Travis Rudolph has one of the most versatile receiving skill sets in the country

Looking around the NFL at effective offenses like Detroit, it becomes clear that good results come from more than simply having an elite passer. Matthew Stafford’s resurgence isn’t merely a product of him taking a leap after seven

Matthew Stafford’s resurgence isn’t merely a product of him taking a leap after seven seasons in the league. There are clear differences to his game from a schematic standpoint. Known as a gunslinger, his average depth of target has gone down dramatically under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. However, he hasn’t seen that negatively impact his yards per attempt. That is because he is completing a higher percentage of his passes, and he is getting the ball to players like Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Theo Riddick, who can break tackles and get upfield.

That little aside is very relevant in terms of Travis Rudolph’s ceiling as a player. Much like the pass catchers from the Lions — and many more examples throughout the league — the ability to get the ball out quickly and have receivers do the heavy lifting after the catch is crucial to sustaining drives. At Florida State, Rudolph does a great job of making plays after the catch to put his team in position to score.

At the point of the catch, this is a nice and solid gain. However, Rudolph is able to turn upfield where many players are forced out of bounds on the sideline, breaking the tackle of the first defender to reach him. From there he sprints up the sidelines, making a second would-be tackler miss by cutting his path back inside of the overpursuing defensive back.

These subtle moves with the ball in his hands make him so dangerous. He has real speed that makes him a danger to get open for big plays. He also has enough control of his movements to translate that speed into quickness and to navigate in small spaces. These traits are very often mutually exclusive, which is why the receivers that are asked to beat corners downfield are not always the same players that catch screen passes and take end-arounds to pick apart defenses underneath.

With this combination of skills, Rudolph put up a huge stat line in FSU’s 17-6 victory over Wake Forest. He caught 13 passes (on 17 targets) and amassed 238 yards, including 78 after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. He also broke six tackles on the day.

His struggles catching the football last season– nine drops on 68 catchable passes, per PFF — left huge questions on how he could reach his potential in that type of offense where drops can often kill drives. But he has done a better job holding onto the ball this year and been able to better take advantage of his skills as a runner.

Those quick movements can make Rudolph an ideal weapon in the slot. His ability to shake himself open makes it impossible for linebackers and safeties to stick him on breaking routes or to stay with his long speed, but Florida State trusts him to break tackles of the smaller, less physical corners often tasked with making plays in those spaces.

Against Ole Miss, Rudolph kick starts the comeback by getting a much-needed score before halftime, exposing a weakness in the middle of the Rebels’ coverage.

The shoulder fake opens up more than enough space to fit the football in for a score (which would end up being huge points to cut into the lead). There isn’t much the defense can do in this scenario.

Because of his ability to run routes to every area of the field, Rudolph represents a prototypical slot receiver with the ability to take advantage of matchups in the middle of the field. He caught six passes for 74 yards and that touchdown against Ole Miss, but with good size at 6-foot-1 and more than 190 pounds, he can be more than just a shifty slot guy.

For the Seminoles, he gets a chance to do a little bit of everything, whether it is plays like the ones above or just burning corners on deep routes, making great grabs in tight coverage and even some highlight plays that can’t be planned for on offense. Against Syracuse in 2015, he did a little bit of everything in a huge game.

Games like this prove he is not just a small, shifty guy, but a receiver who can do everything for an offense. He caught five passes for 191 yards and three very different touchdowns. The first play in the clip has him catching a pass in traffic deep over the middle of the field, but using his strength and athleticism to break tackles and turn a big play into a touchdown. He abuses the defense with a stiff arm and some quick feet that make him a nightmare after the catch.

He beats them worse later, starting with a second touchdown where he just ran past everyone, leaving the defense in the dust. Earlier this year, I mused whether Miami’s Stacy Coley could be this draft’s Will Fuller, but Rudolph has a chance to run a 40-yard dash that will put him in that conversation. He displays uncontainable speed at times and has been able to get behind defenses over and over again for three different quarterbacks at Florida State.

Yet it is the third touchdown that might be the most impressive. He is able to go up and get the football on a sharp route, using the sideline to his advantage and taking advantage of the coverage. Despite the high number of drops last season, he displays very strong hands and good discipline to run through the ball and get his hands up high over the defender.

Still, there are questions when discussing Rudolph. He has had big games throughout his career, much like the one against Syracuse. But this year, despite a strong start and a breakout performance against Wake Forest, he had been very quiet in between. In the four games before the Wake Forest game, Rudolph had only six catches for 80 yards and hasn’t scored since the second game of the season.

Florida State has failed to live up to expectations with two losses, and Rudolph no-showed in both the Louisville and North Carolina game. Against Clemson, the Seminoles will need his contributions to unseat the presumptive ACC representative in the College Football Playoffs. And Rudolph will need a big game to prove to NFL scouts he can be relied upon to be his best in the biggest games.

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