Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph should return to Pro Bowl form in Norv Turner’s offense


(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Minnesota Vikings ranked 13th in total yards last season but had a passing attack that lacked punch. Minnesota ranked 23rd in passing yards (3,427) and 27th in passing touchdowns (18), but the club is hoping Norv Turner, its new offensive coordinator, can help maximize a roster filled with talented players while grooming the franchise’s young quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.

Turner has a reputation of establishing a strong running game, but he doesn’t do it at the expense of his receivers. Only twice has a Turner-coached team failed to have a receiver in the top 10 in terms of yards per catch (minimum 30 receptions). In 1998, when he was the head coach of the Washington Redskins, Michael Westbrook and Leslie Shepherd ranked 11th and 12th, respectively, and in 2003, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, Chris Chambers ranked 13th.

Overall, in eight of the last nine seasons, seven wide receivers coached by Turner have ranked in the top five in yards per reception. Jerome Simpson had the highest yards per catch for the Vikings last season (15.13), but that was good for 19th best in the NFL.

Of particular note is how Turner involves his tight ends into the offense. Since he became head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 2007, the top tight end in Norv Turner’s system has never scored less than seven touchdowns and has fallen short of 700 yards only once.


(Source: Pro Football Reference)

That bodes well for Kyle Rudolph, who made the Pro Bowl in 2012 after catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns. Last season, he had 30 receptions for 313 yards and just three touchdowns in just eight games after suffering a broken foot.

Like Antonio Gates in San Diego and Jordan Cameron in Cleveland, Rudolph also comes from a basketball background, having been offered a scholarship from Wake Forest before deciding to play football at Notre Dame.

Cameron saw his receptions quadruple from 2012 to 2013, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. According to Pro Football focus, he had six receptions of 20 or more yards, which ranked third among NFL tight ends.

Cameron, like Gates with the Chargers under Turner, was often flexed out into the slot, where he ran 375 of his 622 routes (60.3 percent) last season, averaging 1.0 yards per route run. Only Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez lined up as a slot receiver more often among tight ends who took at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps in the slot. Before his injury, Rudolph ran 40.2 percent of his routes from the slot, averaging 1.98 yards per route run.

Expect Rudolph to become more involved in the red-zone offense, similar to his 17-target, nine-touchdown performance in 2012. Under Turner, Cameron had his number called 19 times in the red zone last season, whereas Rudolph had five in Minnesota before the injury.

There is enough firepower and talent on this Vikings team to allow Turner to create a balanced attack, which should give any defensive squad fits. And Rudolph figures to be a centerpiece.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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