Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith plans to play against the Green Bay Packers on September 11th, the team’s first game of the 2022 regular season.
At the beginning of August, Smith was sidelined by a thumb injury that required surgery. At the time, the Vikings brass foresaw Smith returning to start the season, but some believed that was “best-laid plans.” Now, though, Smith’s prognosis is more transparent, and he is indeed on pace to play Week 1.
Smith, 24, is forecasted once again — an annual Vikings-themed tradition — for a “breakout” season in 2022. The same breakout attributes were scheduled to follow Smith into 2021, but the Alabama alumnus tore his meniscus last summer in the Vikings final preseason game. He didn’t play at all last year.
With a new “offense-first” coaching staff in charge, Smith should see more targets in Minnesota’s passing game than ever. During his first two seasons, he split TE targets with long-time Viking Kyle Rudolph, preventing the effectuation of Smith’s TE1 duties. And in March of 2021, Rudolph left the Vikings for the New York Giants, clearing the way for an Irv Smith Show that never aired.
When Smith was injured three weeks ago, other free-agent veteran tight ends were whispered by fans as possible replacements in the event Smith’s thumb troubles persisted. But general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah never signed an Eric Ebron, Jimmy Graham, or Jared Cook, instead relying on existing TE depth, including players like Johnny Mundt and Zach Davidson.
With Smith back, an extra TE addition from the free-agent wire is less likely. Vikings fans are generally paranoid about summer injuries or “tweaks,” as the summer of 2020 turned out dreadful. For months that summer, the Vikings insisted EDGE rusher Danielle Hunter was dealing with a minor injury — that blew up into a serious neck malady, sidelining Hunter for the entire season.
Such is not the case for Smith.
In two seasons, Smith has tallied 66 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns on 90 targets. He’s never encountered more than 50 targets in the passing game in a single season. The monsters-of-rock tight ends like Travis Kelce typically receive 130+ targets in a season. In that vein, if Minnesota affords Smith the attention, he could indeed be on the cusp of a long-awaited breakout campaign.
The Vikings take on the San Francisco 49ers in the second preseason game of the year on Saturday. Mundt, Davidson, and Ben Ellefson are expected to play most TE snaps.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).