With Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins searching for a spark on the opening drive against the Seattle Seahakwks last week, for some unknown reason, he immediately looked toward unproven tight end Irv Smith Jr.
It was a rather confounding decision on the surface as Smith entered the game with a mere 14 receiving yards on the season. Not that anyone was questioning Cousins a few seconds later, as Smith beat safety Keanu Neal and made a diving catch near the sideline.
That play helped Smith eclipse his production for the entire season to that point, and perhaps more importantly proved why the Vikings felt compelled to spend a second-round pick on him a year ago.
“That was an outstanding play by him,” Cousins said. “Very impressive.”
While the Vikings ultimately suffered a heartbreaking 27-26 loss to the Seahawks, they might have found something in the 22-year-old Smith as he finished with a career-high 64 receiving yards and played a career-high 59 offensive snaps. He was drafted as the heir apparent to veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph and last week might have been his coming out party.
“It was awesome just being able to go out there and make some plays with the ball in my hands,” Smith said. “I’ve tried to do everything I can to help this offense whether it’s in the passing game or the running game.”
It seems likely Smith will get more opportunities in the coming weeks. The next step for him is proving he can handle the workload.
“We love what he brings to the table and love giving him more opportunities like we did last week,” Cousins said. “Hopefully we can keep that going. We expect him to keep putting impressive plays on tape when the ball comes his way. He’s wired to be a great player.”
If Smith can prove to be a weapon for the Vikings, it could make their offense even more dangerous down the road. They already have star running back Dalvin Cook and star receiver Adam Thielen to go along with emerging rookie Justin Jefferson.
“We need to spread the ball around,” Thielen said. “We have the guys to do it. It’s not like we have to force it because we have a lot of guys who can make plays and will make plays for this offense. That’s going to help us win games and continue to have offensive success.”
That said, even if Smith isn’t getting the ball with regularity, he vowed to focus on every aspect of his game. He said he takes as much pride in blocking as he does catching a pass.
“You want to be a complete tight end,” he said. “You want to be a guy that can be an every-down tight end and make an impact in both positions in the game.”