Tight end Kaden Smith was an afterthought in the New York Giants’ passing offense in 2020. Should he have been more than that? How will the arrival of veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph impact Smith’s role in 2021?
Let’s examine these questions as we continue player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster that will soon report to Giants training camp.
Position: Tight end
Contract: Year 3 of four-year, $2.72 million. contract | 2021 cap hit: $850,000
Career to date
A sixth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, the Giants took advantage of a talent-laden team that would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl by claiming Smith off waivers early in that season.
Smith made that move look good in the second half of the 2019 season following a season-ending injury to Evan Engram. Smith had all 31 of his 2019 receptions over the season’s final seven games, including eight in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Smith finished with 31 catches in 42 targets (73.8 percent completion rate), 3 touchdowns and a passer rating when targeted of 114.0. He ended up playing 41 percent of the Giants’ offensive snaps.
Unfortunately for Smith, and in my view the Giants’ offense as a whole, new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett did not see fit to incorporate Smith as a pass-catching weapon last season while playing alongside Evan Engram.
Smith played 453 snaps (45 percent) in 15 games, just 20 more snaps than he had played in nine 2019 games. He was targeted only 21 times, half the number of targets he had over the final seven games of 2019. Smith had 18 catches (an 85.7 percent catch rate), but averaged just 7.5 yards per game receiving after netting 29.8 the prior season.
Smith’s primarily value to the Giants in 2020 came as a run blocker, where he played a key role in the success of both Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris.
Smith was used as a blocker on 300 of his 453 snaps (66.2 percent), with 245 of those snaps as a run blocker. Among Giants with at least 100 run-blocking snaps, Smith’s 71.3 Pro Football Focus grade was a team-best. Rookie right tackle Matt Peart had an 81.7 grade, but that came in only 66 run-blocking opportunities.
The arrival of veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph has been widely praised, but if Rudolph and Engram are both healthy that figures to have an adverse effect on Smith’s playing time.
The Giants used 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) 100 times last season, 10 percent of their offensive snaps. That was second-most in the NFL. Third tight end Levine Toilolo played 276 snaps.
With Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney added to Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton at wide receiver, you wonder if the reliance on 13 personnel will decrease.
Those two things would make it seem likely that Smith could have a reduced role this season.