Some colleges seem to have a knack for producing players at a certain position. Georgia seems able to keep churning out productive running backs, like Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb. USC has sent a fair number of quarterbacks into the NFL (with varying levels of success). Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Leinart were all drafted in the first round. Stanford, it seems, has got quite a production line going for tight ends. Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Austin Hooper have all enjoyed success at the NFL level. The next cab off this rank could be Kaden Smith.
Smith has decided to forgo his remaining college eligibility to enter the pros. Given the recent performance of other Cardinal alums in the NFL, he will no doubt attract plenty of interest from clubs in need of an offensive weapon. Some prognosticators have already placed him on TE needy teams in their latest mock drafts.
The College Years
Smith redshirted in 2016, meaning he has just two seasons of play under his belt. But they were two good seasons. Smith was aided by the Cardinals tendency towards the passing game in 2018. They attempted 32.5 passes per game, with 29.5 rushing attempts. Smith was third on the team in receptions and yards. He finished with 47 for 635 and two scores. He did have to compete for targets with another TE, namely sophomore Colby Parkinson. Parkinson scored seven touchdowns on his 29 grabs. But Smith still accounted for over 17 percent of the team’s receptions and receiving yards in 2018.
Smith eclipsed 77 yards receiving in six of his nine games in 2018. He had three games with more than 100 yards. He had at least eight receptions in all three of these contests. It’s a safe bet that he would have amassed quite a few more yards, but a foot injury kept him out of his last three games with the team. Fifty-four of Smith’s career receptions came against PAC12 teams, along with 839 of his yards and five of his touchdowns.
Smith is a good size for a TE in the modern NFL, weighing 252 pounds and standing 6 feet 5 inches tall. He certainly puts his sturdy frame through the wringer. Benjamin Solak noted before the season that Smith is “not afraid of going up across the middle and exposing his body to shots.”
Ben also refers to Smith’s ability to play “bully ball” when hauling in passes. This physicality will certainly endear him to NFL teams. This trait is confirmed by Tony Pauline. He believes that Smith is a “big possession receiver in a TE’s body“. Tony also describes Smith as a “bigger version of Ertz, with outstanding pass-catching skills and the speed necessary to split the seam.”
Pass catching is just one tool in the modern TE’s arsenal, of course. Some degree of blocking prowess is still needed. When breaking down Smith before the 2018 season, Ben noted that Smith “had good natural power, but (his) technique and choices were poor.” Ben did acknowledge that his evaluation was limited due to a finite amount of film available, however. Chris Trapasso may have been able to get his hands on more, as he said Smith was “a reliable run blocker on the edge” back in June.
There appear to be some question marks surrounding Smith’s speed. As already noted, Tony Pauline feels that Smith has “necessary” speed for splitting the seam. This does not necessarily mean that Smith possesses blazing speed, just enough speed to make a difference. If we refer to Kevin Cole’s Combine Measurables tree, we see that speed is important, but even then, we’re not looking for John Ross type wheels.
How far Smith is in his recovery from his foot injury will be important. But if Smith can meet this first requirement, it would seem likely that he could meet the strength requirements given his current build. Whether or not he has the necessary explosion with a vertical leap will be an interesting story to track.
Smith’s name has already been linked to teams crying out for a playmaker at the TE spot, like the Saints or Lions. The Saints would be an intriguing landing spot, especially with Ben Watson retiring at the end of the season. The Saints passing game was ridiculously concentrated in 2018, with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara both seeing more than 100 targets and no one else seeing 50.
Smith’s seam-splitting ability, coupled with Drew Brees accuracy, could be a match made in heaven. There is also the considerable upside of Smith’s age. After just two years of college ball, there is still substantial room for growth. After breaking the single-season record for receptions by a TE, many teams would love to get hold of a bigger version of Zach Ertz, I’m sure.