Summary: Like almost every other position, Alabama has produced a lot of quality tight ends for the NFL under Nick Saban, and Smith will keep that streak alive in the 2019 NFL Draft. As the son of Irv Smith Sr., a top-20 pick in the 1993 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame, Irv Smith Jr. was widely recruited before landing with the Crimson Tide.
Smith flashed some real receiving ability in 2017, but Alabama's passing offense really struggled with Jalen Hurts at quarterback. For the year, Smith totaled 14 catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns. He was capable of producing a lot more if he had been given more targets. That became evident in 2018 as sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa turned the Crimson Tide passing attack into a point machine and Smith was one of his most consistent producers. In 2018, Smith caught 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns. While he could have used another year in college to improve his blocking, Smith decided to skip his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL Draft.
As a pro, Smith has the potential to be a mismatch receiving tight end who produces some big plays for his offense in the passing game. He is a good route runner with quickness, athleticism and feel. Smith is too smooth of a route-runner for linebackers to run with him, and he has enough size to make catches over defensive backs. He tracks the ball well downfield and shows late hands to make the catch even when defenders are close. Due to his quickness and athleticism, Smith is dangerous with the ball in his hands to rip off more yardage after the catch. Team sources have said that Smith has only one play speed, and they wish he had a second gear.
As a blocker, Smith is undersized and needs to get stronger to be more effective against NFL defenders. His motor in the blocking game is not always steady, and he could stand to improve the effort or fight he exudes when he blocks. As a pro, Smith is never going to be a great blocker because his size limitations are going to limit what he can do against defensive ends and linebackers.
In the NFL, Smith could be a good F - movement - tight end to contribute to a passing attack. However given his size and blocking limitations, he will have to work in a platoon with a Y - blocking - tight end. Smith still brings lots of versatility beacuse he has and can also line up as an h-back or wide receiver. He would serve as a chess piece who coul be moved around to create mismatches for his offense. Smith is expected to be selected on the second day of the 2019 NFL Draft, and there is an outside chance that he goes in the first round.
Player Comparison: Jordan Reed. Smith's game reminds me of Reed. Both are smooth route-runners with quickness, good hands, and yards-after-the-catch ability. They also have some blocking limitations because of their size. Reed was a second-day pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and Smith should go on Day 2 this year.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Detroit, Denver, Houston, Oakland, Los Angeles Chargers, New England
In the 2019 NFL Draft, there are a number of teams that could consider taking Smith. Oakland could be looking for a long-term starter at tight end, but Smith's size and blocking issues probably does not make him a fit for Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden. Smith could be a candidate in the second round for the Raiders.
Staying in the AFC West, the Chargers could target Smith on Day 3. He could form a talented young trio with Hunter Henry and Sean Culkin.
New England is facing life after Rob Gronkowski, so Smith could be viewed as the team's future receiving tight end to replace him. Smith could go with one of the Patriots' second-round picks.
The Jaguars could use a long-term starting tight end after letting Austin Seferian-Jenkins go. Smith would provide a weapon for Nick Foles and help Jacksonville exploit safeties coming up to stop Leonard Fournette. Smith could make sense for the Jaguars in the second or third round.
Smith could be in play for Detroit or Denver early in the second round as both need a receiving tight end. The Lions squandered the talented Eric Ebron and need to upgrade the tight end position. Joe Flacco could use a mismatch receiving tight end like Smith, and he makes a lot of sense for the Broncos in the second or third round.
The Texans could give some consideration to Smith, but Brian Gaine drafted two tight ends last year, and I'm not sure he's ready to admit that third-round pick Jordan Akins was a mistake.