At this point, it feels like a foregone conclusion that the New England Patriots will select a tight end in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The question, of course, is who will be tasked with replacing Rob Gronkowski?
Currently, all signs point to Alabama product Irvin Smith Jr, who delivered a not-so-subtle message on social media after Gronkowski announced his retirement. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently visited Alabama to scout some of the NFL’s top prospects, including Smith.
That brings us to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who has the Patriots selecting Smith in the first round.
So, who is this guy?
At 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, Smith — who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds at the NFL combine — certainly has the size and athleticism to play tight end in the pros. After failing to record a single reception as a true freshman in 2016, Smith rebounded with 14 catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns in his sophomore season, and followed that up with 44 grabs for 710 yards and three TDs in his junior campaign.
We’re not going to pretend to know how Smith is as a blocker. But it stands to reason he could only improve once Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia gets his hands on the 20-year-old.
For what it’s worth, Smith is the son of Irvin Smith, who played tight end in the NFL for seven seasons in the 1990s.
Here’s NFL analyst Lance Zierlein’s scouting report on Smith:
“Smith is still green in terms of overall experience, which shows up in run-blocking and route-running, but he has plenty of talent and is likely to get much better in both areas. He has combination tight end talent but really flashes as a move blocker at fullback or wingback spots. His buildup speed sets him apart as a big, field-stretching option and once he gets rolling after the catch. O.J. Howard was bigger, and a better athlete, but like Howard, Smith offers Pro Bowl potential as a well-rounded tight end prospect.”
Again, it feels like the Patriots have to take a tight in the draft. Whether that ends up being Smith, or anybody in the early rounds, remains to be seen. Of course, there’s always the chance the Patriots trade out of the No. 32 spot for a pair of third-rounders in the 2020 Draft.
We’ll find out soon enough. The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday, April 25 and runs until Sunday the 27th.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images