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Lunchbreak: Smith, Jr., Picked as Potential Vikings 2021 Breakout Candidate

Each offseason at this time of the year, certain players generate buzz before training camp begins.

That hype is based on how they have performed during the offseason program, but also includes the potential of what they could do once the schedule rolls around this fall.

Patrik Walker of CBS Sports recently looked at each NFC roster to identify 2021 breakout candidates.

To the surprise of no one, he landed on Vikings tight end Irv Smith, Jr., who is in line for a bigger role as he enters his third season in Purple. Many expect Smith's opportunities to increase after the Vikings parted ways with Kyle Rudolph this offseason.

Walker wrote:

Having earned a national championship from his days with the Crimson Tide, Smith is no stranger to the bright lights and that's what led the Vikings to use a second-round pick on him — for this very moment.

He's produced 676 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons with 14 starts under his belt, but it's expected he'll blow past both of those marks in 2021. Pencil him in as TE1 in Minnesota, and for a potential breakout season in complement to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.

Smith has seen his production climb steadily in his first two seasons, a trend that should continue with Rudolph now with the Giants. He increased his yards per catch from 8.6 as a rookie to 12.2 last season..

Smith spoke with Twin Cities media members last week after Minnesota's fifth of 10 voluntary Organized Team Activity practices and explained that he focused on his diet this offseason, something that could also help boost his play in 2021.

He enlisted help from a cousin, a dietician who is about to graduate from Tulane, in his home city of New Orleans.

"I feel like diet is definitely something that's not really talked about too much. I think it's very key," Smith said. "She calculated all of my meals exactly like, 'OK. You need this much protein, this many calories, this, this, this.' Just having that is awesome so you don't have to worry about, 'OK. What am I going to eat today?' "

Smith and Tyler Conklin are slated to be the Vikings top two tight ends this season. Minnesota also has Brandon Dillon, rookie Zach Davidson and converted receiver Shane Zylstra on its roster.

View photos of the Vikings organized team activity on June 10 at the TCO Performance Center.

Gil Brandt spotlights Vikings kicking situation

The Vikings roster is currently maxed out at 90 players, the most allowed by NFL rules at this time of the year.

A decent-size chunk of Minnesota's roster includes six specialists, as the Vikings have a pair of long snappers to go along with two punters and two kickers.

It's the latter position that was recently spotlighted by Gil Brandt, a senior analyst for

Brandt, a former longtime scout with the Cowboys, highlighted his eight biggest remaining roster concerns.

He began with the Bengals offensive line in the top spot, a relevant note for the Vikings as Minnesota will head to Cincinnati for Week 1 of the 2021 season.

But Brandt, oddly enough, also included the Vikings kickers as his No. 8 concern among all position groups across the league. Minnesota was the only team included on Brandt's list that involved a specialist.

Brandt wrote:

Gary Anderson's missed field-goal try in the 1998 NFC title game and Blair Walsh's shanked attempt in the 2015 playoffs continue to haunt this franchise. After a rough season by Dan Bailey — in addition to posting the league's worst field-goal rate (68.2 percent), he essentially extinguished the team's playoff hopes by missing three field-goal tries and an extra-point attempt against the Bucs last season — the veteran was released, and the Vikings are starting over at kicker.

Greg Joseph (who's spent time with five teams since 2018) and undrafted rookie Riley Patterson are currently slated to battle for the spot. And the person doing the kicking won't be the only change; recently promoted Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken is tasked with improving one of the league's worst overall units.

Brandt certainly stated his concerns, even if he opined that missed kicks from 20-plus years ago have a bearing on how Joseph and Patterson will perform in training camp and the preseason.

For what it's worth, the kickers have combined to hit on seven of eight total field goal attempts in Organized Team Activity practices open to the media.

Joseph was successful from 33, 44 and 51 yards on June 2. Patterson missed his 51-yard try wide right, but rebounded to hit from 44 and 33 yards on the same day.

Joseph, who spent the 2020 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, also hit a pair of presumable game-tying, 40-yard field goals on May 26. Both of those makes came at the end of a game-like situation with little time left on the clock.