1. TE Irv Smith Jr.
2022 Team: Minnesota Vikings
Smith’s tenure in Minnesota simply did not turn out the way it was expected to. He was tabbed as Kyle Rudolph’s younger and far 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 of his 2022 season 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 New York 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 still just 24 years old (25 on Aug. 9) with plenty of upside. He’ll also be cheap on the free agent market, especially now as the secondary waves of signings move forward.
The Lions need to inject some talent into their tight end depth chart. Smith certainly has that, in theory anyway, and Holmes has not been afraid to take calculated chances on players with some level of injury concerns.