 million | 2021 cap hit: $4.75 million
Career to date
Throughout his 10-year career with the Vikings, that has been Rudolph’s calling card. The four games Rudolph missed last season with a foot injury were the first games he sat out since the 2014 season. His lowest passer rating when targeted for a season was 92.3 in 2013. He has had a passer rating when targeted of 104.9 or above every season since 2014. He has dropped just two passes in the last four years, while making 133 receptions. Rudolph has not dropped a pass since 2018. He has fumbled just twice in 10 seasons. Only once in his career has he had a full-season catch percentage below 60 percent. His catch percentage has been above 70 percent in each of the past four seasons. He is a willing, capable inline blocker.
Rudolph has made the Pro Bowl twice. He has 453 catches for 4,488 yards (9.9 yards per catch) and 48 touchdowns. Rudolph’s high was 83 catches in 2015. He caught only 28 passes last season with his role in the passing game reduced.
“I’m looking forward to being able to bring both of those aspects [blocking and receiving]. Being able to improve my run game, pass protection over the last couple of years but knowing that I could certainly still help a football team, whether it be on first down and second down, third down, in the red zone. I really look forward to working with Evan and I think we can complement each other very well,” Rudolph said after the signing was announced.. “Obviously, he does things that I can’t even imagine of doing, but then you look throughout the rest of our room with Kaden [Smith] and Levine [Toilolo] and everyone that we have. We have four guys that can really go out and play at a high level.
“I think it allows your offense to really put defenses in tough situations when you can put multiple tight ends on the field. It really allows us to dictate how the game is going to go. I’m not even going to mention all the playmakers in the receiver room, there’s just so many opportunities for this offense to go out and put pressure on defenses. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
There are some questions about Rudolph.
The biggest question, of course, is how healthy he will be when the season starts. Will the foot injury Giants doctors found that require surgery slow him at the beginning of the season?
Rudolph said recently that he “won’t miss any football” due to the injury. That doesn’t mean he won’t miss practice time. He did not participate in on-field work during OTAs or mandatory mini-camp. We won’t know until we get there how much on-field work, if any, Rudolph will do during training camp or the preseason.
There is also the matter of how much Rudolph’s role in the passing game declined the past few seasons in Minnesota. In 2016, he had a career-high 132 targets. Last season, he was targeted 37 times in 12 games. The 2.3 targets per game were his fewest since his 2011 rookie season. Is that because Minnesota’s offense changed? Because Rudolph’s skills changed? Some combination of both?
One thing would seem certain. Rudolph is a classic tight end, much more the type of player offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had at the position when he was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys than Evan Engram. Rudolph was lined up inline on 522 of the 573 snaps he played last season. In 2019, he was inline for 790 of 895 snaps. Rudolph isn’t Jason Witten. He isn’t going to catch more more than 1,200 passes in his career or go to the Hall of Fame. He is, though, a good player who has a similar skill set. Maybe it’s OK to call Rudolph Jason Witten Lite.
We have been over the idea that Garrett’s offense asks the inline tight end to run short “Y Option” routes based on coverage and “Stick” routes. These are routes that often find the tight end standing still when the ball is thrown to him, and that don’t really fit the smaller, speedier Engram’s skillset. They fit Rudolph’s.
In a film study of what Rudolph brings to the Giants, our Nick Falato wrote:
“This addition should help this team in every facet of tight end play. Rudolph is a better run blocker than Evan Engram and he should act, most of the time, as the majority play-side blocker on some of the more utilized power/gap concepts.
“Rudolph is also a more traditional “Y” type of tight end; the type of player that Jason Witten was in Garrett’s system. A big-bodied tight end who can block, but also has very secure hands and acts as a good check-down option in the short to intermediate parts of the football field. Rudolph would be much better suited than Engram on those spacing concepts that require quick adjustment ability and soft natural hands - something that Engram just doesn’t possess.
“Rudolph can also act as a better pass protector in six-man protection packages when the running back releases into a route. He’s got quick feet, for his size, and long arms and usually does well enough to allow the quarterback to get rid of the football. He can also add a valuable red zone threat and he’s a better route runner from the tight end position. Engram is a much better athlete who is much more explosive and dangerous with the football in his hands, but there’s little doubt that Rudolph is a better fit for what Garrett wants to do with this offense.”
Provided that he is healthy, Rudolph should have plenty left to be a major asset to the Giants in 2021.