With a foot injury sidelining Kyle Rudolph, the Minnesota Vikings had to turn to their young tight ends in last Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those tight ends provided a beacon of light in an otherwise frustrating and demoralizing affair. Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin have been role players on their rookie deals, but are auditioning for a larger role. The post-Rudolph era is imminent. The 31-year-old will only play for so many more years, so it’s time to plan for the next chapter at the position.
On Sunday, the Vikings got a preview of that chapter. Irv Smith led the Vikings with four catches for 63 yards and a score, while Tyler Conklin hauled in five passes for 40 yards and a couple of huge conversions. Over the course of these performances, they displayed some highly encouraging skills. Both players are above-average athletes for the position, and have learned to utilize that ability and convert it into production.
Starting with Irv Smith Jr., this game highlighted his speed, strength and agility. Kirk Cousins got a ton of credit for this 1st down completion, and rightfully so, but Smith ran an excellent route as well:[videopress m9MwZBaT]
A huge part of Smith’s potential was his 83rd percentile speed. As a tight end, access to that speed is a differentiator. This is a vertical route where spacing and speed comes in handy, and a tough, physical catch at the end.[videopress NYYCnPlz]
The biggest highlight from Smith’s game was his touchdown. The most impressive part of the play comes after the catch, where Smith has to turn upfield quickly and then use size that’s almost unfair to pair with his speed:[videopress rZ2pPEf1]
The Vikings didn’t shy away from giving tough assignments to Conklin. This was a pivotal 3rd down where Conklin had to work through multiple breaks and threaten 4.42 cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting:[videopress GakjZ03m]
Conklin has his fair share of finesse. On this route, he attacks Devin White like a savvy, veteran wide receiver would:[videopress eSB5FDqo]
There is still plenty of evidence to be gathered about a world without Kyle Rudolph. But for the first look in almost 100 games, Smith and Conklin gave us plenty to look forward to.