Purple Dreams: Fantasy Football Outlook for Our Vikings TEs

Editor’s Note: this article was written before the Smith injury. The author loves Smith’s potential (both in real life and fantasy). Unfortunately, the injury really knocks him down draft boards while elevating Conklin. As of now, he wouldn’t draft any Vikings TE.

PRIMER

As the football season – mercifully – approaches, the folks here at TVG thought it would be fun to take a look at what the experts say about our beloved Vikings and their outlook in fantasy football this year. Naturally, Kyle approached me for this endeavour as I’ve won his fantasy football league two years running (much to his chagrin). TVG is a grid-iron site first and foremost and that’s not going to change, but it’s always fun to look at what others are saying about our players in purple and gold.

In a series of articles I’ll be taking a look at each major position group on the Vikings and seeing what ESPN, PFF, and Fantasy Pros have to say. After taking a brief look at what they have to say about the Vikes I’ll offer my own thoughts on the fantasy outlook for each position group.

Be sure to check out the RB, WR, and QB articles. With that prelude out of the way, let’s dive right in!

4. TIGHT ENDS

IRV SMITH JR.

I really, really like Irv Smith, Jr. and think he’s a very talented football player. In the Vikings offense, however, skill and ability aren’t necessarily enough to lead to fantasy success. Beyond the big three (Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson) it just becomes tough for there to be enough touches to go around to give other players fantasy relevance. As I mentioned in the RBs article when I praised Ameer Abdullah and CJ Ham, the talent is there for Smith, but how that will translate to fantasy production remains murky.

The departure of Kyle Rudolph in the off-season certainly opens the door for a few more looks Smith’s way, but that still isn’t likely to make him a league winner. Last season Smith already had a (slightly) larger target share than Kyle Rudolph, but that still only netted him about 3.3 targets per game. Rudolph also averaged around 3 targets per game, and you can count on 1 or 2 of those going to Tyler Conklin, so that leaves Irv Smith Jr. looking at around 5 targets per game. Not game-breaking usage, but certainly someone worth looking at if you miss out on one of the top fantasy TEs, who are a super valuable commodity these days.

Other positive signs for Smith are the 5 TDs he hauled in last year, and his 12.2 yards per touch. If he can get the ball in his hands, the dude can make plays. Hopefully he can build on those numbers with a slightly larger role in the offense and put up even better numbers this year. Personally, I also think his speed, hands, and route running are all under-rated around the league.

Here’s Smith absolutely feasting on the Vikes defense in training camp.

What do the big fantasy sites say about Smith? Well, like last week with Kirk Cousins, PFF is just not sold on our beloved Vikings. At all. They have Irv Smith, Jr. ranked way down at tight end 18. Fantasy Pros and ESPN like Smith a bit more and both sites have him ranked as the thirteenth best tight-end in fantasy for the upcoming season.

The tight end position is notoriously hard to project and going all-in on Travis Kelce last year was a huge part in why I won Kyle’s fantasy league. Beyond the very small top tier (and assuming you can dodge injury – I just as easily could’ve gone all-in on George Kittle) it really is a crapshoot. With that being said, I think it’s clear that Smith isn’t in that very, very valuable and very, very tiny top tier of TEs. No one should have him above Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller. He should probably also be below that second tier of guys who have either shown that they are focal points of their offense or super-hyped rookies. In that second tier I have guys like Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, Logan Thomas, Gronk, and Robert Tonyan. After that it gets a lot tougher to sort out. Mike Gesicki in Miami should probably be above Smith, and so should TJ Hockenson (I expect Jared Goff to check down to the TE a lot this season). But after that I think I’m taking Smith.

The Patriots signed two big names in the offseason in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but, despite their love of 12-personnel I just don’t see both of these guys out-performing Smith. This was one of the most anemic passing offenses in football last season, and if they are committed to starting Cam, I don’t see there being enough touches to make both of these guys top-10 fantasy TEs this year. I’m also not sold on Dallas Goedert in Philly, and I know he burned people who drafted him high last season. I know he had injury concerns throughout the season, but Zach Ertz still hasn’t been traded and he also emerged in Eagles training camp as one of Jalen Hurts’s favoured targets. If Ertz is eventually moved, Goedert could easily slip into that role and gobble up those targets, but he could just as easily suffer from a lack of rapport with his young signal caller. Basically, for everyone below the top tier of tight ends, there are as many arguments to be made that they will be taken too high as there are for why they will have great seasons.

My advice is to snap up one of the marquee tight ends if you have a chance, but if you miss out on them then just sit back, fill out your roster and grab Irv Smith Jr. in the late rounds or off waivers. Then you can rest easy as the rest of your fantasy league agonizes over which tight end to start and pulls their hair out over whether their TE will live up to their draft position or if they should snag one of the inevitable one-game wonders off the wire.

THE REST OF THE ROSTER

In case you hadn’t guessed, in an article where I’m trying to argue for the relevance of the presumptive TE1 for the Vikings, it’s very very unlikely any other TE on the roster makes any noise at all in fantasy. Tyler Conklin is a capable player and will likely get a few targets here and there, but I don’t expect it to amount to sustained or reliable production.