4 Minnesota Vikings players with the most at stake in 2021

(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) Irv Smith Jr.
(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) Irv Smith Jr. /
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Minnesota Vikings
(Photo by Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports) Irv Smith Jr. /

Irv Smith Jr. – TE

With Kyle Rudolph now with the New York Giants, the time has officially come for Irv Smith Jr. to show what he is capable of. The tight end’s involvement increased gradually as the 2020 season progressed and big things are expected of the former Alabama standout next time around.

Smith was targeted less, and he achieved fewer receptions than his rookie campaign in 2021, but the Vikings didn’t feel the need to replace Rudolph in free agency or during this year’s NFL Draft. This is the biggest indicator yet that they have full confidence in the 2019 second-round pick making a substantial leap forward next season.

Whether Smith can do this is up for debate. He has all the physical skills needed to become a prolific pass-catcher at the position. Still, his failure to make more of an impression during the previous campaign represents a concern.

There are obviously more talented players on the roster that will take away targets. However, the Vikings still have some questions to answer about who their No. 3 option in the passing game will be in 2021, and if Smith shows enough during training camp and in the preseason, this is a role he might be able to carve out for himself.

If he regresses or fails to make the most out of this opportunity, it might force Minnesota to look elsewhere next spring.