When Irv Smith Jr. was drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, he garnered some pretty high expectations. At the time, the Minnesota Vikings still rostered veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, and while Rudolph still possessed the intangibles that made him a franchise tight end for so long, it was clear that his time as a Viking was coming to an end. Minnesota sought Smith to add a new dynamic to the offense, with the end goal of Smith becoming the starting tight end for the team for the future. It hasn’t exactly panned out.
Smith’s rookie season saw promising moments. While none of the numbers pop off the screen, he did manage to find the endzone twice and rack over 300 yards receiving playing behind Kyle Rudolph. Entering the 2020 season, the expectations for Smith were very high. Following the release of Kyle Rudolph, Smith was promoted to the tight end one spot, offering him a real chance to show his capabilities in the NFL. He posted similar numbers in 2020, but there was improvement showing. He found the endzone five times, up from two the season prior, finished with more yards, and upped his average yards per catch from 8 to 12. Smith missed some time in 2020 with groin sprains, but was healthy for the large majority of the season. Entering 2021, Smith was projected to break out and put his name on the map among the other reputable tight ends across the league, but his season was over before it began. He suffered a meniscus injury in preseason and missed the entire 2021 season.
Given a full year of recovery and treatment, high expectations were still held for Smith, and the Vikings still supported him as their tight end one; his athleticism was too great too overlook too soon, and the addition of new head coach Kevin O’Connell meant that Smith would be exposed to new and innovative ways to get him the ball in space and find work. It was evident though that Smith would have to show his talents early in the season. A new GM and coach often reflect hope and promise amongst the locker room. They also show ruthlessness, as new GMs and coaches were not around to construct the current roster, often leading to trades and cuts of franchise players. Sadly, Smith couldn’t find his groove to start the year. Missed time in training camp due to a thumb injury meant a slow start to the season, posting inefficient numbers with bad drops, and in week 8 against the Cardinals, Smith suffered an ankle sprain that will sideline him through week 10.
Earlier this week, after receiving the news of Smith’s injury, the Vikings traded for former pro-bowl tight end TJ Hockenson. Hockenson has shown himself to be a real threat catching the ball during his time with Detroit, even while he’s had shaky quarterback play. There’s no secret that Minnesota knew Smith was too inconsistent, both on the field and medically, to sit on their hands and let an opportunity to trade for Hockenson go by. Should Hockenson pan out this season, he may very well be the new franchise tight end of the Vikings. The situation looks very bleak for Smith. With an expiring contract on a team with an already low cap amount, there simply isn’t enough time for him to prove his worth and secure a long-term contract from the Vikings. While Vikings fans certainly hope for him to re-emerge as a threat on the field, it’s become apparent that his time in Minnesota is likely coming to an end.