Rudolph’s bumpy road to NFL likely ends tonight

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After a final season at Notre Dame that went anything but according to plan, tight end Kyle Rudolph will likely hear his name announced tonight in the first round of the NFL Draft.

The junior from Cincinnati only lasted through six full games of the 2010 season, as a nagging hamstring tweak suffered during preseason camp turned into a season ending injuring in mid-October, forcing the Irish to play without one of their best weapons for the final seven games of the season.

After major surgery and six months of rehabilitation, Rudolph was back on the field at Notre Dame, working out with his teammates during the Irish’s annual Pro Day audition for NFL scouts.

NFL.com has a nice feature on Rudolph’s rehabilitation process in episode ten of their “Everything to Prove” series, leading into the NFL Draft. It chronicles Rudolph’s rehabilitation process as Kyle prepped for the draft in Southern California and reminds you just how impressive Rudolph is as a physical specimen.

Kyle might be up late tonight, as most analysts peg him as a late first-round pick if he goes at all in tonight’s festivities. He’d be the first Irish player taken in the first round since Brady Quinn went 22nd overall to the Cleveland Browns in 2007.

It’s been mentioned here before, but if any set of Notre Dame position players seems to get respect in the NFL Draft, it’s at tight end. Since 2005, the Irish have had Jerome Collins (5th round), Anthony Fasano (2nd round), and John Carlson (2nd round) all get picked, a trio matched only by guards Dan Stevenson, Dan Santucci, and Eric Olsen — all three late round picks.

With Ian Williams likely next off the board for the Irish and Darrin Walls and Armando Allen potentially late round picks, Charlie Weis’ heralded recruiting classes take another hit in hindsight, with Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate the only Irish athletes recruited under Weis to hear their names called early, and neither becoming the first round picks that they expected to become.

It’ll likely be up to Rudolph (or potentially Michael Floyd and Manti Te’o down the road) to finally crack a first round ceiling that hasn’t happened since Quinn’s 2007 freefall.