Like wideouts, rookie tight ends rarely make an impact as their game is twofold, serving not only as a receivers but as blockers. Their learning curve is a bit different from wideouts, which some fantasy owners fail to realize. I remember a "duh" moment and telling a friend that tight ends aren't just used as big men who run routes, they block, too! Quite the concept, he thought. I'll add that my friend was from a foreign country, but it was still funny!
Do any rookie tight ends have the potential to make an impact?
One note and an important one: I took the time to read and review Pro Football Weekly's 2011 Draft Preview — no, really, I did! Understanding a player's role, his skills and the team around him always gives you an edge over your fellow owners because you understand the bigger picture. The Draft Preview gives you everything you need on a rookie's strengths and weaknesses entering the league.
Although I've written a few sentences on the pros and cons of each rookie listed, you should check out the book as that's where I garnered the information. I've been buying the Draft Preview every year since my career in the industry began. Surprisingly, you can still find it in some bookstores. It's also a great reference book, but if you choose not to go that route, PFW also has a great draft prospects section on its site, as well.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
The problem with Rudolph is that Visanthe Shiancoe is the starter and a pass-catching tight end. Rudolph will eventually be a solid tight end, but right now, he's going to have to learn how to play the game.
Rudolph is a solid tight end, coming in at 6 feet 6 1/8 inches, 259 pounds. He has a strong work ethic, is mentally tough and will play through pain. He can find the open area in coverage, is graceful with his adjustments and is a mismatch in the red zone. However, he doesn't have elite speed, needs to work on his blocking skills and was only an average producer throughout his college career.
Rudolph is not being taken in fantasy drafts, and for good reason. He's a bit raw and playing behind a proven fantasy starter. Rudolph has skills, so if Shiancoe gets hurt, there's an opportunity here. However, will he pick up enough of the offense to be able to make an impact? He has looked lost at times and, because of that, don't draft him but watch how he grows during the season just in case.
Lance Kendricks, Rams
There's good news here as Kendricks is going to see time on the field. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels uses the TE position as an offensive weapon. Not like an Antonio Gates or Jason Witten, but Kendricks did see seven targets in the first exhibition game. There's no doubt he has talent, and he'll need it as McDaniels is not afraid to send him downfield.
Kendricks is solid at 6 feet 2 7/8 inches, 243 pounds. He has great hands, attacks the ball and has outstanding athletic and movement skills. He can stretch a seam and escape linebackers. He's a willing blocker, a good competitor and is versatile as he's able to line up in many positions. He needs to add some bulk, though, to handle some of the bigger defensive ends. He can improve his route running and may need some time to adjust to the NFL.
The team plans on creating mismatches with Kendricks and TE Michael Hoomanawanui. Kendricks' size alone will give a secondary fits in trying to bring the big man down. This is a shift in philosophy, because the Rams have not had a worthy fantasy tight end since I started working in the industry in 1997! Kendricks' ADP (average draft position) is as the 25th tight end taken, 209th overall, the final rounds in most drafts. In larger leagues, I have no problem taking him as my second tight end, but why? You're better off using the waiver wire to grab him if he shows improvement. Great potential, but let it play out.
Julius Thomas, Broncos
Thomas is supposedly going to contribute this year, but remember this is a John Fox team. Fox, as a head coach has always teased us with potential at the position. Forgotten players such as Jeff King and Dante Rosario did show fantasy promise at times in their career but were never consistent on a run-first team. That stated, Thomas is having a solid camp and is surprising everyone. That shouldn't come as a surprise as he's an ex-basketball player, and hoops guys tend to be athletic and shine at times.
Thomas is 6 feet 4 5/8 inches, 246 pounds. He's athletic and is fluid, with natural hands. He has great eye-hand coordination and is explosive. He was a California prep basketball standout; thus, it's no surprise he has leaping ability. However, he's raw, with only one year of football, and rarely blocked.
QB Kyle Orton says Thomas has a feel for his position and can make all the catches. I like his potential, but let's be honest: Not only is he a project, but history dictates he'll have moments and nothing more. Like most rookie tight ends, let's watch this play out, and you can pick him up if he continues to show the potential he's been showing in camp.