Irv Smith Jr. Fantasy
The 2019 NFL Draft rookie class is chock-full of talent at the tight end position. Despite his pedigree from the University of Alabama, Irv Smith Jr. tends to be the afterthought at the top of most tight end rookie rankings. After the 2018 season, Smith declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, foregoing his last year of college football. Fantasy owners need to be excited about Smith because of his well-rounded skill set translating to high potential at the NFL. His workout metrics are also impressive via PlayerProfiler.com. College yards per reception 16.1 (87th percentile), 4.63 40-yard dash (85th percentile), and 102.0 size-adjusted speed score (69th percentile). He’s also been rumored in many mock drafts to end up as a New England Patriot as they search for a tight end to replace the recently retired Rob Gronkowski.
- Height: 6’2 3/8″
- Weight: 242lbs
- Arms: 34 7/8”
- Age: 20
Smith Jr. comes from a football family. Via AL.com, his father Irv Smith Sr. played in the National Football League as a tight end and college football at the University of Notre Dame. Smith Sr. starred at Notre Dame and is one of just 11 tight ends since 1993 to be selected in the top-20 of the NFL draft.
In his third season at Alabama and first as a full-time starter, Smith scored as many touchdowns as first-round draft pick O.J. Howard had in his entire four-year career (7). To put his 2018 season into perspective, as BOL senior analyst Travis Reier pointed out, Smith had more catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches in 2018 than former Alabama star Julio Jones registered in 2009.
NFL Combine Recap
- 40 Yard Dash: 4.63
- Bench Press: 19
- Vertical Jump: 32.5
- Broad Jump: 110”
- 3 Cone Drill: 7.32
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.33
- 60-yard shuttle: 12.44
Strengths & Weaknesses
Of the 2019 tight end Draft Class, Smith Jr. was graded by PFF as the 6th best in 2018 overall, fifth as a receiver, but 14th in terms of pass-blocking (minimum 55 targets). His best statistic though comes from his yards/route run in which Smith ranked second overall in the NCAA (2.56) behind only Harrison Bryant from Florida Atlantic, but number one overall in the draft class.
Smith Jr. also excelled in the deep passing game ranking fifth in receptions over 20+ yards and total deep pass yardage. That in addition to his versatility to play out of the slot where he ranked top five in slot receptions and slot yards for this tight end draft class. He also made plays after the catch. Ranked second in the class behind Jace Sternberger in yards after catch per reception (8.2). Overall when Smith Jr. was targeted in the passing game in 2018, he generated a 157.7 quarterback rating; the highest in the class (minimum 40 targets). He is extremely versatile and that is something Smith Jr. prides himself on.
“I feel like just the versatility,” Smith said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Most tight ends, they can either block or run routes, but I feel like I bring a combination that’s going to change the position for the future of the tight end. …”Every great tight end, they can catch balls and they can block. So, you need to be able to do both in the NFL. I feel like I can bring that aspect.”
His blocking skills have been described as “nasty” by some analysts, but it is potentially the weaker part of his game. His PFF grades out of the tight ends for both pass-blocking and run-blocking fall outside the top-30. However, this is based on a small-sample-size where Smith Jr. only was required to pass-block 25 times in 2018.
For run-blocking, Smith Jr. definitely is at the lower end of the spectrum in this draft class. With 261 run blocking snaps in 2018, his efficiency more resembles Jace Sternberger and Noah Fant versus T.J. Hockenson who is arguably the best run-blocking tight end. Smith Jr. is slightly undersized at the tight end position so he would need to add size to his frame to help in run-blocking. It’s also pretty common for tight ends to struggle early on in their career’s because they need to learn NFL blocking schemes.
In the video clip below you’ll get a good idea of how Smith Jr. was used in the Alabama offense. He lined up inline to block, in addition to lining up in the slot and outside as a receiver. In the game against Clemson, Smith Jr. does block well when facing smaller linebackers, but when asked to seal the edge (go to 4:27 in the video and beyond), he does not make that much of an impact. His tape against Clemson is the least encouraging when it comes to his blocking ability, but Clemson’s defense is probably the closest to NFL defense that Smith Jr. faced at the collegiate level so it weighs heavy in this analysis.
Best Fit: NFL Scheme
From a scheme fit, Irv Smith can still fill both roles as a blocker and pass-catcher in an NFL offense. The most ideal landing spot which has been already alluded to is landing with the New England Patriots. Like most draft hopefuls, Smith has met with several teams while at the NFL Scouting Combine. One team he was asked about was the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who Smith said he watched film of while at Alabama. “Just seeing how they run routes and how they block and their schemes and stuff, it’s special, and we did a lot of that at Alabama. So, it translates well.”
In addition to the Patriots and Bill Belichick, there were even more teams represented at the Alabama pro day that included: Zac Taylor (Bengals), Marty Hurney (Panthers), Mike Mayock (Raiders), Mickey Loomis (Saints), John Lynch (49ers), Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Brandon Beane (Bills), Bob Quinn (Lions) and Jon Robinson (Titans). The most-tight end needy of the teams that would see the most benefit from drafting Smith would be the Raiders, Bills, Lions, and Titans. With the tight-end class so deep this year as well, Smith should fall at least till the end of the first round, so there’s a chance that he ends up playing for a team that already has an above average offense.
At the tight end position, in most cases, you should never expect them to necessary breakout in their first season. But at just 20 years old, he has the chance to join the elite company if he is drafted with high capital in the 2019 draft. Via Matthew Freedman @MattFtheOracle, here is a look at notable pass-catching tight ends drafted over the last 25 years who were 21 years old as rookies and drafted in the first four rounds. Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap, Jason Witten, Jermichael Finley, Martellus Bennett, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Eric Ebron, Max Williams, and David Njoku. With Smith Jr. expected to be drafted way before the end of the fourth round, this is a great company to be part of.
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