The Dallas Cowboys and their directionless, antiquated offense need a solid receiving option at tight end to replace the unexpected-but-should’ve-been-expected hole caused by the retirement of Jason Witten after the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys deploy multiple tight ends often. They use them as the last man on the line of scrimmage blocking defensive linemen and linebackers in the box. They run the option route, and are a favorite target of quarterback Dak Prescott.
But there’s an issue. A big issue. Defensive linemen and linebackers are getting bigger, faster and stronger than ever. And tight ends aren’t being asked to, or being taught to block these athletic freaks while in the college ranks.
It’s been obvious watching the Cowboys group they lack the ability to hold their own against NFL defensive ends. Couple that with the fact only Rico Gathers offers any upside as a receiver, and he doesn’t know where he’s going at times, it’s impossible not to think about the need to draft a replacement.
But in this scenario, the coaching staff is new. The offense is fresh. The tight end has finally evolved into what it will become in the future. It’s a mismatch weapon used in advantageous positions on the field to bully safeties and cornerbacks while running by linebackers.
Measurables: 6-foot-3, 243 pounds
Statistics: 26 receptions, 448 yards, 6 touchdowns
Smith comes from the loins of NFL-talent Irv Smith. His father played seven seasons in the NFL from 1993 through 1999, and NFL pedigree is always an interesting variable to consider.
Given his height-weight combination, one would expect him to be built more compact as other prospects of the same weight but a few inches taller. But Smith’s weight is distributed well. He possesses thick legs that allow him a good base when blocking larger defenders, and his lean upper body allows his base to do the work to help him explode. The lower body strength showed during the Tennessee game this year when he dragged multiple defenders forward three yards to pick up a first down.
Smith’s ability to make defenders miss, coupled with the strength to shake weaker tackles, makes him an intriguing receiving option. Smith runs more like a large, possession receiver than a tight end. He has quick enough feet and suddenness to create separation as a pass catcher, but he will need to become more patient setting up defenders.
Smith is someone you use in a multitude of alignments. Put him in the backfield, in motion, in the slot or even out wide. The new coaching staff would be smart to get him the ball in the flat off quick play action and force a defender to make a tackle in space.
His speed allows him to threaten linebackers up the seam. In times where the staff wants to go 12 or 13 personnel (two or three tight ends), they should spread the field, putting the other big targets on the boundary to get him matched up in the slot with a linebacker.
He displays enough fluidity that it’s not crazy to envision a role similar to the one Jarvis Landry had in Miami. He could be a high volume underneath and third down target who can make plays post-catch from the slot.
Where Smith’s value comes is the ability to use him as a blocker from the H-back position where he is blocking defenders with more forward momentum. That alignment would also allow him to sneak through the line on hard play action passes, and use his quickness to get horizontal and be a safety valve for Prescott.
Oh, and remember all those tight end screens the staff used to run with Jason Witten and now with Geoff Swaim? With Smith, they would have someone catching those passes who could house it every time the blocking holds up.