Rudolph looks like top tight end prospect

The 2011 senior tight end class definitely has a lot of size and intriguing depth, but what it lacks is a true blue-chip talent with the ability to mature into an upper-echelon starter at the next level. Enter Notre Dame standout Kyle Rudolph, who displays not only the kind of athletic ability to make plays in the pass game but is also a strong enough athlete to win consistently in the run game. Today, the National Football Post breaks down Rudolph’s game plus three other junior tight ends to keep an eye on next season.

The cream of the crop

Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (6-6, 260)

The first thing that jumps out to me about Rudolph is his overall size. He looks like an undersized offensive tackle the way his frame is strapped together. And much like an undersized OT, he’s a long-armed kid with natural flexibility in his lower half who can sit into a three-point stance and really off the ball. Rudolph does look a bit uncomfortable at times in pass protection because of a tendency to overextend and lose his balance into blocks. 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 block inside but is also very effective on perimeter runs when asked to set the edge (see vs. USC DE Everson Griffen).

In the pass game, Rudolph 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. Rudolph 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 much better straight-line athlete than his frame would indicate with the vertical speed to get down the seam and threaten secondaries over the top. 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 ball 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, as he has a tendency at times to drift toward defenders instead of working toward or sitting down in the space.

Nevertheless, he still looks like the best tight end prospect in the nation at this stage and has the size and overall athleticism to mature into a very good starting in-line TE at the next level.

Others worth noting:

Deangelo Peterson, LSU (6-4, 240)
Looks and runs like a bulked-up wideout and has the makings of a very capable H-back/move tight end at the next level.

George Bryan, NC State (6-5, 265)
Possesses great size and overall power in the run game with the savvy and short-area quickness to separate underneath in the pass game.

Blake Ayles, USC (6-5, 245)
A good-looking tight prospect who blocks with a mean streak and has the athleticism to separate for himself vs. man. Is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

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