Update August 24: The Vikings still favor sets that use two tight ends and are experimenting with splitting Smith out wide more. It’s too early to say that the second-year tight end will outperform Rudolph, but he should receive more opportunities.
In this series we will look at the most important fantasy football position battles for each NFL team. Opportunity is king in fantasy, as you can’t produce fantasy statistics without getting on the field. So, the first step when looking for value plays is to project, correctly, which players will win training camp battles.
The Minnesota Vikings broke up Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs this offseason by trading Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for draft capital. While Minnesota did draft pass catchers this year and should have a sturdy run game led by Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins will need reliable targets. Many are predicting a battle at tight end, and Kyle Rudolph could be unseated by the up-and-coming Irv Smith Jr.
Rudolph was a top 10 fantasy player for three straight years in standard and PPR leagues until 2019. He dropped outside the top 10 in standard leagues last year after recording just 39 receptions for 367 yards and six scores. While his touchdown total was solid, his reception and receiving yard numbers were his worst since 2014.
Smith is considered to be on the brink of a breakout year. He tallied 36 receptions for 311 yards and two scores as a rookie, nearly matching Rudolph’s stats. Minnesota expects a lot from the Alabama product, as he was a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He cracked the top 32 in standard and PPR league’s as a backup and is one of the more enticing sophomore players.
Rudolph has a hefty contract worth $36 million and will likely get the starting nod in Week 1, but don’t be surprised if Smith takes his job during the season. I’d be higher on Smith’s season-long fantasy upside here.