Picking 53: Vikings Tight Ends Have Questions to Answer

Irv Smith Jr.
Nov 8, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) catches a pass for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most uncertainty within the Vikings offense rests among the tight ends.

Kyle Rudolph was an offensive cornerstone for a long, long time. Last season, the team moved on from the veteran with the intention of featuring Irv Smith Jr. Unfortunately, the third-year TE was lost for the season, so Tyler Conklin needed to pinch hit. Conklin, all things considered, did an admirable job, leading to his strong deal with the Jets.

Minnesota now heads into 2022 with the ambition of once again featuring Smith Jr. Behind him are veteran depth players and young late rounders. Is there enough TE talent for Minnesota’s offense to thrive?

Vikings 53-Man Roster: Tight Ends Have Low Floor, High Ceiling

It won’t be completely surprising to look at the offseason TE worry as much ado about nothing. After all, Smith Jr. is a talented player, someone who looked ready to take on increased responsibility in 2021. Fantasy football enthusiasts may still be wise to snag him late in their draft(s).

In his rookie season, Smith Jr. had 36 catches for 311 yards and a pair of TDs. He then turned 30 catches into 365 yards for 5 TDs. The jump from an 8.6 yards-per-reception average to 12.2 is encouraging. For context, Travis Kelce had a 12.2 yards-per-reception average in 2022; Mark Andrews had a 12.7 yard average. So, coming in at 12.2 per catch is indeed an impressive rate for Smith Jr.

Now a couple years older, Smith Jr. will again try to show he can lead the Vikings tight ends. Assuming full health, Smith Jr. should easily surpass his previous career highs. How high can he go? It feels impossible to say since we’ve still seen so little of him. Is 50 catches, 600 yards, and 8 TDs too ambitious? Time will tell. He’s still 23.

The rest of the depth chart consists of Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, Nick Muse, and Zach Davidson. Frankly, it’s hard to distinguish who has the upper hand. Muse was chosen by the current leadership team. Mundt has plenty of the experience with the current coaching staff since he used to play for the Rams, and Ellefson is the lone one to have played snaps for Minnesota last season. Davidson is supposed to have a lot of potential.

The team will be keeping at least two tight ends, so someone has to snag the TE2 spot. Whoever shows himself to be the best at run blocking and on special teams will likely grab the job.

The Send Off

It would be somewhat unusual to see such a modest number, but I’m currently leaning toward the Vikings only keeping two tight ends (with one or two being put on the practice squad). Forced to guess, I’d say Smith Jr. and Mundt make the team. Smith Jr. is the obvious name. Mundt gets the nod simply because he has the most NFL experience, is still quite young, and has familiarity with the coaching staff’s scheme.

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a larger roster prediction series. The previous pieces have covered QB, RB, and WR.

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