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TE Kaden Smith: The Good, the Great, and The Ugly

Nick Falato breaks down what Kaden Smith did well last season and what he still needs to work on.

The Giants found an exciting player in back-up tight end Kaden Smith, who was a sixth-round pick by the 49ers out of Stanford in 2019.

Smith did not last long with the 49ers, but once he hit the waiver wire, the Giants wasted little time snapping him up. The rookie tight end saw significant action in 2019, recording 31 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns during the season, two of those scores against Washington in Week 16.

The 6’5, 255-pound, tight end has really good size, solid athletic ability, and reliable hands. He’s coming along as a blocker, but some upgrades to strength would suit him well as he goes forward.

The Giants signed blocking tight end Levine Toilolo (also from the 49ers) and Erik Tomlinson in free agency. Still, I believe the Giants will use more 12-personnel packages in 2020 under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Smith will be a fixture behind Evan Engram in that formula.

The Good: Smith Flashes Blocking Competence

Smith wasn’t the best blocking tight end in 2020; most rookies significantly struggle to see the field because of this fact. He did showcase an ability to get the job done; it wasn’t always proficient, and his technique wasn’t always clean, but he was asked to block very skilled edge players, and he wasn’t always embarrassed.

Smith goes up against Preston Smith of the Green Bay Packers in the clip above. He is motioned inline from the slot position, and his job is to position his body between Smith and the six-hole on this power concept, with Will Hernandez as a pulling backside guard.

Smith is a bit high, but he frames the block well absorbs the contact while doing an excellent job positioning himself upfield once he feels Preston Smith try to long arm his outside shoulder and force himself to lose leverage.

Kaden Smith does a good job readjusting himself against defenders who aren’t crashing or slanting but are somewhat stagnant. Smith must get stronger at the point of attack to be a more reliable blocking option, but you can see above (and below) how he has success when defenders aren’t splitting him with a half-man relationship--more on that in a bit. 

Again we see Smith against Preston Smith on the opposite side of the screen. Preston slants a bit inside, which works to Kaden’s advantage. 

Kaden does a good job attacking Preston’s outside shoulder, and Preston doesn’t slant hard enough inside to get past Kaden’s block. 

If you slow the video clip down, you’ll see Kaden start to lose the power battle, especially when Preston uses his outside arm to long arm, but Kaden readjusts himself, gets square, and can seal Preston off from Saquon Barkley.

Za’Darius Smith does a similar thing to Kaden Smith in the clip above. He starts by going inside on Kaden and hits him with a powerful outside arm upward club, and Kaden concedes some space, yet regathers himself and can create a seal on Za’Darius. 

Kaden does just enough to hold Za’Darius in place to allow for the pull and run to bounce outside since the double team on the 3-technique wasn’t effective.

Smith does a good job readjusting and allowing the defender to dictate the rep to his advantage against the Bears and Leonard Floyd above.

We can see Floyd crash the C-Gap hard, and Smith just rides him down the line of scrimmage and keeps him tight to the line of scrimmage to not allow him to affect Barkley’s rushing path.

Smith does a good job recognizing on the fly how to execute certain blocks, even though his strength isn’t as profound as many of the defenders he had to go against.

Smith is functional as a blocker, and he does a good job adjusting, but he needs technical refinement and strength to maximize his potential.

The Great: Strong Hands

Receiving skills aren’t always natural, but Kaden Smith makes it look easy. In 2019, Smith showed the ability to catch passes in traffic, while taking big hits; he showed the ability to leap, high point, and secure passes. He’s demonstrated natural hands extended away from his body to secure tough passes.

This is a simple stick route against a linebacker. Smith starts on the boundary side and shows a solid ability to stick his foot in the ground and make a quick turn towards the sideline and away from coverage. Smith also feels the contact coming, so what does he do? 

He ensures that he has the pass and uses his body to absorb the incoming hit by falling forward into the contact. There is no reason for him to take an unnecessary shot to the ribs here, so I like the fact that he feels before contact. I think it shows a level of mental processing and ball security.

Speaking of ball security, Smith does a nice job high pointing the ball before taking a big hit from a safety with momentum. 

Totally exposed, with no feet on the ground, he takes a big hit from the safety but holds onto the football. Also, look at Smith's route; he runs a subtle out and up behind the hook zone defender. 

The deep horizontal cross held the safety in place just long enough to allow Smith to break open into space. Smith takes the big hit well, and it’s a great sight to see from a young player. It alludes to his toughness as a receiver.

Above, we see a well-timed throw from Eli Manning onto Kaden Smith, who just broke away from the linebacker up the seam. Smith, again, high points the ball between three defenders. 

