The date was August 28, 2021 and Irv Smith Jr. had completed a strong preseason packed with performances, showcasing a cornucopia of athletic talent. This was the year, the third in the league, that he would come out and show the noble promise that his pedigree brings in the second-round draft. His teammates, coaches and fans were excited about the growth and dynamics of the game he displayed in the limited preseason work.
#Vikings Starting TE Irv Smith Jr. is expected to undergo surgery for a meniscus injury that will put him out at least at the start of the regular season, according to sources.
Exact schedule to be determined for now, but Smith seemed poised for a breakout season and is now on hold.
– Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 29, 2021
A day later, the optimism and excitement that many had was replaced by a feeling familiar to Vikings fans: fear. It was reported that he had suffered a knee injury (meniscus tear) and would need surgery; an early indication was that he would lose a few weeks.
With the Vikings’ use of two sets of tight ends in recent years, this suddenly became problematic. Consider tight end Tyler Conklin nursing a thigh injury That kept him out for most of the preseason, and abruptly, the Vikings had a depth problem at tight end. General manager Rick Spielman quickly got to work, reviewing the free agent market, roster cut lists and tight ends that might be available through the trade. In the end, they landed on Jets tight end Chris Herndon as the best available option.
The Vikings would send a 2022 fourth-round pick to New York in exchange for Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Not a terrible deal, possibly a little rich. But for a team preparing for the postseason, it was a worthwhile gamble. The fourth will probably be late, and the sixth, in return, will probably be early. Plus, they add Herndon, a 2018 fourth-round pick from Miami.
Herndon offered a curious case for many outside the Jets organization. He showed a lot of talent and potential during his rookie season, racking up 502 yards on 39 receptions and four touchdowns. His second year was marked by injuries and a suspension for the first four games of the season. He finished the year with a catch for seven yards. Herndon might recreate some of his rookie year magic with quarterback Sam Darnold in 2020, but it appeared to be an afterthought in Adam Gase’s passing attack.
That brings us to 2021 and the Vikings. So far, in his limited time with the team, he has seen precisely twelve plays per game. That equates to 16.6% of offensive plays per game. Herndon saw two targets in week 1. He has yet to see another target. So what’s up?
#Vikings TE snap counts the last two weeks:
Tyler Conklin – 93
Ben Ellefson – 46
Chris Herndon – 24
Giving up a fourth-round pick for Herndon already seems like an overreaction, considering he’s playing significantly less than a player they picked on waivers.
– Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) September 27, 2021
Being traded during the season has to be difficult for anyone, be it a veteran or a young newcomer. There is definitely a learning curve with a new playbook and offensive scheme. Multiply that by 1000 after enduring Gase’s Crayola full playbook for the first three years.
Herndon’s time will come in this offense. Fortunately, they haven’t needed him as a pass receiver at this point in his tenure with the Vikings. Both wide receiver KJ Osborn and Conklin have stepped up in Smith’s absence and provided a phenomenal game of their own. As the year progresses and defenses discover different ways to limit these other options, Herndon should see something on fire. It was also reported Wednesday that Conklin is dealing with glute and ankle injuries. Herndon could have his number called sooner than we think.
If, for whatever reason, Herndon doesn’t work out this year and leaves quickly in free agency, that’s fine too. Some will point to it as another ‘failure’ on Spielman’s behalf, but it was worthwhile coverage when looking at the possible start to the season without his top two tight ends on the depth chart. If the operation doesn’t work and it still bothers you, think about it this way.
That’s a 46-point difference that equates to a late fourth-round pick. Who is laughing now? LOL
– Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@ BoyGreen25) August 31, 2021
By draft trade logic, that means the Vikings are currently ‘up’ on a sixth-round first pick and Herndon on the Jets. So the Vikings are still winners, with sparks.