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Irv Smith

Breakout TE, or just part of a tandem?

I'm not sure how I feel about the Minnesota tight ends this year. Kyle Rudolph is gone, setting up a possible breakout player in 2019 second-rounder Irv Smith. The problem is that it's a two-tight end offense, and Smith's own coach has downplayed the idea of the youngster seeing a greatly expanded role.

"Honestly, I don’t think it’s any bigger role for him whatsoever," Mike Zimmer said. "I think it’s a bigger role for Tyler Conklin. He’s kind of emerged as a guy that’s moving upward and with those two guys, we have a lot of weapons there. We’re excited about these two young tight ends that we have."

Conklin was Minnesota's fifth-round pick one year before Smith, and when Rudolph missed the final month of last season with a foot injury, he caught 15 passes -- same as Smith. Looks a lot more like the Vikings will have a pair of involved tight ends, eating into each other's targets and looks, rather than a go-to guy.

Looking at last year's numbers, the Vikings were fairly unique in how they used their tight ends. No one player was featured, and at the end of the year, there were three different players at the position with at least 25 targets -- Rudolph, Smith, Conklin. Give some credit to Kirk Cousins for the fact that there were 21 tight ends last season who caught at least 69 percent of the passes thrown their way (25-plus targets). Minnesota had three of them.

Durham Smythe, Mia.29262088.0289.7
Robert Tonyan, G.B.595258611.31188.1
Will Dissly, Sea.292425110.5282.8
Cameron Brate, T.B.342828210.1282.4
Mo Alie-Cox, Ind.393139412.7279.5
Richard Rodgers, Phil.312434514.4277.4
George Kittle, S.F.634863413.2276.2
Kyle Rudolph, Min.372833411.9175.7
Jordan Akins, Hou.493740310.9175.5
Drew Sample, Cin.53403498.7175.5
Darren Fells, Hou.282131214.9475.0
Darren Waller, L.V.145107119611.2973.8
James O'Shaughnessy, Jac.38282629.4073.7
Anthony Firkser, Ten.53393879.9173.6
Tyler Higbee, LAR604452111.8573.3
Tyler Conklin, Min.261919410.2173.1
Travis Kelce, K.C.145105141613.51172.4
Dalton Schultz, Dall.89636159.8470.8
Dallas Goedert, Phil.654652411.4370.8
Irv Smith, Min.433036512.2569.8
Jack Doyle, Ind.332325110.9369.7

I expect Smith will be the de facto No. 3 receiving in this passing game -- well, maybe the No. 4, behind the two main wideouts and Dalvin Cook. But Conklin isn't going to be far behind, based on the history and Zimmer's own words. Looks risky to get too high on his potential for 2021.

--Andy Richardson

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