5. Irv Smith Jr.
2022 Team: Minnesota Vikings
Smith’s tenure in Minnesota did not turn out the way it was expected. He was tabbed as Kyle Rudolph’s younger and more dynamic eventual successor as a second-round pick in 2019. The 2020 season looked like a positive step toward a breakout (12.8 yards per catch, five touchdowns).
But then he missed the entire 2021 season with a torn meniscus. A thumb injury early in 2022 training camp threatened to fully derail his season last season before it started, again, but that derailment didn’t completely happen until he suffered an ankle injury in Week 8. He returned from IR for the regular season finale and the playoff loss to the Giants.
If he can stay healthy, which reminds me of a famous quote from Michael Jordan–“If ‘if’ was a fifth, we’d all be drunk”–Smith is just 24 years old (25 on Aug. 9) with plenty of talent and upside. He’ll also be cheap on the free agent market, despite Spotrac somehow projecting his market value at $10.2 million per year right now (on a two-year deal).
Talent and upside should be prominent bullet points on the Lions’ checklist for a free agent tight end target. So Smith makes this list, based purely on that.