Monday, June 27, 2022

Saints-Slaying Tight End Could Join Bucs: Analysis

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With Rob Gronkowski’s future still in doubt, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could add a tight end that has rival New Orleans’ number.

Two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph, 32, helped the Minnesota Vikings beat New Orleans in the playoffs twice between 2018 and 2020 game-winning touchdown against the Saints in 2020 and in the Vikings’ comeback win in 2018, he caught five passes.

No current Bucs tight end has playoff experience other than Cameron Brate. The Saints have had a 6-0 regular-season record against the Bucs since 2019. Most notably, beyond Brate, the Bucs don’t have a proven veteran pass-catching tight end unless Gronkowski returns.

Rudolph also has a history of building chemistry with quarterbacks fast through a revolving door in Minnesota. He played with seven different quarterbacks who had six or more starts in a season between 2011 and 2020. During that stretch, Rudolph amassed 665 catches for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns.

His final season in New York for 2021 didn’t fare too well, with just 26 catches for 257 yards and a touchdown. The Giants notably finished 4-13 overall and 31st overall offense — the worst team Rudolph has played for since 2011.

While the Giants fired Rudolph in March, he’s not far from some of his prime. He has averaged at least 9.9 yards per reception in three of his last four seasons, and he has six touchdowns in 2019 and four in 2018. His 2017 season for 532 yards and eight touchdowns helped the Vikings achieve the NFC Championship with a backup quarterback.

Other competitors such as the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos have expressed interest in Rudolph. It wouldn’t cost a team much to sign him ahead of training camp. Rudolph made $2.4 million a Spotrac in New York last season.

Rudolph’s numbers dwarf Brate’s reception and yard numbers for each of the past four seasons. Brate had more touchdowns but caught most from superstar quarterback Tom Brady as opposed to Daniel Jones or Kirk Cousins ​​for Rudolph. After Brate, the Bucs have two experience games at tight plus rookies drafted no higher than the fourth round.

Codey McElroy has played in two games in his career while splitting time between the roster and the practice team. McElroy impressed the Bucs coaches with his blocking at minicamp, but head coach Todd Bowles said McElroy needed to prove himself in training camp.

Cade Otton, the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, sat out minicamp with an ankle injury. Otton produced solid numbers in Washington as a pass catcher.

Sixth-round pick Ko Kieft caught a touchdown pass during minicamp but served primarily as a blocker in Minnesota. Ben Beise and JJ Howland joined the team as undrafted free agents.

Gronkowski is undecided about his future with six weeks left before the Bucs start training camp. Neither Bowles nor Brady have expressed any certainty of a Gronkowski return. Brady’s longtime teammate said in April he will play for the Bucs when he returns, but the rest remains uncertain.

In two seasons with Brady, the Bucs have a 0-4 mark against the Saints.

That includes a 9-0 shutout loss in 2021 and a 38-3 loss in 2020. Brady has looked like a walker in all four games, and Gronkowski notably hasn’t scored any touchdowns in those losses.

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