Antonio Gates. Jordan Cameron. Kyle Rudolph? The first two have been proven fantasy studs under new Minnesota offensive coordinator Mr. Norval Turner- can the latter be next in line? Let’s put aside all of the (arguably deserving) criticisms Turner has faced over the years and simply look at the production of tight ends through the lens of a Norv Turner offense. He has a history of coaxing big fantasy stats out of his tight ends, and it’s definitely worth exploring when considering Kyle Rudolph’s prospects in 2014.

Norv Turner’s Tight Ends since 2007

In 2007 Norv Turner became the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, inheriting some guy named Antonio Gates. Lets see how his tight ends have ranked since he took over in 2007:

Norv Turner Tight EndsYearGamesTarget RankRec RankYards RankTDs RankPPR Fantasy Points Per GamePPR Fantasy Finish
Antonio Gates2007164th4th4th2nd3rd3rd
Antonio Gates2008166th6th7th2nd4th4th
Antonio Gates2009166th4th1st5th4th3rd
Antonio Gates20101022nd13th4th1st1st3rd
Antonio Gates20111316th10th10th4th4th7th
Antonio Gates20121519th19th19th6th14th13th
Jordan Cameron2013153rd3rd2nd6th5th5th

What we need to focus on here is the consistency of top-tier fantasy finishes his tight ends have produced in recent years. Out of the past seven years, five have resulted in top-five tight end fantasy finishes, with only one outside the top seven. This exception to the rule occurred in 2012, where age and chronic foot problems appeared to finally catch up with Gates- he seemed to have hit the decline phase in his career in 2012. Proving he can teach a new dog new tricks, Turner worked magic again with Jordan Cameron the very next season. An uber-athletic yet raw talent, Turner coaxed another top-five season out of Cameron despite missing a game.

The other phenomenon that I want to point out is the absolute staggering efficiency in which Turner helped his tight ends accomplish elite production. Although he has produced 5 top-five seasons out of his tight ends the past seven years, his tight ends have finished in the top four in tight end targets only twice during than span. Some may view this as a negative, but I see it as a testament to Turner’s offensive scheme- when the tight end is targeted, he is going to be open. This is best exemplified by an absolute miraculous 2010 season from Antonio Gates- he finished as TE3 while tying for the league lead in touchdowns by a tight end despite finishing 22nd in TE targets and only playing ten games that season!

Lastly, take a look at the fantasy points per game for Norv’s tight ends- this is important because only three out of the past seven seasons have his tight ends played a full schedule, and looking at numbers on a per-game basis helps get a better picture of their true  production. Only once have his tight ends finished outside the top five in fantasy points per game which bodes well for Kyle Rudolph- when Turner’s tight ends take the field, they are going to put up upper-echelon statistics.

Measurables of Norv Turner’s Tight Ends

Detractors may point out that Norv may have gotten lucky due to the athletic prowess of his recent tight ends. While this is definitely not the whole case, let’s see how Kyle Rudolph compares to Gates and Cameron:

HeightWeight40 TimeVertical
Antonio Gates6'4"2554.639"
Jordan Cameron6'5"2544.5337.5"
Kyle Rudolph6'6"2594.7234.5"

Cameron and Gates are better athletes, but Rudolph has a better draft pedigree than both by a long shot. Cameron was unproven before Turner, so the fact that Rudolph hasn’t broken out should not be cause for concern. Rudolph is also larger than both, and for his size he isn’t a bad athlete. Keep in mind combine/pro day numbers were affected by a hamstring injury. I think this shows that while Kyle Rudolph isn’t the measurable athlete that Gates and Cameron were, he’s enough of an athlete to the point that it should’t be a major worry for fantasy owners.

Questions at Quarterback

We would be remiss in this study if we did not mention that the potential quarterbacks delivering the ball to Rudolph have proven to be major liabilities. But before we jump the gun, let’s see how well Norv’s previous quarterbacks have done in their tight ends’ seasons of elite production:

Norv Turner QBYearFantasy Finish
Philip Rivers200715th
Philip Rivers20084th
Philip Rivers20099th
Philip Rivers20105th
Philip Rivers20119th
Philip Rivers201221st
Brian Hoyer201326th*
Jason Campbell201330th*
Brandon Weeden201341st*

*Fantasy points per game due to limited games played

These statistics are definitely encouraging for Kyle Rudolph’s 2014 prospects. Only twice in the past seven seasons has Turner produced top-five fantasy quarterback seasons- both from Philip Rivers. In fact, most will remember the absolute atrocities of the Browns’ quarterback play from last season, and Cameron still turned in a top-five finish. Cassel and Ponder are not excusable starting quarterbacks, but can they possibly be much worse than Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden? It’s hard to justify a “yes” to that question.

What Does This Mean For 2014?

Clearly, Norv Turner’s scheme is very tight end friendly. When his talented tight ends have taken the field, they have produced at an elite rate no matter who has been throwing them the pigskin. With a declining Greg Jennings and still-raw Cordarrelle Patterson, Turner will most likely realize that Rudolph has the potential to be the chain mover for this offensive. Add in a 6’6”, 259lb frame, and it is a forgone conclusion that Rudolph is going to continue to be the Vikings’ best red-zone threat not named Adrian Peterson.

While Rudolph’s situation doesn’t allow for the kind of ceiling that Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Vernon Davis will enjoy, he is a strong bet to finish somewhere between TE4 and TE7 (health allowing). At his current ADP as TE10 at the end of the 8th round according to Fantasy Football Calculator, you can get someone with a high floor and reasonably high ceiling at nearly no risk. I think loading up at WR and RB early while targeting Rudolph later will prove to be a savvy move for fantasy footballers in 2014.