New additions: Irv Smith Jr. (R)
Key losses: None
One of the thinnest units on an otherwise deep roster, the Minnesota Vikings are pinning their hopes on an aging, venerable pro and a talented rookie to buoy the tight end room. In their quest for a balanced offense, the Vikings will need these two to stay healthy and contribute in 2019.
Despite rumblings that he may be on his way out, the Vikings signed veteran Kyle Rudolph to a four-year, $36 million extension this offseason. They had little choice, since the options behind him were not particularly inspiring.
Rudolph has been a fixture in Minneapolis for most of this decade, and his steady production has been a important part of the Vikings’ offense through multiple regimes. He has started every game over the past four years, and has averaged over 620 yards receiving and six touchdown receptions over that time.
But he’s getting older, and the Vikings made sure to acquire some support for the respected veteran this offseason. That support came in the form of second round draft selection Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama, the third tight end taken in April after the Lions selected T.J. Hockenson and the Denver Broncos selected his Iowa teammate, Noah Fant.
Smith Jr. is somewhat undersized for the position at 6-2 and 242 pounds, but he is a gifted receiver and excels at picking up yards after the catch. He is a major threat on seam routes and he is sure-handed. There will be some growing pains as per usual with rookies at the position, particularly with respect to his blocking. But in time, Smith should provide a nice complementary piece to Rudolph, while learning from the experienced pro.
Any missed time from these two would be very worrisome for Minnesota; the only other players at the position currently on the roster with significant experience are David Morgan and Tyler Conklin. They are almost exclusively special teamers, and have just 21 career catches between them. It’s doubtful that both make the initial 53-man roster.