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Sun, Feb 7, 2016

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Kyle Rudolph and the Norv Turner effect

By Larry Hartstein | Senior Analyst
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph is a prime breakout candidate. (USATSI)

Give Norv Turner a tight end in his prime, he'll make him a focal point.

It happened in Cleveland last year when Jordan Cameron drew 117 targets, tied for third among tight ends, despite missing a game. It happened in San Diego when Antonio Gates averaged 111 targets from 2006-09. Turner, the Vikings' new offensive coordinator, has been emphasizing the tight end as a receiver since his days with Jay Novacek in Dallas.

In six of the last seven seasons, Turner's primary tight end has finished as a top-seven Fantasy TE.

Now it's Kyle Rudolph's turn. He's 24 and, like Gates and Cameron, comes from a basketball background. The 6-6, 259-pounder had hoops scholarship offers to schools like Wake Forest, but chose to play football at Notre Dame.

He might not be quite as athletic as Cameron, but remember Rudolph made the 2012 Pro Bowl, finished as the No. 9 Fantasy tight end and is just now entering his prime. He's fully recovered from last season's broken foot.

Cameron drew 19 red-zone targets last season, third-most behind Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez. Expect Rudolph to be featured in the red zone too. He caught nine touchdowns in his last full season and won't have to compete for targets with John Carlson, now in Arizona.

Turner had Cameron line up in the slot more than 60 percent of the time. Rudolph lined up in the slot 40.2 percent of the time last year.

"Based on how Turner utilized Gates and Cameron, we can expect Rudolph to be less of a traditional in-line tight end and line up in the slot more frequently," according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

On average, Cameron was the 13th tight end drafted last season, despite his preseason hype. Martellus Bennett went off the board earlier. Cameron averaged the fourth-most Fantasy points and left many owners kicking themselves for not trusting the combination of Cameron's obvious physical gifts and the Norv Turner effect.

Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard and Nathan Zegura all rank Rudolph 10th this year. Eisenberg called Rudolph an early sleeper and pointed out Cameron thrived in Turner's offense despite playing with quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. Minnesota's Matt Cassel is at least as competent.

Richard noted "the arrival of tight end developer Norv Turner to run the offense should put Rudolph in prime position to finally break out."

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