He does an impressive job getting off the line quickly as a run blocker, extending his long arms under the chest plate of defenders and sealing at the point of attack. He's the kind of athlete who not only can get his feet around and reach the block inside, but is also very effective on perimeter runs when asked to set the edge (see vs. Southern Cal DE Everson Griffen).
In the pass game he does a nice job working his inside jab step in order to get a clean release off the line, and because of his balance and flexibility he wastes very little motion firing out of his stance and getting into his routes. He does a nice job selling his routes in the pass game, setting up defenders and using his big frame and suddenness to consistently separate vs. man.
He's nearly impossible to stop when defenders try to get physical with him because his hands are simply too strong, as he can disengage and separate at the blink of an eye. Plus, he's a better straight-line athlete than his frame would indicate. While he will start to lumber at times trying to run away from a defender in the open field — like any 265-pound receiver — he does have the gear to at least threaten linebackers down the seam.
He plays with a mean streak once he gets his hands on the ball and has the power and balance to break a tackle and create after the catch. He's a natural plucker who locates the football quickly out of his breaks and looks natural adjusting to the throw. However, he still needs to learn to do a better job vs. zone coverage at this stage, as he has a tendency at times to drift toward defenders instead of working toward or sitting down in space.
Missed the second half of the season with a hamstring injury and surgery back in October in order to repair it.
Impression: Possesses the size to win as an "on-the-line Y" at the next level in both the run and pass game, and he is a guy who I could see coming in and making an immediate impact from day one and starting in the NFL for a long time."
Rudolph got off to a great start, becoming the first true freshman to start the opener at tight end in Notre Dame history. He started all 13 games, catching 29 passes for 340 yards and two scores. Despite missing two games with a shoulder injury, Rudolph caught 33 more passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. A consensus 2010 preseason All-American, Rudolph nearly matched his freshman year totals in the first six games (28-328-3) before missing the final seven games with a torn right hamstring that had actually bothered him since preseason practices.
Rudolph's pre-draft predicament is not unlike former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed his entire junior season with a back injury but still opted to enter the draft early. The Patriots picked Gronkowski in the second round (No. 42 overall) last April, and appear to have a bargain. Rudolph's ability to stretch defenses and give some in-line blocking could land him in the top 40 overall in the 2011 draft.
Release: Gets off the line well for his size, whether lined up with his hand down or standing up. Gets up the seam in a hurry if unchecked at the line. Flexible enough to run around traffic off the line to get into his route, but must prove he can handle physical NFL linebackers.
Hands: Generally reliable move-the-chains receiver who also makes plays down the field. Keeps his hands in front of his body to snatch passes, even when facing the quarterback. Able to reach the ball forward with one hand for scores or first downs. Makes the circus catch in traffic. Adjusts much better to high passes than those thrown low or behind him. Will drop the occasional "head scratcher" when feeling a hit or trying to run before securing the ball.
Route Running: Runs like a receiver, stretching the field vertically and pressing safeties and linebackers before stopping on square-ins. Lines up with his hand down, in the slot and in the backfield. Often used on short outs to move the chains. Gets his head around quickly to see the ball. Sells jerk routes with head fake to move safety inside or outside, though his movements are not sudden. Tough matchup down the seam because of his height and ability to grab passes above his head. Runs a lot of rounded and straight-line routes.
After The Catch: A bullish runner, he gives good effort to get yards after the catch. Not in the Tony Gonzalez category in terms of athleticism and elusiveness, but flashes the ability to make the first man miss with a stiff arm or quick stop. Churns his legs to keep moving forward after contact; does not break as many tackles as you would expect and his height makes him lose the leverage battle.
Blocking: Has the size to be an effective in-line blocker at the next level. Capable of firing off the ball to seal defensive ends. Widens his base on the edge, uses long arms to hold off college defenders. Needs a lot of technique work as an open-field blocker. Gives some effort when engaged, but does not sustain or win battles as often as he should given his size. Stays too upright when approaching defenders and seems uncertain of his target, misses the inside man too often.
Intangibles: Solid locker room presence; has the work ethic and intelligence to succeed at the next level. Had surgery on a separated left shoulder before the 2010 season, another surgery on a right hamstring avulsion, which means the muscle detaches from the bone.
Blocking: Blocking definitely isn’t Rudolph’s strong suit, but he does show great tenacity and determination when he is asked to slow down defensive linemen. Is somewhat inconsistent at recognizing and picking up blitzes. He uses his toughness to take on defenders and will fight to the whistle on almost every play. Will need to work on hand placement and getting better leverage on defenders to stop their progress instead of just slowing them down. There will need to be some major improvement in blocking if Rudolph hopes to become an elite tight end in the NFL.
