Height: 6’6’’ | Weight: 260 | Notre Dame
Agility: Rudolph is an outstanding play-maker who knows what do when the ball is in his hands, due in large part to his rare athleticism. For his size, he has exceptional speed that allows him to outrun defensive linemen and linebackers. In order to be a real threat in the NFL, he will need to add some bulk, so his agility could take a hit. However, if he can add muscle while maintaining his agility and acceleration, he will continue to pose a big threat for opposing secondaries. One of the speedier tight end prospects of the 2011 NFL Draft with an approximate 40-yard-dash time of 4.6.
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.