The New Orleans Saints tight ends accounted for a meager 17% of the team's passing game production in 2018. Ben Watson, Josh Hill, and Dan Arnold combined for just 63 receptions for 735 yards and 4 touchdowns last season, with the since retired Watson responsible for 35 of those catches and 400 of the yards. New Orleans signed free agent tight end Jared Cook with the expectation of boosting production in this area. Cook, though still extremely effective, is 32 years old and a ten year veteran however, so the Saints may still look to add another weapon for this position with a draft pick. The tight end position is considered deep in this draft, so New Orleans could pick up a talent at seemingly any spot. One player who may be available when the Saints make their first selection at number 62 is a familiar name to longtime fans of the franchise.
Irv Smith, TE (Alabama)
Smith grew up in New Orleans, where he was a four star national recruit and All-Louisiana 5A honorable mention all-star at Brother Martin High School before coming to Alabama. He saw a little action as a true freshman in 2016, then served a bigger role during the Crimson Tide's National Championship season the following year with 14 catches for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns. He helped fuel Alabama's national runner-up finish in 2018, as his 44 receptions for 710 yards and 7 scores earned him second team All-SEC honors. Smith is the son of former New Orleans Saints tight end Irv Smith Sr., who was a 1st round draft pick of the team in 1993 out of Notre Dame. Irv Smith Sr. played six seasons in New Orleans, starting 55 of 66 games and amassing 134 receptions for 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Irv Smith Jr. ran a 4.63 in his 40-yd. dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, tied for 3rd among participating tight ends. He did not stand out quite as much in his other drills, but also did nothing to hurt his high draft status.
Bench press = 19 reps
Vertical jump = 32.5 inches
Broad jump = 110 inches
3-cone drill = 7.32
20-yd shuttle = 4.33
60-yd. shuttle = 12.44
Benjamin Watson (ex-Saints, retired)
Smith is considered one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the draft. More than just a bulked up wideout, he can be utilized from multiple spots in any alignment or situation. He may need to bulk up a bit to increase his effectiveness as a blocker, but he does have good hand placement and the base and footwork necessary to establish the edge for the running game. Smith isn't an explosive athlete, but possesses the speed and fluid athleticism to be a match up problem for linebackers. He gets down field quickly to threaten defenses deep, and turns upfield quickly to turn short passes into big gains. He has the strength to post up smaller defensive backs to present a good target in the middle of the field, and has strong hands to win contested receptions. Smith has good understanding of the route tree, and is effective either coming off the line of scrimmage or lined up wide. He has a smooth long stride once in the open field, making it difficult for defenders to gain ground once he gets separation.
Smith does have a tendency to round off his routes at times, causing delays in getting open. He is considered one of the more NFL-ready prospects in this draft though, and still has good upside. Irv Smith has been projected to be drafted anywhere between mid-1st and early 2nd round, and should be an instant contributor. Should he fall just a bit, don't be surprised if New Orleans makes a move up to get him. Saints coach Sean Payton has shown an affinity for players with NFL bloodlines, and Smith would add a valuable element for quarterback Drew Brees and the passing game.