Hands: One of the things that makes Rudolph one of the top tight end prospects is his outstanding ability to catch the ball. Instead of using his body to catch the ball, Rudolph extends and uses his hands on almost every reception to bring the ball in cleanly. The ball almost never gets into his frame, and he rarely drops passes. Even does an exceptional job of making the catch when defenders try to roughly separate him from the ball. Catching is definitely one of the most impressive aspects of his game.
Release: After spending the majority of his time at Notre Dame split out as a wide receiver, Rudolph will have some struggles getting past the front seven instead of smaller defensive backs and working his way into his route. He sometimes has trouble getting to his top speed quickly, so not being able to get off the line fast only makes his ability to get down field worse. Needs to expand his arsenal of moves to get past defensive ends and linebackers while using his size and strength to quickly muscle past defenders.
Route Running: Routes will need some work if Rudolph hopes to make it at the next level. He runs some of his routes very lazily, often rounded off or not run at full speed if he feels that the ball isn’t going to come his way. There needs to be a lot more consistency with the precision of his route running, which will lead to him getting open more often while providing his quarterback with an extra option to throw to. Improvement in this area is more of a matter of effort rather than ability, as Rudolph has more than enough talent and athleticism to run crisp, concise routes every play.
Size: Even with his outstanding speed, Rudolph has a rather impressive frame that still has room for growth. He could use to bulk up and add some more muscle, but has a solid start that will allow him to be effective and productive as a rookie. Biggest reason that he needs to bulk up is to give him better chances of not duplicating a college career that was plagued by injuries. Jump balls shouldn’t be an issue in the NFL due to his prototypical 6’5’’ height.
Vision: With his outstanding speed, Rudolph is able to find seems in the defense while running routes, and once he has caught the ball, has the ability to make people miss. Often turns short gains into medium gains with his excellent field awareness and combination of speed and strength. On crossing routes, he knows when to sit in the hole and give his quarterback a big target. Excels at picking up yards after the catch and can usually make at least the first defender miss when in the open field.
Final Word: If he can stay healthy and work on some of his fundamentals, mainly blocking, Rudolph could turn into one of the most productive tight ends the NFL has seen in recent years. During the 2010 season, he was on pace to have career-highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns before getting injured and missing the last six games of the season. He has shown glimpses of brilliance, but will need to be more consistent in all facets of his game in order to live up to his potential. The consistency is coachable, so hopes are high.
There have been no character or intangible concerns for Rudolph to this point. He is a well-respected teammate who is highly regarded in the locker room. Displays great attitude and works hard on and off the field to better himself and his teammates. May sometimes slack off during plays that aren’t designed to go to him or if his team is down big, but for the most part, gives great effort throughout the game and during practices.
His draft stock may suffer a slight decline if he can’t prove that he is at least on the path to full recovery, as he has had numerous injuries during his time at Notre Dame. A should injury kept him out of the last two games of 2009, and then he missed the last six games of the 2010 regular season due to a hamstring injury.
Even though it is uncertain if he will declare for the 2011 NFL Draft, he is arguably the best tight end prospect that’s eligible. Many scouts will be concerned with his injuries. However, if he can make progress and give a good workout during his pro day and at the NFL Combine, Rudolph could easily be taken in the mid-to-late first round."
Rudolph is the best tight end in his class.
His production in high school was fantastic as tight ends usually don’t get much love in terms of overall recruiting, but he managed to “Wow” scouts. Luckily for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, he elected to attend school in South Bend.
Rudolph came in right away to make an impact for Notre Dame and started every game as a freshman. A shoulder injury kept him out of three games as a sophomore, and he missed seven more games as a junior with a hamstring injury.
For a man of Rudolph’s stature, he sure does run well. He has excellent speed for a tight end, and can stretch the field. He has strong hands, and catches the ball well in traffic. He does a nice job getting separation, and finding holes in the zone coverage. Rudolph runs well after the catch and has does a nice job of catching the ball with his hands, rather than his body. He has improved as a blocker, although he still needs more work. He’s quite a physical player who isn’t afraid to run over a defender to gain the extra yard. He doesn’t get knocked off his route easily either, and isn’t afraid of contact in the middle of the field.
Injury concerns have to be #1 with a guy like Rudolph. The shoulder injury in 2009 raises concerns, and even moreso the hamstring injury that left him out of seven games in 2010, which was a nagging one even as early as spring training. Some question his work ethic as he doesn’t always seem to give 100%. He’s been known to take a few plays off, and doesn’t give it his all on plays that aren’t going to him or aren’t in his area, which is a red flag. He doesn’t have great acceleration, as it takes him a bit to get to the next gear, and he has had some mental lapses when attempting to catch passes, although his drops were quite uncharacteristic.
