Vikings Have a Sleeper TE
The Vikings’ tight end group is a big problem for the upcoming 2022 season. Irv Smith Jr. enters his fourth professional season. He is a talented player who was selected in the second round for a reason. In his junior season at Alabama in 2018, Smith recorded 44 catches for 710 yards and seven scores.
For the Vikings, his career started slowly, as he was the backup for longtime starter Kyle Rudolph. His statistical output is 66 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns over his first two campaigns. 2021 was supposed to be his big breakout year, but he missed the season after undergoing meniscus surgery before the season even started. Smith, once again, is named ‘breakout player’ by everyone, but he is still unproven. He looks good in camp again, but if he had to miss time, the Vikings are in trouble.
Lack of TE Depth
The backups for Smith are not household names in the NFL, unlike a few available free agents. Eric Ebron, Jimmy Graham, and Jared Cook are the most prominent names. In the Vikings’ tight end room, however, Johnny Mundt has the best chance to become TE2. He played for the Rams last year until he suffered a season-ending injury. Just like Smith, Mundt is healthy now and has already made a few good plays in camp.
The Vikings also have Ben Ellefson under contract. He was their blocking specialist last season until he suffered a season-ending injury as well. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah drafted a tight end in the seventh round during his first draft in charge, but Nick Muse has a long way to go to crack the final 53-man roster. Shaun Beyer was a last-minute free agency signing before camp started. He seems to be just a camp body at this point.
The final tight end of the Vikings roster is Zach Davidson. He was touted as a project when Spielman selected him in the fifth round in what turned out to be his last draft as Vikings GM. Davidson has an interesting story.
He began his career as a punter at Central Missouri. After redshirting his freshman year, Davidson was second in the country with 44.3 yards per punt. In his second season, he played both positions, punter and tight end. His breakout at his new position happened in his redshirt junior year when he caught 40 passes for 894 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-MIAA as both punter and tight end and first-team All-American in Divison II.
The fifth-rounder didn’t make the 53-man roster and was released and signed to the practice squad instead. He didn’t appear in the NFL yet and even looked bad in preseason last year. However, he is one year older, and the practice squad seemed to help him. It appears that his training camp is going well so far.
He got a little run with the first team after Irv Smith left with an injury. It is not considered serious, but Davidson using his opportunity is a big deal, condensing the lack of quality depth at tight end.
His 6’7″ 245 lbs body makes him an intriguing prospect. In addition to his huge frame, he possesses 4.6-speed.
Next Steps to Make Vikings Roster
The next step in his mission to make the roster is to keep performing at this level in training camp. He also has to play well in the three preseason games, starting on August 14th against the Raiders in Las Vegas. The lack of quality tight ends increases his roster chances. He possesses great athleticism, which could help him on his way to establishing himself on the team and in the league. He makes sense on the roster, especially as a second receiving tight end after one of the blocking experts, Mundt or Ellefson, gets the TE2 spot.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt