2021 Expectations for Irv Smith Jr. should be lowered

(Photo byJeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports) Irv Smith Jr.
(Photo byJeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports) Irv Smith Jr. /

With Kyle Rudolph no longer on the roster, Irv Smith Jr. will begin the 2021 season as the top tight end on the Minnesota Vikings depth chart.

Back in March, the Minnesota Vikings made the difficult decision to release longtime tight end, Kyle Rudolph. Now with the New York Giants, Rudolph had been on the Vikings roster since the team selected him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

With Rudolph out the door, Irv Smith Jr. is expected to take over as Minnesota’s No. 1 tight end for the 2021 season.

Some are anticipating big things from Smith in his third year with the Vikings. When looking at the big picture though, a so-called “breakout” season by the 22-year-old tight end in 2021 might not have the chance to happen.

What should the expectations be for Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. in 2021?

The other day, Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer surprised a few people when he said that he doesn’t think Smith will have a bigger role with the team in 2021 compared to how he’s been used in the past.

This might have thrown some people off, but Zimmer knows that what the young tight end was asked to do last year is probably going to look a lot similar to what he’ll be doing on the field next season.

It feels like there are some who are expecting Smith to emerge as one of the top weapons in the Vikings offense in 2021 and maybe even vault himself into one of the top tight ends in the entire NFL.

While he might have the talent that is comparable to some of the top guys around the league in his position group, the situation he’s currently in with Minnesota likely isn’t going to allow him to put up any monster numbers next season.

In 2021, Smith will likely be the fourth receiving option when he’s on the field, behind Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook. The tight end will still probably have a handful of plays called specifically for him each week. But Jefferson, Thielen, and Cook are all going to be targeted by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins before he tosses it to Smith.

While essentially running the same offensive scheme in 2019 and 2020, no Minnesota tight end had more than 50 targets in either season. Cook has also finished with the most receptions among the non-wide receivers on the Vikings roster in both of the last two years.

If there is one area where we might see Smith continue to progress next season, it would be his production in the red zone. Last year, he hauled in five touchdown passes, and all of them were caught inside the red zone.

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So perhaps we could see an increase in Smith’s final touchdown numbers next season. But as far as the rest of his stats taking a big jump in 2021, this probably won’t happen until he gives us a reason to think otherwise.