Responsible Vikings Look to Make Irv Smith Key Part of Offense 

Irv Smith Jr.
Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, everyone was excited to see what lay ahead for Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr.

After two seasons in the league playing behind Kyle Rudolph, the tight end looked set for a breakout season. Rudolph left and would eventually join the New York Giants, leaving Smith top of the depth chart at the tight end position, which is exactly what the Vikings would have had in mind when they drafted him in the second round of the 2019 draft. Expectations were high.

He had done enough in his first two seasons to give cause for optimism — not just from Vikings fans but from onlookers all around the league. Across his first two seasons, he caught 66 of 90 targets for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. These are perfectly good numbers for a tight end, but the consensus was that there was much more to come.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. A knee injury on the eve of the season landed him on injured reserve, and his season was over before it started. Instead, it was Tyler Conklin who had a breakout season of his own. With Conklin out of contract and signing for the New York Jets. all eyes are once again on Irv Smith.

It is no surprise that head coach Kevin O’Connell has indicated Smith will be a vital part of the Vikings offense. There isn’t an obvious “Tyler Conklin” on the roster to deputize if needed.

Johnny Mundt followed O’Connell to Minnesota from Los Angeles. His reputation comes as a blocking tight end, although O’Connell has expressed his belief he can be more than that in the past.

After that, there is Ben Ellefson, who was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars after going undrafted in 2020. Before being claimed off of waivers by the Vikings on August 21, 2021. he has one catch to his name in his career.

Oct 26, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams tight end Johnny Mundt. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Then, there is Zach Davidson, a fifth-round rookie from last year who almost exclusively spent the season on the practice squad — as well as Nick Muse, the seventh-round rookie from this year. 

It is no surprise the Vikings are looking to be responsible with Irv Smith. They need him desperately. Tyler Conklin did all he could to carry the position last year with very little help. A trade for Chris Herndon didn’t work out as he had little impact to show for the fourth-round pick the Vikings traded for him and a sixth-round pick from the Jets. He will not be back this season.

Nov 3, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports.

Smith’s return to the offense can be a significant factor in a successful season for the Vikings. As good as Tyler Conklin was last season, the potential for Smith is far greater. His size and athleticism at 6’2″, 240-pound with 4.6 speed presents serious matchup problems for opposing defenses. With an offensive head coach in place, there is even more reason to be optimistic for an Irv Smith breakout season.

So long as he comes back strong and stays healthy, the sky is the limit for the suddenly fourth-year tight end. Everyone should be excited about what he can produce this season.

The Vikings have lots of talent on offense and should be a dynamic and explosive unit this season. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook will lead the way. A healthy Irv Smith will certainly be a big factor, too.