There are many ways to identify a fantasy football sleeper. Most of the time though, a sleeper is a guy, who for one reason or another is looking at an expanded offensive role, either due to his development or changes on his team’s roster. In the case of Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, both are true. Not only is he expected to drastically improve in his second NFL season, he also takes over the starting tight end position for the departed Visante Shiancoe.
In the NFL, players normally show the most improvement from year one to year two. Often times the improvement is drastic and Rudolph is a player that fantasy owners can expect to have a big jump up in terms of productions in 2012.
Normally, tight end is not a position with a lot of impact player but Rudolph is the kind of player that has the potential to make an impact as a fantasy player. In his rookie season, he acquitted himself well in limited action, catching 26 passes for 249 yards (9.6 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Yet, he was limited mainly by a lack of opportunities.
For some reason, the Vikings decided to keep Shiancoe as their starting tight end for most of the season, wasting 70 targets on him, which served no purpose other than to limit the development of Rudolph.
The Vikings also decided to sign another veteran tight end this offseason in John Carlson. However, Rudolph, a second round pick of the Vikings in 2011, is more than ready to take the next step in his development.
Last season, Minnesota threw 109 passes to its tight ends but Rudolph received only 39, which is less than three targets per game. Considering he averaged almost seven yards a target, it would behoove the Vikings to target him much more in the passing game this season.
The team is also extremely weak at wide receiver outside of Percy Harvin, so for all intents and purposes, Rudolph is the second best option for second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to throw to, remembering that tight ends are the best friend of a young quarterback.
With the expected improvement of both Rudolph and Ponder, plus the added bonus of a full offseason to work together, there is no reason that Rudolph should not receive around 100 targets this season.
Based off his 2012 numbers, 100 targets should lead to around 60 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns. Solid enough numbers to be a borderline TE1 on any fantasy team, which will provide great value for a guy who should be available past the tenth round.