Smith, entering his third year in the league, was poised for a breakout season in his first season as the team’s top tight end following the departure of Kyle Rudolph.
The role now goes to fourth-year tight end Tyler Conklin, who is entering a contract year with the team.
Smith texted Conklin a supportive message after learning he would be out for the season.
What did the text say?
“Good luck. Go get paid,” Conklin said, per the Star Tribune.
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‘I’m Extremely Ready’
Conklin emerged last season as the Vikings’ No. 3 tight end on the depth chart. He started in two games last season when Rudolph was dealing with a foot injury.
Conklin posted career highs of 19 receptions and 124 yards and a touchdown last season. While Rudolph was out for four games in 2020, Conklin posted comparable usage to Smith in the offense, per Inside the Vikings:
- Smith: 203 snaps, 20 targets, 15 catches, 183 yards, 3 TDs, 68.5 PFF grade
- Conklin: 202 snaps, 23 targets, 15 catches, 168 yards, 1 TD, 62.6 PFF grade
Despite similar statistics, Conklin isn’t a one-to-one replacement for Smith.
Smith is smaller, faster and a stronger route-runner than Conklin. However, Conklin is bigger, standing 6-foot-3, and posted an impressive 38-inch vertical jump at the 2018 NFL Combine that tested in the 93rd percentile of tight ends in his draft class. He’s proven to have reliable hands in his time with the team.
Although Conklin was upset with seeing Smith go down, he expressed his readiness to take on a larger role.
“Obviously, you don’t want injuries to happen,” he said, per the Star Tribune. “But for me, it’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting for a long, long time. I’m extremely ready and extremely excited about this opportunity.”
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Vikings 2nd TE vs. Bengals Revealed
The Vikings made an emergency trade with the New York Jets for third-year tight end Chris Herndon after learning of the outcome of Smith’s knee surgery. Herndon is the presumed second tight end for the rest of the season.
However, he isn’t likely to see the field often in the Vikings’ season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Third-year tight end Brandon Dillon, undrafted in 2019, is above Herndon on the depth chart as of Saturday.
Dillon, standing 6-foot-5, is the biggest tight end on the Vikings roster. He’ll likely serve primarily as a blocker in two-tight end sets, which the Vikings ran the third-most of any team in the league last year, per ESPN.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Herndon would have a role on Sunday, but it will likely be in a limited capacity.
“I’ve seen him [in] one practice (on Monday),” Zimmer said of Herndon on Wednesday. “I think he’ll have a role — I know he’ll have a role on Sunday, so we’ll see how that goes.”