What an exciting weekend it’s been so far for NFL football. NFL Week 16 brought us all an early Christmas gift with three consecutive days of professional football wrapping up with tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup of the Green Bay Packers at the Minnesota Vikings. This is the final MNF game scheduled for the 2019 regular season, which means that it’s time to conclude our Monday Night Rookies series for the year with one final entry. We have previously featured the Vikings in this series back in Week 13 with Alexander Mattison and will be sticking with Minnesota again this week. Today, I want to look at Vikings rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. He had a somewhat quiet start but has made himself a valuable part of Minnesota’s offense in the second half of the season, with a huge game tonight on Monday Night Football.

Looking for the latest from the fallout of Week 16? Click here for more NFL news and analysis about Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, and others throughout the league.

College Career

Smith Jr., son of former New Orleans Saints tight end, Irv Smith, played tight end at Alabama for the 2016-2018 seasons. He finished the 2016 season without a reception but would complete 58 total receptions for 838 yards and ten touchdowns over the next two seasons. Following the completion of his 2018 season, Smith Jr. declared for the NFL Draft. He was selected by Minnesota Vikings in the second round as the 50thoverall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

PFN OSM Trends

Smith Jr. currently has an overall near-elite PFN OSM Grade of 38.80 on the season that places him as TE11 today. The Offensive Share Metric is how we determine a player’s in-game effectiveness each week that is separate from the performance of their teammates. Smith’s overall OSM Grade mounts him above Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, and Travis Kelce, to name a few.

Smith Jr. had a mostly quiet start to the year. Heading into Week 7, he had only seven receptions on the season. But that week would be a turning point for him. Smith Jr. finished Week 7 against the Lions with an elite OSM Grade of 41.37, TE03 that week. He recorded a second elite OSM Grade in Week 10 against Dallas.

Looking for the latest from the fallout of Week 16? Click here for more NFL news and analysis about Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, and others throughout the league.

Next Gen Stats

According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Smith Jr. is currently averaging 3.2 yards of separation per attempt. This is top 30 in the league among receivers. It’s important to note that this includes both wide receivers and tight ends combined. For some comparison, other receivers with similar average SEP stats are George Kittle, Darren Waller, and Cole Beasley.

For a player’s Average Separation (SEP), Next Gen will focus on the average number of yards that the receiver has between himself and the nearest defender at the time of the catch or incompletion. This is an interesting stat because it’s able to show the player’s ability to use his speed or footwork to create distance for himself from a defender.

But Smith’s most standout Next Gen Stat is his catch percentage. Smith Jr. has an outstanding catch percentage of 78.57%, which is the seventh highest in the league among all receivers. Catch Percentage (CTCH%) is exactly what it sounds like – how many passes that are thrown in the direction of a receiver are caught? Being good for nearly eight out of ten pass attempts will give any QB the confidence that they can rely on their guy in a pinch and that’s exactly what the Vikings needs heading into this matchup.

Dalvin Cook is still out and Alexander Mattison isn’t at 100% so the Vikings offense could use the help at other positions tonight. With Smith Jr. trending in a positive direction over the last several weeks, he could have the added talent that Minnesota needs to help clinch their playoff spot. He did bring in Kirk Cousin’s lone touchdown pass last weekend. With the running backs beat up, I would expect the receivers to play a much more valuable part of this week than they have recently.

I want to thank all of the readers that came by every week to check out this series and I hope that you enjoyed reading it. In case you missed an entry, all of the Monday Night Rookies articles can be found here. Our next series will be announced soon so stay close! You can connect with us on Twitter and join in the conversation on Facebook.

Looking for the latest from the fallout of Week 16? Click here for more NFL news and analysis about Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, and others throughout the league.