Vikings Playmaker Returns

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It’s official — the Minnesota Vikings will welcome Irv Smith back, activating the 24-year-old tight end just in time for Sunday’s Week 18 date with the Chicago Bears.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert tweeted Friday, “The Vikings plan to activate TE Irv Smith Jr. and DL Jonathan Bullard from IR, coach Kevin O’Connell confirmed.”

Smith missed nine weeks because of a high ankle sprain suffered against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in October. While he was gone, the Vikings traded with the Detroit Lions for T.J. Hockenson, who basically slipped in for Smith’s TE1 job.

Vikings Playmaker Returns
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings will enter the postseason as the NFC’s No. 2 or 3 seed depending on the outcome of their game this Sunday at Chicago and the fate of the Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers. In all likelihood, Minnesota will keep the three-seed and host the New York Giants on Wildcard Weekend. That outcome has a 95% probability per oddsmakers.

And Smith should be available for the Week 18 showdown, marking his return against the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. It is unclear how many snaps Smith will play, if any, but he should carve up the Bears if targeted.

Vikings Playmaker Returns

For Week 18 and the upcoming playoff tournament, the Vikings will have the best of both worlds, able to utilize Hockenson and Smith as much as they wish. Minnesota’s offensive coordinator Wes Phillips told reporters Thursday about Smith’s return, “I certainly expect Irv to be a part of this playoff run and another piece for us.”

Bleacher Report's "Hidden Gem" for Vikings Is a Bit of a Head Scratcher
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What exactly Smith will do in the Vikings Week 18 or postseason offense is unclear, as Hockenson has usurped the TE1 job beyond the shadow of a doubt. With Smith out, the Vikings implemented TE2 Johnny Mundt sparingly, but overall, Mundt was not a significant part of the offense. Minnesota now has the option to style the offense around two wonderful tight ends. Hockenson is a Pro Bowl tight end, while Smith is athletic beyond belief.

Irv Smith Jr.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Since he was drafted from Alabama, Smith has played 36 games (starting 14) and caught 88 receptions for 9 touchdowns and 844 receiving yards. He averages 23.4 receiving yards per game. Smith is also a free agent in two months, so the next few games could be a wrap for his career in Minnesota, although that remains undetermined.

Minnesota will see seven former Vikings players on the Bears active roster Sunday: Khari Blasingame (FB), DeMarquis Gates (LB), Harrison Hand (CB), Jalyn Holmes (DE), Elijah Lee (LB), Riley Reiff (LT), and Armon Watts (DT).

The Vikings are favored to win by 5.5 points.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).