2021 was supposed to be the year that Irv Smith Jr. made a huge impact on the Minnesota Vikings’ offense. With Kyle Rudolph having left town for the New York Football Giants, Smith was the unquestioned TE1 for the Vikings and was coming off of a strong finish to his 2020 season. It wasn’t to be, however, as he suffered a meniscus tear in the preseason finale and went on to miss the entire 2021 season.
We’re getting closer to the start of the 2022 season, and with that will come the start of the fantasy football season. We don’t talk a lot about fantasy here, but I wanted to take a moment to take a look at something that our friend Arif Hasan said at The Athletic when he identified Smith as a potential fantasy breakout candidate for this season.
I’m sure fantasy football writers are done with attempting to hype up Smith, but after not seeing the field in 2021, it’s clear Smith has underperformed. But if he was finally going to make good on his expectations last year, an injury that ended his season is no reason to think he can’t hit his goals in 2022. With a more pass-friendly coaching staff and a scheme that intends to send him downfield more often, he has the ability to exceed even the numbers he was supposed to hit in 2021.
In 2020, Smith caught 30 passes for 365 yards and found the end zone five times, including three touchdowns over the final four games of the year. The Vikings are going to have a new-look offense under new head coach Kevin O’Connell. . .how much different obviously remains to be seen. . .and a lot of the focus has been on how that will affect star wide receiver Justin Jefferson. However, there’s something that could be said for Smith’s potential in this offense as well.
Last year in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of talent at the wide receiver position, the player that was actually second on their team in receptions was tight end Tyler Higbee. Higbee caught 61 passes last year. . .five fewer than Smith Jr. has caught in his first two seasons combined. . .for 560 yards and five scores. Now, at least some of Higbee’s production has to do with injuries to players like Robert Woods, but catching 60 passes for a tight end in this league is pretty significant. Not every team has a Travis Kelce or a George Kittle to throw out at the position, so getting that sort of production from someone that’s relatively anonymous is pretty huge.
I think that Irv Smith Jr. is at least as talented as Tyler Higbee, and he’s going to get an opportunity to have that level of production in this new Vikings’ offense. With the nature of the tight end position in fantasy football, if you’re not rolling with Kelce, Kittle, Mark Andrews, or someone of that caliber, you can probably grab a guy like Smith relatively late and get some solid production out of him.
Yes, we’re so close to the start of Training Camp and actual new stuff to talk about that we’re actually talking about fantasy. But, again, it’s relevant to the Vikings, particularly if Irv Smith Jr. can do in 2022 what he was supposed to do in 2021.