Rudolph screams first round talent, but in a top heavy draft, and a low demand for tight ends, he will most likely fall to the second round and be a early to mid second round selection. Denver is in desperate need for a play making tight end for Tim Tebow, who loved Aaron Hernandez at Florida, but with so many defensive holes, they could elect to pass on Rudolph. Arizona and Houston could take a look at Rudolph in the early part of the second round, but Rudolph could slip even further to a team like Indianpolis, Atlanta, Seattle or Pittsburgh at the bottom of the second round.
NFL Comparison: Brandon Pettigrew"
Negatives: Needs to show better release moves... Injuries have plagued him his entire career... More of a receiving threat than blocker... Still developing as a blocker... Could add some muscle mass... Missed the final two games in 2009 with a shoulder injury, tore hamstring Oct. 9 vs. Pittsburgh and will miss the remainder of this season... Offseason will ultimately determine his draft stock."
Weaknesses: Has been injury prone, and chose to enter the NFL after missing the final seven games of his junior season. More of a finesse, position & seal blocker at this stage of his development. Needs to learn to be more physical.
Projection: If Rudolph performs well at the combine and checks out medically, he should find himself chosen in the second half of round one. With an average showing he should still come off the board in round two, unless medical staffs red-flag him. Pro Bowl potential."
The time it takes to come back from such a surgery is usually about six months. That puts Rudolph's timeline right in the middle of April. He does not need to be at 100 percent to enter the draft early, but he needs to be well on his way to recovery to take that risk when the draft deadline approaches. Rudolph is talented enough that NFL teams will look past the injury, but his stock would slip if he cannot do any full workouts prior to the draft.
It remains to be seen how close Rudolph will be to a full recovery before the draft, but this is not the first case of an injured player heading to the NFL early and getting drafted in the first round. Half of Oklahoma's team, give or take, did it last year. Rudolph has proven to be that good of a tight end and getting out of Notre Dame right now would not be the worst idea for Rudolph's future."
His wingspan also provides the quarterback with a big target as he is able to make plays on passes that are wide as well as high. The security blanket is at his best in third-down situations. Despite missing the final three games of the 2009 season due to a shoulder injury, Rudolph was the lone sophomore to be a John Mackey Award semifinalist and is the only nominee to return in 2010. So he is not only the top junior prospect at the tight end position, but many believe he will be the first tight end selected should he declare for the 2011 NFL Draft. To do so, he will have to build on his sophomore success and recover fully from the shoulder injury, which needed off-season surgery. If Rudolph has the type of year he is capable of as the Irish’s second option behind Michael Floyd, the versatile tight end could vault into the first round.
The Notre Dame product might be the most pro-ready junior tight end the NFL has seen in years. Standing at 6’6” and tipping the scales at 265 pounds Rudolph is the absolute prototype for a three-down, inline tight end—if teams were to build a tight end from scratch, those would be the measurements they would input. Combine that with his unique athleticism, superb instincts, great motor, natural gigantic hands, his ability to process information, and the fact that he is a great teammate and it’s easy to see why this young man has been on the radar of pro scouts since his freshman year in South Bend. From a purely athletic standpoint Rudolph moves exceedingly well for a man his size. His light feet, smooth hips, and great burst give him rare separation ability, as well as surprising wiggle in the open field. What makes Rudolph such a complete prospect at the tight end position is his ability to run block. His natural strength and explosive hips allow him to not only be a deft run blocker, but excel in pass protection as well.
While Rudolph has good short-area quickness and light feet his long speed is not elite for a tight end, which limits his potential. What this means is that Rudolph’s route tree in the NFL is likely going to be limited to about 20 yards down the field, as he will offer little as a deep threat. Rudolph also has injury concerns, which mostly stem from his style of play and his recent off-season shoulder injury. Comparing him to last year’s top tight end at the same stage in their development, Rudolph is more balanced than Jermaine Gresham but lacks the former Sooner’s upside. Nevertheless, if the tight end has a healthy and productive junior year then there is an excellent possibility of him being both a first round pick and the first tight end taken in the 2011 NFL draft."
Sources say he is leaning toward returning to school. If he decides to exit early, he will need to improve his base strength and improve as a blocker, being more advanced as a receiver. Nonetheless, he still could compete readily."
He will very possibly get drafted in the 1st Round, as he is clearly the best Tight End in the Class. Furthermore, his fusion of Blocking and Receiving talents make him a clear candidate to join the explosive growth of the Wing Back position: as a Tight End who lines up on the Lines of Scrimmage, Out Wide, or, in a rapidly emerging Front, as a Wing Back, often Going in Motion as either a Blocker or as a Receiver.
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