With the San Francisco 49ers adding Stanford rookie Kaden Smith to the roster by way of the 2019 NFL Draft, just what are they getting with the young tight end?
Following the San Francisco 49ers tremendous success with tight end George Kittle during the 2018 season, it wasn’t surprising when the Niners took tight end Kaden Smith in Round 6 of the 2019 NFL Draft.
I have mentioned, previously, adding another tight end to work alongside Kittle would likely be high on head coach Kyle Shanahan’s list of priorities for the offseason. Particularly, a tight end who would be effective in the passing game with reliable hands, effectively becoming another receiver on the field.
And, while the 49ers passed on some of the top prospects, instead investing high-round picks on wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, Smith is one who was on my radar for the Niners to pick up later in the draft, should he be available.
So, what makes Smith such a great fit for the 49ers?
Coming in at 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, he brings with him the height and weight necessary to have a shot at not only competing in the NFL, but also succeeding. Smith has the physicality and toughness to work through the middle while also possessing the ability to get open and create throwing windows. Something general manager John Lynch touched on during the 49ers’ day-three draft picks presser.
“One thing that’s always struck me with Kaden, he makes big plays in big moments,” Lynch said. “A lot of contested catches. Someone is all over him, and he’s got an ability. I think he’s got a big catch radius.”
With Smith declaring for the draft at the completion of his junior year, 2018 saw him with 47 receptions for 635 yards, averaging 13.5 yards per reception and two touchdowns. He also received a 75.8 grade from Pro Football Focus.
While not at the same level of some of the top prospects regarding touchdown production, his receiving yards are on par.
He is known for his safe hands and reliability as a pass catcher, putting him in good stead to compete with tight end Garrett Celek for No. 2 position behind Kittle, something Niner Noise’s Peter Panacy touched on recently.
However, one subject that has been brought into question is Smith’s speed, or reported lack thereof it. He ran a 4.92 40-yard dash, along with a 7.08 three cone drill and 4.47 second 20-yard shuttle. Comparatively, during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, Kittle completed the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 2.65 seconds.
Despite speed being an important consideration to take into account, it’s not necessarily a huge factor, as Smith has shown with the yards he racked up in his junior year. If a player is still capable of producing yards and has the skills to get open, as Smith has shown he’s capable of doing, speed becomes less important.
Shanahan has shown no concerns with Smith’s ability when it comes to speed and is confident he can be a valuable addition to the 49ers’ passing game.
“When your speed isn’t great, I’m not going to send him on a bunch of speed routes,” Shanahan said. “But, there’s a lot of good tight ends who run around there. Some guys who got drafted early aren’t that much faster than him. Speeds not the issue depending on how you want to use him. He’s effective in the pass game and we think he could be a good blocker for us, too.”
Smith’s dependability as a pass catcher only further helps to enhance the 49ers’ offense come the 2019 season. Add to that his capability of being an effective blocker and he should become and effective tool for Shanahan to use. While he is still raw and requires refinement in some areas, on the whole, Smith already has the skill set to compete in his rookie year.