Having looked at each of the Jets’ draft picks in detail, we’ve now moved on to discuss each of their undrafted free agent signings. We continue today with a breakdown of Boston College wide receiver Jeff Smith.
The 22-year old is listed at 6’1” and 195 pounds and caught 72 passes in three seasons as a wide receiver for the Eagles, having initially been recruited as a quarterback. He accounted for 24 touchdowns - nine rushing, nine receiving and six passing in his college career.
Smith was a three-star recruit as a high school quarterback and made three starts as a freshman after being recruited to Boston College in 2015. Smith really struggled as a passer, completing just 33 percent of his throws on the year and never completing more than seven passes in any one game.
However, he impressed as a runner, as he accounted for 450 yards and six touchdowns and was ninth in the ACC with an average of 6.3 yards per carry. He had two 100-yard rushing performances in the last two games of the season.
At the end of his freshman year, Smith was moved to wide receiver. He caught 27 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns in his sophomore year, adding another 199 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
That would prove to be his most productive year as he caught 25 passes as a junior and 20 in his senior year. However, he set career bests with a 19.4 yards per catch average and seven total touchdowns in 2018.
Smith was not expected to be drafted and wasn’t invited to the scouting combine. However, he created some buzz for himself with an outstanding pro day performance.
Now let’s take a look at what Smith brings to the table, divided into categories.
Smith, who has average size and length, made headlines at his pro day when he was timed at 4.34 for the 40-yard dash. However, it wasn’t just his 40-time that stood out. He had good numbers across the board with a 36.5” vertical, 127” broad jump, 4.06 short shuttle and 6.87 three-cone drill. He also displays that speed on film.
Smith’s conversion to wide receiver has seen him play both outside and out of the slot. Approximately a third of his production has come out of the slot in the past three seasons.
In addition to being a conventional wide receiver, Smith also saw action as a gadget player. He was often put in motion, ran a lot of jet sweeps and end arounds, and even lined up as an inline tight end from time to time.
Interestingly, despite his struggles as a passer in his freshman year, he was extremely efficient throwing passes on gadget plays over his last three years, as he completed 7-of-11 passes, including four touchdowns.
Smith has shown some capability to get deep, with some good production on downfield throws, including four of his six touchdowns in his senior year. He’s had success on wheel routes, going down the seam and via double moves.
With his speed, he is capable of blowing past defenders even when they are playing way off him.
That can obviously benefit him in terms of his ability to gain separation on stop routes and comebackers.
Despite being relatively new to the position, Smith shows some real potential as a route runner at times, although he doesn’t always get a clean release against press coverage.
When given room to work, he shows some decent potential, as he demonstrates on this well-executed slant pattern.
Smith also displays an impressive ability to run effective double moves to get open for downfield throws.
Smith’s hands are a major concern, as he has a poor catch rate throughout his college career and 22 drops over the last three years. His overall catch rate was 44 percent and fell below 50 percent in each of his three years as a receiver. That can’t be explained away by him having a high number of downfield targets either - in 2018, he caught just 13 of 31 passes on short or intermediate routes.
In terms of the drops, he actually seemed to have eradicated them somewhat until this year. After dropping seven passes in the early part of the 2016 season, he only dropped six of his 83 targets over the next season and a half. However, he regressed in 2018, dropping a career-high nine passes.
Even when he does catch the ball, Smith hasn’t made many highlight reel grabs or receptions in traffic and doesn’t often look like a natural pass catcher.
Smith might be a better red zone weapon on jet sweeps. He had just two red zone touchdown catches over the past two seasons, including this one.
Yards after the catch
With his outstanding speed, you’d expect Smith to do a lot of damage after the catch, but he has been disappointing in this area. He doesn’t break many tackles, often going down on first contact, and averaged less than three yards on screen passes.
The potential is there though, as he was a dynamic runner from the quarterback position and shows some elusiveness on this play.
Smith doesn’t offer much as a blocker, although he graded out quite well in 2017. He makes a nice play here.
Smith’s physicality needs some work as he isn’t particularly physical when running routes, blocking or carrying the football.
He sometimes has a tendency to shy away from contact and doesn’t look entirely confident going over the middle, which led to some of his drops.
Smith completed 15 bench press reps at the combine, so he possesses adequate strength.
Smith saw most of his action on special teams as the holder on field goals and extra points, a role he retained despite transitioning away from the quarterback position.
He also lined up on the return unit from time to time, although he only fielded one kick in college, returning it nine yards. He played some kick coverage in his final year, but hasn’t played the gunner position. The Jets will probably want to see him in that role, given his speed.
Smith is, of course, relatively new to the wide receiver position, although as a converted quarterback, he should see the field well and have a good understanding of everyone’s role.
He doesn’t display great vision as a runner and has plays where he looks a bit lost in blocking situations, especially when plays break down.
He also appears to have lapses of focus where he’ll be late getting off the line from time to time.
Smith is said to have matured a lot over his four years with the Eagles and unsurprisingly developed into a good leader having started out at quarterback. He’s been a team captain and impressed the coaches with his approach to the position change.
On the field, he has been disciplined with just three penalties in his four seasons.
Since moving to wide receiver Smith has been healthy but he did get knocked out of one start when playing quarterback. His first season at wide receiver got off to a slow start after he hyper-extended his knee in preseason.
Smith could theoretically compete for a number of roles within the Jets offense, since he can be a downfield threat, produce from the slot or be a gadget-package player.
You can never count out a player with the kind of speed Smith has. However, he’s extremely raw and inexperienced so the team should be viewing him as a developmental project.
Smith displays some natural route running ability at times, so may have the potential to keep developing but his hands, physicality and instincts all need to improve if he’s going to make it at the NFL level.