#6 - Kyle Rudolph
On pace for a career high for catches in a season, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph had his season cut short after only 8 games in 2013. Rudolph suffered a broken leg during a touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9. The injury forced the Vikings to place Rudolph on Injured Reserve and be lost without their Pro Bowl tight end for the remainder of the season.
Rudolph was one of the few bright spots for Minnesota during their first 8 games of 2013 in which they went 1-7. Before his injury, the Vikings tight end was on pace 60 catches, over 600 yards receiving, and more than 10 yards per catch. Those statistics would have all been career highs for Rudolph and would have ranked him as one of the NFL’s top 15 tight ends statistically in 2013.
His best game of 2013 came in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers. Although the Vikings lost, Rudolph caught a season high 9 passes for 97 yards and a TD. In the 4 previous games, he had a total of 11 catches and only one TD.
Rudolph was also on pace for 6 touchdowns in 2013, which would have been tied for 8th best among the NFL’s tight ends. Although his season was cut short, 2014 may be a career year for the 4th year tight end with the Vikings offense now under the control of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Turner’s previous seasons as an offensive coordinator/head coach have produced very favorable stats for the tight ends in his offense. In his previous 3 seasons (1 with Cleveland, 2 with San Diego) his team’s top tight end has averaged 64 catches, over 740 yards receiving, and 7 TDs. Rudolph is more than capable of achieving those types of numbers and could be poised for a career year in 2014.
#5 - Matt Cassel
Imagine if the Minnesota Vikings started quarterback Matt Cassel for the entire 2013 season. The team might have snuck into the playoffs if the coaching staff stuck with Cassel at QB all season long however, they didn’t and instead the Vikings missed the playoffs and most of the coaching staff was fired at the season’s end.
On the field for the last offensive possession in each of Minnesota’s 5 wins in last season, Cassel’s year could have been much better if he didn’t get caught up in the Vikings QB circus of 2013. Even after leading Minnesota to their first win of the season in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cassel was still benched in favor of QBs Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman.
In 2013, when Cassel sat the entire game on the bench, the Vikings went 0-6-1 and Minnesota QBs threw for an average of 214 yards, 0.5 TDs, and 1 interception per game. In the 7 games in which Cassel saw the field for more than 3 quarters, he averaged 240 yards passing and 1.4 TDs, and the Vikings won 4 of those 7 games.
2013 was by far not one of the best seasons of Cassel’s career, but he did have his moments. During a 3 game stretch from Week 13 to Week 15 (against Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia), he averaged 296 YDs passing per game while throwing 5 TDs and only 2 INTs. In Week 15, he was named the FedEx Air Player Of The Week after he threw for 382 YDs and 3 TDs against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Without Cassel, the 2013 Vikings could have been much worse. If Minnesota’s coaching staff had stuck with Cassel as the team’s starting QB all season long, they probably would have remained on the sidelines for the upcoming 2014 season.
#4 - Gregg Jennings
Wide receiver Greg Jennings has the previously ranked player to thank for much of his success in his first season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Once quarterback Matt Cassel was put under center, Jennings turned into the player that Vikings were hoping for before the start of the 2013 season.
Jennings got off to a rough start in 2013 and much of that can be attributed to Minnesota starting Christian Ponder at QB. In the first 3 games of the season, Jennings caught 11 passes for zero touchdowns and averaged 53 yards receiving per game.
Once Ponder went out with an “injury” in Week 4 and Cassel was named the starting QB against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jennings play dramatically improved. He exploded for 2 TD catches against the Steelers including a season long 67 yard TD catch.
His best game of 2013 came in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jennings caught 11 passes for 163 YDs and 1 TD. Can anyone guess who was playing QB for the Vikings during that game? Here’s a hint, his name rhymes with Catt Massel.
In the 7 games where Ponder or Josh Freeman played QB for more than 3 quarters, Jennings caught 27 passes for 313 YDs and zero TDs. In the 7 games in which Cassel played for more than 3 quarters, Jennings caught 41 passes for 491 yards and 3 TDs.
Based on these numbers, Jennings would have had 94 catches for 1,120 yards and 7 TDs if Cassel had started all 16 games at QB for Minnesota in 2013. Those are the kind of numbers the Vikings were hoping for when they signed Jennings to 5 year, $45 million contract in 2013 offseason.