Vikings TE Listed Among NFL Players with “Most Riding” on Contract Year

Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (25) celebrates with fullback C.J. Ham (behind) center Garrett Bradbury (56) and tight end Irv Smith (84) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, PFF published a piece that considers seven players who have the “most riding on a contract year in 2022.” I was curious to see if there were any Vikings included, and I wasn’t disappointed. Tight end Irv Smith Jr finds himself in the list as a player who is looking to set up his next contract.

To begin, PFF highlights the promising beginning of Smith’s career: “The sure-handed tight end out of Alabama was on a strong trajectory to begin his NFL career, earning a 75.4 receiving grade in his sophomore 2020 season — a top-15 mark among tight ends — with his 12.2 yards per reception ranking 10th.”

Unfortunately, an injury undermined his 2021 season, but Smith once again finds himself with a great opportunity:

Minnesota felt comfortable moving on from Rudolph after 2020, but Smith tore his meniscus shortly before the 2021 season and missed the entire year, a crushing blow to a player who had generated a ton of buzz in camp. Now in 2022, with Conklin a member of the New York Jets, the tight end job is squarely Smith’s.

In some ways, the key to Irv Smith securing a new contract is to become Minnesota’s #3 pass catcher:

Becoming the consistent No. 3 receiving option in the Vikings’ offense behind wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen is entirely within reach, and that could completely shift the narrative back to a positive one, with a thumb surgery earlier this offseason supposedly not an issue for Smith’s Week 1 availability.

Toward the end, PFF predicts 48 catches, nearly 580 yards, and roughly 4 touchdowns.

While working as Minnesota’s TE2 as a rookie and a sophomore, Smith had numbers that weren’t too far off the projection. The 2020 season featured Smith putting together 30 catches, 365 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Keep in mind that this occurred while Kyle Rudolph was still the main option.

If things go well, Smith could surpass what PFF is projecting.

Clearing 50 catches isn’t unrealistic, and nor is it unreasonable to hope that he can put up a decent amount more than 580 yards. The touchdowns are hard to predict. Thielen is likely to continue being a great option in the red zone, siphoning away TDs that would often go to a tight end. Regardless, something in the 5-8 range seems plausible.

Like Irv Smith, there are several other players looking to have a strong year to set up their next contract. Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Roquan Smith, D.J. Chark, and Marcus Davenport are the other players included in the piece. For whatever it’s worth, three of the seven are in the NFC North.