When the Vikings made Irv Smith Jr. the 50th overall choice in this year’s draft, Vikings fans were intrigued.
Sunday against Oakland, they found out why.
The 6-2, 237-pound rookie caught three passes for 60 yards against Oakland. He had a fourth catch, which went for 26 yards, nullified by a penalty. Newly 21 years old, Smith Jr. drips with potential.
“It definitely felt good,” Smith Jr. said after the Vikings 34-14 win over Oakland. “The offense had been working super hard to just come out there and play fast, so it feels good to come out there and be rewarded and make plays.”
Each of Smith Jr.’s catches went for a first down. When a quarterback gets that kind of reward for targeting a receiver, that’s good for the passing target, the quarterback and the offense. “Irv had a great week,” said veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph. “He had a lot of big plays that opened up for him, and it’s exciting when you see that.”
Smith Jr. has good speed (4.6 in the 40) and as he showed Sunday, plenty of agility to do something after the catch. His first catch was a skinny post down the middle. His second was a deep sideline catch good for 27 yards. Oakland is not the Chicago Bears—we all know that—but adding Smith Jr. to a tight end group that includes Rudolph and Tyler Conklin is exciting to contemplate.
If every game goes the Vikings’ way, they plan to be a run-first team. That means tight ends will be equally focused on blocking as well as getting into the pattern when passing plays are called. Against Oakland, Smith Jr. had good pushes against linebackers on running plays, and he pancaked a few defensive backs when the plays evolved to his area in the secondary. Smith Jr. had his blocking foundation built at perennial college powerhouse Alabama. While there’s a big difference between college and professional football, Alabama is one of the better incubators in the nation.
Smith Jr.’s father had a long career in the NFL, and his uncle also played in the league. Smith the Younger comes from a football family, he played college ball at Alabama, and he’s a 21-year-old with equal parts promise and vitality.
Best of all, he’s a Minnesota Viking.
—Roger Dier is a Wisconsin contributor to PurplePTSD.