The Vikings were accused of reaching by some on Thursday night when they selected quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the first round of the NFL draft. The selection seemed to run contrary to the team's long-standing philosophy of taking the best player available.
On Friday night, the Vikings returned to their usual means of operation and stayed true to their board by selecting Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round. However, the decision was a bit of a surprise considering that of the Vikings' many positional needs, tight end didn't seem to be near the top of the list.
"We felt that he was too good of a player to pass up," said Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel. "We felt that he has a lot of unique skills as a tight end and we wanted to stay true to our board. That was a situation where there was a player that normally, if he hadn't had that hamstring injury [last season], we wouldn't even had a shot to get. We feel that we got great value when we got Kyle."
Spielman and Co. will attempt to get more value Saturday on the final day of the draft. After having only two picks in the first three rounds -- the Vikings sent their third-rounder to New England last season in the Randy Moss trade -- they are slated to have seven selections in the final four rounds.
This includes the ninth pick in the fourth round and two selections in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. The Vikings own a compensatory pick in the sixth and seventh rounds and those can't be traded. The Vikings have yet to address needs that include the offensive and defensive line, the secondary and wide receiver.
Spielman indicated that the Vikings made some inquiries into trading back into the third round. Part of the reason it didn't happen was that the Vikings could have tried to move down in the second and add a third but the team felt Rudolph was too great of value to pass on at No. 43 overall.
"Because this is a deep draft, we're going to have the ability to get a lot more players that are going to come in and help us [Saturday]," Spielman said. "To have a fourth, and two fives, and two sixes, and two sevens, and without college free agency [because of the NFL's labor situation], that's going to help you get some players at least you know you have."
Rudolph joins a depth chart that includes starter Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan. All three will be entering the final season of their contracts, and Rudolph's presence likely means it will be difficult for Dugan to make the roster. Kleinsasser is 34 and will be entering his 13th NFL season, and it's uncertain how much longer he will play after 2011.
The Vikings could have turned their attention somewhere other than tight end if they hadn't lost 2010 seventh-round pick Mickey Shuler (Penn State) to Miami when they tried to sneak him through waivers and sign him to their practice squad.
Rudolph, who declared for the draft after his junior season, likely would have been a first-round pick if he hadn't suffered a severe hamstring injury last season. He played the first six games with a sore right hamstring before tearing two tendons off the bone against Pittsburgh. He underwent season-ending surgery in mid-October.
Rudolph admits that, in retrospect, he should have shut himself down until what had been a hamstring pull was healed "instead of trying to be a tough guy and grind through it."
The hamstring injury is now a non-issue, according to Rudolph, and he's ready to go. Never a speedster, he reportedly posted respectable 40-yard dash times of 4.78 and 4.8 at his Pro Day in April.
"The hamstring checked out completely 100 percent," he said. "It was something that I got fixed over six months ago and by the time my pro day came around I was 100 percent. ... All the doctors dug and prodded on it and they can't find anything."
Spielman confirmed Vikings doctors were satisfied that Rudolph's hamstring was fine. Spielman points to Rudolph's ability to run routes and catch the ball as his greatest attributes, although he does need to develop as a blocker.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave envision the potential of having the 6-6 Rudolph and 6-4 Shiancoe on the field at the same time in some packages.
"[That] would really create some mismatches for defenses," Frazier said. "In our game, that's a big part of what we are trying to do, create mismatches."
Despite this potential advantage, Rudolph admitted he was among those a little surprised the Vikings took him.
"I met with them at the combine but it was one of 15 meetings I had at the combine," he said. "I was just watching, hoping my name would be called and I got the phone call. I'm super excited, and I can't wait to be a Viking."