Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. looks ready to take another step forward after an impressive rookie year in 2019.
The 21-year-old worked his way into the lineup in his first year scoring two touchdowns in the final half of the regular season.
On Wednesday, he posted several videos on his Instagram working on his route-running — a skill that he’ll have a chance to use more after the departure of Stefon Diggs as several analysts have predicted Smith to have a breakout year.
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Smith Proves Himself as a Blocker
Since Smith started for Alabama in 2018, he’s shown he’s a proven receiver, catching 44 passes for 770 yards as a junior.
Smith, undersized for average NFL tight end, was drafted in the second round and was viewed more than a traditional tight end, “but a moveable chess piece that can keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night,” TheVikingAge’s Chris Shad wrote:
“Part of what fuels that versatility is Smith’s athleticism. His 4.63 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine was in the 85th percentile of this year’s class and his speed score of 102.0 is in the 69th percentile. While those numbers provide a nice athletic base, PlayerProfiler suggests that he has a similar overall profile to Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron, who was the tenth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.”
With Kyle Rudolph already a staple at tight end, Smith found his way into the Vikings lineup as a blocker and second option at tight end.
As the season progressed, Smith went from playing under half the offensive snaps to playing in 64 to 85 percent of offensive snaps through Weeks 8 to 14. His progression included his first NFL touchdown against the Denver Broncos, which kickstarted a historic second-half comeback for the Vikings.
He finished the season with 36 catches for 311 yards and two TDs. Smith proved more efficient in his playing time than Rudolph, according to Jack White of the VikingsWire:
“Smith played 684 snaps as a rookie compared to Kyle Rudolph’s 895 snaps. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith had a better run blocking grade (65.3 compared to 57.3) and a better pass blocking grade (64.3 to 59.3) than Rudolph.
Rudolph had the edge as a receiver, but considering he played 200 more snaps than Smith, his stats aren’t a great reflection of that. Rudolph had just 39 catches for 367 yards and six touchdowns.”
‘Positioned For Breakout Season’
To be clear, Rudolph is going nowhere for the 2020 season. Last year Rudolph reaffirmed he’s one of the Vikings best red-zone weapons, but Smith’s speed and blocking should keep him on the field.
Smith was the 13th-best run-blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus, and with Kubiak calling plays, he’s sure to move Smith all over the field after giving Smith a vote of confidence in a press conference on Wednesday:
“The biggest thing for me is I just see so much upside. You watch throughout the course of the season we called on Irv more and more I think there’s a big, big upside here. I love Irv as a kid and a competitor he really enjoys coming to work every day so and he’s benefited from sitting right there next to Rudy everyday and watching a seasoned pro go about it. So I think there’s a lot more there and Irv is going to give it to us and I got to make sure that I get him in position to do that.”
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire