The Vikings Should Target Hidden Gem Ainias Smith In the 2024 Draft

Photo Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ receiving corps is in great shape with generational talent Justin Jefferson and rookie sensation Jordan Addison leading the way. However, Minnesota’s need for a WR3 has plagued them for years.

K.J. Osborn may be a solid run-blocker, but he seemed to have fallen from grace in the fanbase’s eyes, thanks in part to his seven drops last season. In the offseason, he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the New England Patriots.

Although it’s not the most glaring need, the Vikings can address WR3 by taking Texas A&M’s Ainias Smith with a Day 3 pick in the draft.

Smith is a fifth-year player for the Aggies and made a significant impact at College Station. He logged 2,407 receiving yards, 405 rushing yards, and 23 total touchdowns while also being the team’s primary punt return man, adding two touchdowns in the return game.

Smith’s elite speed is his main contribution to the offense. He has been an offensive threat for Texas A&M and a matchup nightmare for many elite SEC defenses. In Texas A&M’s 2021 upset over Alabama, Smith hauled in six receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith was a constant issue for Alabama.

Smith’s speed sets him apart from other potential WR3s, facilitating his dynamism. He’s also able to make defenders miss at an extremely high rate. He’s fantastic in space and maximizes the potential of simple routes.

Check out these gaudy yards after the catch (YAC).

Because of that speed, Smith has made plays from many different positions throughout his career. He rotated between running back and receiver and never had a defined position.

That may remind some people of fantasy football legend De’Von Achane, Smith’s former teammate. Achane was primarily used as a running back at Texas A&M. However, his receiving skills made him a tremendous asset to the Miami Dolphins’ explosive offense this past year.

There are many positionless players in the modern NFL, like Achane and Deebo Samuel. Smith has the opportunity to be that guy for the Vikings, which could also help relieve the burden on a rookie quarterback.

Smith’s style of play resembles Tyreek Hill‘s, with a few key differences.

Smith and Hill are both smaller receivers who played running back and are extremely fast. Both are fantastic at creating separation and are precise, twitchy, and explosive in their route running. However, one significant difference sets them apart: Smith struggles to highpoint the football, something that Hill excels at.

Ultimately, Smith’s inability to go up and get it will hold him back. However, given Jefferson and Addison’s strengths and route trees, that shouldn’t be an issue if the Vikings draft him. If Kevin O’Connell can gameplan around the strengths of his wide receivers, he can expect to get a lot of efficient production from Smith.

Smith is 5’10”, 190 lbs., but don’t let his size fool you. He is freakishly strong. At the combine, he put up 21 reps on the bench press, the most of any wide receiver at this year’s combine.

Unfortunately, this was the only glimpse of Smith we caught at the combine. He had a fracture in his right leg, so he could not participate in any on-the-field drills, which likely has depressed his draft stock. Smith would likely be projected much higher had he participated, but the Vikings could use that to their advantage.

Smith could also be a huge asset with the NFL’s new kickoff rules. Although he was not a full-time kick returner in college, the new format of kickoffs plays to Smith’s skillset.

Steve Smith Sr. is notoriously good at evaluating wide receiver prospects, and he has been a huge fan of Smith throughout the draft process.

Smith correctly evaluated Cooper Kupp, who multiple scouts overlooked and dropped to the third round.

Smith is also a guy you want in your locker room. He could not play in his last collegiate game due to a finger injury, so he coached up his teammates instead. It’s something that every NFL team would love to have.

Smith’s likely selection as a Day 3 pick only makes him more enticing. Obtaining a player with such high production and playmaking ability in such a late round is usually unheard of, and the Vikings need to take advantage of this opportunity.

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