It was a chaotic draft weekend for the Minnesota Vikings. The team traded back, immediately tried to trade back up, and then eventually got the guy they wanted in Christian Darrisaw. Spielman then spent much of Day 2 unsuccessfully trying to trade back into the second round while also drafting the potential heir to Kirk Cousins.
The draft process is a grueling one, and the plan didn’t go perfectly at times. But the idea of perfection isn’t important or even reasonable for that matter. Minnesota massively upgraded the offensive line and grabbed a QB before Day 3 for the first time since drafting Teddy Bridgewater 32nd-overall in 2014.
All of the aforementioned storylines were the obvious ones. But it doesn’t necessarily end there, as Spielman may have found a steal in the fifth round that could fill an underrated need for the team.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
The Iowa product never put up crazy numbers, but that doesn’t tell the full story. In four years, Smith-Marsette racked up 1,889 yards from scrimmage along with 18 touchdowns. He’s also a special-teams threat who averaged 28.7 yards per kick return along with his two touchdowns.
If you didn’t get the memo based on those stats, Smith-Marsette is a big-play threat. Crunching the numbers, he scored on 12.5% of the times he actually touched the ball on offense. That rate is absolutely mind-boggling. And while he won’t score one every eight times he has the ball for the Vikings, it showcases his game-breaking skillset.
He was unable to entirely develop down in Iowa City, thanks in part to a lack of help from the quarterback play. In fact, never once in his four years did the Hawkeye quarterbacks complete at least 60% of their passes.
Smith-Marsette now has Cousins throwing to him, who as a Viking has completed 69.7% of his passes.
Fifth-rounders don’t usually figure to be players who are ready to contribute right away, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for Smith-Marsette. Minnesota has been looking for a mainstay at the WR3 position, and he could be more than capable.
He already has the ability to burn downfield and, as shown above, his route running is pretty. No shade to Chad Beebe or Olabisi Johnson, but this isn’t something any Viking who stepped into the WR3 spot last year could do. In fact, it’s been awhile since Minnesota had this sort of player at their disposal. You’d have to go back to the Cordarrelle Patterson days to see what Smith-Marsette could look like in this offense.
He’s smaller than Patterson, but he has the ability to be shifted around the offense and utilized as a runner. The Vikings didn’t have a receiver to put into motion on jet sweep plays last season, but that all changes with the addition of Smith-Marsette.
Just think about how much harder game-planning for the Vikings becomes if you add a receiver who can run all over the field in motion with the mix of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Irv Smith Jr. While teams will be focusing on the team’s flagship receivers, Smith-Marsette likely demands less attention. We already saw that good things happened when he got the ball down in Iowa City, so why couldn’t the same be true in Minneapolis?
Oh, and I may have forgotten to mention that he’s an x-factor in the return game.
In Iowa’s bowl game against USC, Smith-Marsette scored a receiving, rushing, and a return touchdown. I’m not entirely convinced he’ll be the return guy considering the team also drafted Kene Nwangwu, but the potential is there.
This isn’t to say that Smith-Marsette doesn’t come with some concerns. He missed Iowa’s third game of the season after being charged with an OWI and sidelined himself for the season after doing a front flip into the end zone against Wisconsin.
He’s no Jerome Simpson, that’s for sure. But if the Vikings can get him to buy into what the team is doing, he’s an extremely special talent, one who could add a new dimension to Minnesota’s offense and make them that much harder to game plan for. He’ll have to turn some heads in training camp, but if he does he has the opportunity to be a playmaker at WR3, something Vikings haven’t seen for awhile.