Vikings’ secret weapon on track for boot camp
Scimming of the Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings hold two ‘secret weapons’ heading into the 2022 season with a new general manager and head coach.
One is a running back who returned kicks for touchdowns like an Olympian in 2021. The other has been injured the entire campaign but is entering his fourth season on duty this year.
Kene Nwangwu is the fast halfback and Irv Smith Jr. is the other weapon. And according to recent reports, Smith Jr. is on track to return to training camp.
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Smith Jr. missed the entire 2021 season with a torn meniscus. When the news broke last August, one of two paths to recovery was possible – a short absence of weeks or a long hiatus of months. The former Alabama student, unfortunately, was mobbed by the latter.
During Smith Jr.’s freshman and sophomore campaigns with the Vikings, he shared targets with incumbent tight end Kyle Rudolph. But during the 2021 free agent spell, Rudolph went to the New York Giants, where he was used sparingly by Daniel Jones and his friends. With Rudolph’s departure, Smith Jr. was supposed to fully assume TE1 duties, but the meniscus team put the brakes on that plan.
Like the last offseason, when Rudolph left, another Vikings TE1 left for free agency last month. Tyler Conklin, who wonderfully replaced Smith Jr. in 2021, has signed with the New York Jets at a bargain price. So, again, the deck is clear for Smith Jr. to seize the moment, especially with an offensive-first head coach in Kevin O’Connell. The Vikings fired longtime head coach Mike Zimmer in January, ushering in an offensive era of football.
Smith Jr. should fit into the vision hugely. He is a wide receiver inside the body from a tight end, known for his athleticism and big-play prowess. Smith Jr. scores 10.6% of the time he touches the pigskin, and the Vikings will be asking for a lot in 2022.
He also has youth on his side. Smith Jr. is younger than Kenny Pickett, a quarterback expected to leave the draft board this Thursday night. At 23, Smith Jr. still has time to establish himself as the first TE1. Most Vikings viewers think he just needs goals and good health.
And he will receive the targets, rest assured. In fact, Smith Jr. Needs the audition as TE1 from Minnesota. The purple world flashed and the final year of his rookie contract arrived. Performance in 2022 alone will determine Smith Jr.’s next contract. If he’s injury-riddled or disappointing, he can’t stay with the Vikings. But if he breaks up for 900 yards and around 11 touchdowns, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will pay him handsomely this time next year.
A Vikings tight end hasn’t eclipsed more than 900 receiving yards in 41 years — Joe Senser (1,004 yards) in 1981.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube channel, VikesNow. He host a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, airing every Wednesday with Raun Saw and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Guilty pleasures listed: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, “The Sopranos” and The Doors (the band).