Watch how tight he affixes his body around the ball once he catches it. He’s aware of the possibility of a safety blowing him up, like what we saw against Green Bay before, so he ensures that the catch is made. 

He’s wide open in the clip below, but you can see how he does the same thing with securing the ball.

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The video directly above this showcases Smith's hands. A simple drag route, with a well placed Daniel Jones pass, puts Smith in a position to extend and catch a pass behind solid coverage.

If you slow the video down, you can see the concentration he displays while watching the ball into the strike zone like a baseball hitter. He also secures and slides down to ensure that the ball doesn’t get knocked out. Kaden Smith has shown very promising traits as a receiver.

He’s not the best athlete, but he has shown nuances in his route running and some strong hands. Giants’ fans should feel good about the No. 2 receiving tight end role for 2020.

The Ugly: Strength/Leverage as a Blocker

Smith struggles at blocking with his pad level, and when defenders press the half-man relationship; this relationship is something that all defenders establish against blockers when pass rushing.

Think about it, is it easier to attack 310 pounds of a man or 155 pounds? Smith struggles to hold up blocks when they attack one shoulder, and this was an issue throughout 2019.

Smith grapples with Vince Biegel above, an EDGE player that is 10 pounds lighter than Smith. The young tight end uses good leverage; he gets low, inside, and positions his body well to open up the six-hole, but Biegel wasn’t having any of that. 

Biegel crashes inside and uses his outside arm to bully Smith and lift his pad level too high, which makes Smith’s blocking attempt inept. Smith’s equilibrium becomes off-kilter, and he gets pushed into the pulling guard and eventually put on the ground. 

Smith found himself on the ground a bit too often, and that strength has to improve.

Smith’s on the move to the right and is initially tasked to double team Khalil Mack--yes, that’s still a difficult task. 

Smith attempts to transition at the 2nd level to block Nick Kwiatkoski, but Kwiatkoski easily tosses Smith to the ground. It’s towards the end of the play, but it’s alarming how easy it was for the linebacker to toss Smith.

Here we see Leonard Floyd take advantage of Smith’s strength issues. Like we saw above, the objective for the offense is the six-hole, and Floyd crashing inside hurts Smith’s blocking chance, but the way he gets off balance is due to strength and balance, which stems from his pad level being too high. 

Smith leans too far inside to compensate for the positioning/ strength, and Floyd just tosses him aside to take out the pulling Will Hernandez.

Here we see Leonard Floyd take advantage of Smith’s strength issues. Like we saw above, the objective for the offense is the six-hole (C-Gap), and Floyd crashing inside hurts Smith’s blocking chance, but the way he gets off balance is due to strength and balance which stems from his pad level being too high.

Smith leans too far inside to compensate for the positioning/ strength, and Floyd just easily tosses him aside to take out the pulling Will Hernandez.

As I said before in this article, Smith's strength issues are a byproduct of his pad level. He gets a bit high, which we see above. Isaiah Irving #47 comes off the snap low and uses his inside hand to press the Smith's inside shoulder. 

Smith folds under pressure and allows Irving to win that half-man relationship, which blows up that six-hole run. The tight end block against that 6-technique is very pivotal on runs to this hole. 

The pulling backside guard has to take a linebacker, and the double team is supposed to drive the 3-technique off the line of scrimmage, while one of the blockers break off to pick up a flowing weak-side linebacker. 

Irving is able to crash that C-Gap and affect Hernandez’s pulling ability, that’s an issue that came to fruition a few different times with Kaden Smith.

We see this again against a similar front, only Christian Wilkens is a 2-technique, and the 6-technique is more head up on Smith, while the linebackers are also hovering at the second level in the area.

Former Giant Avery Moss crashes inside, and Smith can’t do anything to stop him, and again the crashing defender stops Hernandez. It’s a tough block for Smith, but it’s one that he failed to execute in his rookie season consistently.

Final Thoughts

Kaden Smith showed a lot of promise as a rookie with little expectations.

There were glimpses of him having success as a blocker, but he has to get stronger at the point of attack, use better pad level, and position himself more sturdily to prevent defenders from crashing so hard inside.

Traditionally, rookie tight ends struggle to see the field, so it’s not odd that he had some lapses in this department.

However, he did show positive signs when defenders weren’t as aggressive with attacking the half-man, while also showing a good ability to adjust his body when the speed isn’t ramped up.

Smith also does a good job as a receiver. He doesn’t have elite athletic traits, but he’s a solid route runner with strong, reliable hands. Smith is a big-bodied tight end, who uses every bit of his body, catch radius, and football IQ to ensure that he hauls passes into his frame.

(Video clips via NFL Game Pass.)