It’s not how Kyle Rudolph envisioned, but he’s made a solid first step toward fulfilling the potential the Vikings saw when signing him to a lucrative five-year extension in 2014.
Instead of catching passes from Teddy Bridgewater over loaded fronts caused by Adrian Peterson, Rudolph has done one-half of the early heavy lifting in the Vikings’ passing attack under Sam Bradford.
“I think it’s because they sit together on the team plane,” head coach Mike Zimmer said with a smirk.
Rudolph has found early success with Bradford, catching a touchdown pass in each of his two starts while tying receiver Stefon Diggs for the team lead in targets (18) from their new quarterback.
They’ve been primarily responsible for most of the Vikings’ offensive highlights through three weeks, marking an unexpected role reversal as they sit with the league’s worst running game up to this point.
“Kyle has a good catch radius, he’s been doing a good job of getting open,” Zimmer added. “Sam has done a nice job in looking at the reads and knowing where to go.
“I’m sure he’ll start drawing more attention.”
That’s been the Vikings’ thinking every offseason after Rudolph turned in solid preseason performances only to be stricken by injuries that caused him to miss much of the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Last year, he played a background role that saw him serve more as a blocker for Peterson and his league-high 327 carries. Now he’s currently set an early pace, with 14 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns, which would see him shatter his career highs in yardage and targets. Primarily with a quarterback he met only a few weeks ago.
“He’s just one of those guys that he’s kind of easy to develop chemistry with,” Bradford said. “From day one, throwing with him out on the field, he’s one of those guys as a quarterback can just trust. You know if you put the ball in his area, he’s going to go up and he’s going to make a play. He’s going to get it, so. The many extra routes sessions we’ve had, it’s helped develop that trust.”
Rudolph, on his seventh starting quarterback in his sixth NFL season, credited additional work for the early rapport with Bradford.
“It takes work,” Rudolph said. “We try to take advantage of special teams periods before practice, after practice, making sure we get extra reps.”