Irv Smith Can Be the Vikings' Tight End of the Future

With the 50th overall selection of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings took tight end Irv Smith Jr., formerly of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

In being selected early in the 2019 NFL Draft, Smith is following in the footsteps of his dad. Irv Smith Sr. was taken 20th overall by the New Orleans Saints in 1993. He played seven years in the league, with the first five in New Orleans followed by single seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns.

Good When Targeted in College

Smith Jr. contributed little of note in his first two seasons with the Crimson Tide, with zero receptions in his freshman year of 2016 and just 14 for 128 yards (3 touchdowns) in 2017. He began to attract attention in 2018, when he finished with 44 grabs for 710 yards and 7 scores. No tight end in school history scored as many touchdowns in a single season for the Crimson Tide. Not even Ozzie Newsome. In fact, one of the players who restricted Smith’s opportunities in 2016, O.J. Howard, scored only seven touchdowns in his entire collegiate career.

But for the most part, Smith was not a dominant figure in the Alabama passing game, posting a 14.0% College Dominator rating, according to PlayerProfiler. He was highly efficient whenever called upon, though as 10 of his 58 college receptions went for touchdowns. In 2018, he led all SEC tight ends in passer rating when targeted as, per Pro Football Focus, Crimson Tide quarterbacks posted a 157.7 passer rating whenever they looked Smith’s way.

Combine Numbers

Smith stands 6’2” tall and weighed in at 242 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. This might seem a bit on the small side for a tight end, but Joe Marino of The Draft Network wrote of Smith that he “has the play strength and technical refinement to exchange power in the trenches or execute blocks from anywhere in the offensive formation.” This blocking ability will help Smith at the next level as much as his receiving ability, and said blocking ability can be a boost to his fantasy outlook as it should allow him to play more snaps.

Smith was able to flash his athleticism at the Combine, running the third-fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends (4.63 seconds). This put him in the 85th percentile among the tight ends in the PlayerProfiler database. He was also able to put in 19 reps on the bench, tied for seventh-most at his position.

In the Pros

There have been numerous comparisons made between Smith and players who have enjoyed successful NFL careers. Danny Kelly of The Ringer compared him to Delanie Walker while Lance Zierlein sees elements of Benjamin Watson in his game.

Both Watson and Walker have been solid NFL producers, though from a fantasy standpoint, they've had fairly limited ceilings.

The fit with Minnesota is an interesting one. Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' incumbent tight end, has started every game over the last four seasons, but his production has dipped slightly in the last two years. After an 83-reception, 840-yard campaign in 2016, Rudolph had 121 grabs combined between 2017 and 2018, totaling 1,166 yards in that span. He is also out of contract following the 2019 season, and there is already some speculation that the team may be looking to move him after selecting Smith.

Rudolph leaving this year would obviously open the door for Smith to get on the field more as a rookie, but given the slow burning nature of the tight end position, it is likely that 2020 will be the first year that Smith becomes a name to monitor in redraft fantasy leagues.