EAGAN, Minn. – Irv Smith, Jr.’s father told him as a youngster that he had a decision to make, and it looks like he made the right one.
Smith, Jr., whom the Vikings selected with the 50th overall pick, told Twin Cities media members that he started playing football in the eighth grade and initially was a receiver. As a sophomore in high school, he transitioned to tight end.
“He [said], … ‘You can be a slow receiver, or you can be a fast tight end,’ ” Smith, Jr., said via conference call Friday night. “So I went with being a fast tight end, and it worked out.”
“I just fell in love with the position,” he said.
After all, tight end runs in the Smith family. Smith, Sr., was drafted 20th overall by the Saints in 1993 and went on to play five seasons in New Orleans, one in San Francisco and one in Cleveland. Over his career, Smith, Sr., totaled 183 catches for 1,788 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Smith, Jr., said it was “amazing” growing up with a father who played in the NFL and could pass along his experiences.
“As a young man, just having him as a mentor, just seeing all his footballs, his helmets, his trophies, everything around the house – just seeing all that, it just motivated me to put myself in this position I’m in today,” Smith, Jr., said. “He’s helped me so much, honestly. Just telling me some of the things to do, some of the things not to do, learning from his mistakes. Just picking his brain. He’s helped me so much, and he’s going to continue to help me throughout this process.”
Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson praised Smith, Jr.’s, “good pedigree” and said that, while he is the youngest tight end in this year’s class, his experience playing in Alabama’s offense speaks volumes.
Stephenson pointed out that Smith, Jr., started his career with the Crimson Tide behind O.J. Howard, whom the Buccaneers drafted 19th overall in 2017. When he got his chance to shine, however, Smith, Jr., made the most of it.
In 2018, he racked up 44 receptions for 710 yards and seven touchdowns, and 28 of those catches gained a first down or scored a touchdown. Following the campaign, he was named to the All-SEC Second Team by coaches.
“He didn’t play much as a sophomore because O.J. Howard was the guy there, but this year he kind of took over,” Stephenson said. “He’s got a playing experience and a lot of production on a really good team – a team that had a lot of weapons, and he still caught 44 balls. He’s experienced.”
Added Stephenson: “I think he’ll come in and be ready to go.”
Smith, Jr., credited Howard with helping him develop as a player.
“I learned a lot from O.J. I was a freshman, and he was a senior,” Smith, Jr., said. “First off, the way he carried himself as a player, as a person, the way he treated everyone, that’s something that I really took from him. And then on the field, he took no plays off, was a complete tight end, I believe, and it’s proven – he’s doing the same thing in the NFL.”
Another player Smith, Jr., has kept his eye on is Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who became his teammate Friday.
When asked about Rudolph, also a Vikings second-round draft pick (43rd overall in 2011), Smith, Jr., said he’s looking forward to gleaning all he can from the veteran player.
“I see him as a player that I definitely look up to [on the field] and especially a tight end,” Smith, Jr., said. “He’s done so much. He’s been a Pro Bowl player, and I can’t wait to work with him and learn from him.”
Stephenson said the Vikings were excited to land Smith, Jr., with their second pick of the weekend.
“We just stayed true to our board,” Stephenson said. “He’s a guy that was there at our pick, and we felt comfortable with him in our offense. He’s a guy we talked about for the last two to three weeks.”
View photos of the Vikings new TE Irv Smith Jr. from Alabama selected in the second round.
Smith, Jr., expressed equal excitement for the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps on the gridiron.
“I’m blessed that the Vikings believed in me and that they wanted to make me a Minnesota Viking. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to get out there,” said Smith, Jr., who will visit Minnesota for the first time when he reports for rookie minicamp next week.
And as for trading the Southern sun for Northern weather?
“I’ve seen snow. I’ve never lived in it, but I’ve seen it,” Smith, Jr., said with a laugh. “I’ll have to get used to it.”