Smith is younger and more athletic
Irv Smtih Jr. will surpass Kyle Rudolph as the Vikings tight end by midseason because he’s simply younger, faster, and much more athletic. There is so much more the Vikings can do with Irv Smith than they can with Kyle Rudolph.
Rudolph at this stage of his career is primarily going to be used as a weapon in the red zone or in short-yardage situations. The guy is 6’6 and has a knack for going up and high pointing the football. He’s extremely hard for defenders to cover and he’ll win the jump ball more times than not.
Rudolph could definitely score more touchdowns this season than Irv Smith, but Smith should surpass him in every other receiving category. Smith doesn’t have Rudolph’s size, but he’s much faster and moves more fluidly. He can be lined up outside as a receiver if need be, and perhaps without Stefon Diggs around, the Vikings will look for him to do that in certain formations.
Smith has great overall speed and is especially dangerous after the catch. Linebackers and safeties will have difficulty trying to cover him and Kubiak will line him up all over the place to take advantage of this.
With his youth, speed, and athleticism Smith should produce higher yardage and reception numbers than Rudolph this season. Despite playing 181 snaps less than Rudolph last season, Smith was only 12 receptions and 56 yards behind the veteran tight end.
If their snaps and targets even out, Smith will easily pass Rudolph in receptions and yardage making him the Vikings no. 1 tight end on the roster, and this could happen as early as the midway point of the season.