Here’s the thing: If Irv Smith Jr. went down to New Orleans in the offseason and came back the size of an offensive lineman, nobody could blame him. Sure, there would be people questioning his discipline and holding their breath wondering if Tyler Conklin’s breakout last year was for real. But hey, the O-line could always use some depth, and who doesn’t feel a little uncomfortable squeezing into the middle seat after a trip to the Big Easy?
Thankfully, our guy returned from the bayou looking svelte.
The 6’2”, 240 lb. tight end has added a little mass to his frame. Smith says his cousin is about to graduate from Tulane as a registered dietician and developed an offseason regimen for him. “She calculated all of my meals exactly, like, ‘OK, you need this much protein. You need this many calories. You need this, this, this,’” Smith told the Pioneer Press. “Just having that is awesome so I don’t have to worry about, ‘OK, what am I going to eat today?’”
All professional athletes have to be talented enough to get to the highest level, but often the separator, once they’re there, is the small things. Diet is a small but important thing.
Look at the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James drops $1 million a year on his body, while teammate Davis, 28, routinely comes in out of shape and has been criticized for his inability to stay on the court. Charles Barkley called him “street clothes” in the playoffs, and Robert Horry called for AD to fire his trainer on Ryen Russillo’s podcast.
Diet and training regimens have taken over the NFL as well. Tom Brady’s TB12 diet has been criticized in some corners, in part because it could kill the average person. But who’s to tell a man with a proceeding hairline who just won the Super Bowl in his 40s that he’s drinking too much water? The omnipresence of Brady’s trainer became a point of contention in Foxborough. Now he has an office at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ facility.
Rick Spielman was celebrated when he pulled the trigger on the hybrid tight end out of Alabama in the second round of the 2019 draft. All of a sudden, the Minnesota Vikings had a modern player with NFL bloodlines. His father, Irv Smith Sr., was a first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1993 who played seven years in the league. Smith Jr. could act as a WR3 while lining up all over the backfield and take over for Kyle Rudolph once his best days were behind him.
Well, that transition is happening now. While we’re all sick of the best-shape-of-my-life narrative at OTAs, Smith is saying more than that. After spending his rookie season trying to process Gary Kubiak’s offense and showing flashes of greatness last year, Smith knows he will have a more significant role next season. Rudolph is gone, and Minnesota doesn’t have a bona fide WR3. So the opportunity is there for him to become an integral part of the offense.
Until he does, he’ll be seen as the player the Vikings chose over A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Brown is now part of a dynamic receiving duo in Nashville, and the Tennesse Titans look like a legitimate threat to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC. Metcalf has become a trusted target for Russell Wilson on one of the NFC’s best teams.
Smith is part of the formula for Minnesota to break free of the 7- to 10-win trap they’re in. If Kirk Cousins has three legitimate weapons to throw to — four if you count Dalvin Cook — the Vikings will have to call more passing plays. And shifting some attention away from Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson can only help open up things for them.
The 22-year-old tight end says he’s already noticed a difference in his performance because of his diet. He says he feels leaner running routes and no longer feels sluggish in the middle of practice. “When you’re eating healthy, and eating the proper things, it’s like fuel for your car,” Smith said. “It’s like you’re putting the best gas in.”
Smith is one of the youngest third-year players in the league. Put a little premium in this guy, and let’s see what he can do. If he turns into a top-five tight end in the league, the Vikings’ offense might have a path to a title. And don’t worry, he mixed in a little crawfish and shrimp po’boy while he was down there too. He’s just running through the backwood bay a little quicker now.