2019 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
Irv Smith Jr. 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Profile Scouting Report
Despite what I found with Jace Sternberger, Irv Smith Jr. is widely considered the third-best tight end in this class after T.J Hockenson and Noah Fant. His father was a tight end that was also drafted in the first round of the NFL draft as a tight end. Smith Jr. comes from a university that produced O.J Howard and a plethora of other NFL pass-catchers despite being a low-volume passing offense.
Right away, I am drawn to Irv Smith Jr. because he will be playing his first NFL season at 21 years old. In terms of age for prospects, finding a productive and young tight prospect is like finding a unicorn. They just really do not exist. Jace Sternberger, for example, will be 23 in his first NFL season. Hockenson and Fant are both a year older than Irv Smith Jr. which I think is a bonus for Smith. Smith actually played in eight games in 2016 but did not record any stats so that season is not displayed on his Sports Reference page. It's certainly not great that Smith recorded no stats but being active for a CFB playoff team is not the worst thing in the world.
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Smith stepped into a more useful role in 2017, catching 14 passes for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those raw numbers sound low but 14 receptions was tied for third on the team with future NFL players Robert Foster, Jerry Jeudy, and Josh Jacobs. That year, Calvin Ridley had 63 of the teams 204 total receptions so the pie was not large. Where Irv Smith Jr. really became a prospect was his 2018 season. He had 44 receptions, 710 yards and seven touchdowns which set an Alabama record for tight end touchdowns. 26 of his catches resulting in either a first down or a score. Per Neil Dutton on Rotoviz, 26 of his receptions came for a first down which is yet another positive indicator. Smith Jr. was a real part of an offense that didn't lose until the CFB Playoff final. Ten touchdowns on 52 receptions is a JJ Arcega-Whiteside like rate that is favorable when projecting him to the NFL.
There are definitely issues with Irv Smith Jr.'s athletic profile. At 6'2", 242 he is sort of small for the position and his wingspan/arm length correspond with that issue. He is fast, posting a 4.63 40 which gave him a 102 Speed Score. Smith Jr.'s catch radius and agility scores are below average for his position and I would say that is not even as good of an athlete as Jace Sternberger. The only real edge he has on any tight end in this class is straight line speed which probably is not the most important stat for a move tight end.
There are times when watching Irv Smith Jr.'s college film that you could be convinced he is playing the wide receiver position. Alabama trusted him on down the field routes that most college tight ends are not asked to do. He runs routes like a player five years his senior, likely due to the tremendous coaching he received at Alabama (a big reason that so many players are drafted from Bama). He wasn't put in too many situations to have to come down with contested catches but his route running will often keep him out of those positions entirely. Additionally, Smith Jr. is the second-best blocking tight end in this class behind only T.J Hockenson which is definitely something that NFL coaches value and could aid in him getting on the field earlier than most young tight ends.
Irv Smith Jr. Final Verdict
There are quantifiable reasons why Smith Jr. would be in a tier of his own behind Hockenson and Fant. He's ahead of Dawson Knox and Jace Sternberger for several reasons. The first is that he was productive at a young age which can't be overlooked. Finding tight end production at the age of 20 for a Power Five school is fairly rare. It would not be surprising to me for Smith Jr. to be drafted later in the first round. The best fit for dynasty fantasy football is, of course, the New England Patriots who are in need of a tight end despite signing Austin Sefarin-Jenkins. The Carolina Panthers are another team that could be looking for a tight end of the future if Greg Olsen can't get healthy and Ian Thomas proves to be backup material. Jacksonville has many needs other than tight end but were they to trade down (or back up) to a range where Smith is viable, that makes sense as a landing spot to me. Overall, Smith Jr. could end up being a value in dynasty fantasy football rookie drafts because his name does not have the same cache as Noah Fant or T.J Hockenson but he is in a similar future success bucket.
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