Jeff Smith, who played a grand total of 14 snaps on offense last year, is said to be turning heads at the New York Jets training camp. With receivers like Denzel Mims and Vyncint Smith missing time, Smith has been given an opportunity to show his talents. Last year Smith spent the majority of the year on the practice squad, then blew a golden chance to make a name for himself the last quarter of the year.
Smith played week 15 against the Ravens, catching a 14 yard pass, but he injured an ankle during the game which forced him to injured reserve for the remainder of the season. He now has another chance to show coaches what he is capable of. Some players never get a first chance to shine; Smith would be wise to do all he can to be his best for this second chance.
Smith is a smart kid. He understands the situation he had last year. ‘’I finally got my shot, I got my first catch and made a few mistakes there, too,’’ Smith said. ‘’But obviously I sprained my ankle, so that was tough. But it was a learning experience, for sure.’’
Let’s take a look back at the skill set of Smith in his days at Boston College. Smith was a freshman QB from Clearwater Central Catholic who was supposed to redshirt in 2015. When starting QB Darius Wade went down with a broken ankle Smith had to step in. He played in 9 games in 2015, starting only three. The unexpected debut was not great. He completed just 27 of 82 passes (32.9%) with two TDs and three INTs.
Smith did have a chance to make a signature play using his tremendous speed. This is an 80 yard touchdown run against Notre Dame in a game that was played at historic Fenway Park.
Smith wasn’t invited to the NFL combine his senior year, but he did open some eyes at his pro day with a 4.34/40, 36.5” vertical, 127” broad jump, 4.06 short shuttle and a 6.87 3-cone drill. To put those numbers into perspective, the 40, short shuttle and 3-cone would all have been the best #’s for the RB group. Among wide receivers his short shuttle was 3rd best, his 3-cone was tied for 4th best, and his 40 was 5th best. In addition, Smith did 15 reps on the bench press, so he is not some tiny weak player, and at 6’ 1” 193 lbs he will travel anywhere on the field to make a catch. Jeff Smith also has a strong arm in case he is needed in a gadget play. This next play is later in the same game against Notre Dame with the Eagles trying a comeback.
This throw is made using his arm only as he is falling backwards. His target is well covered, but the velocity along with the location gives only the tight end the ability to catch the ball. This is not a skill that will be widely used as a receiver, but given his speed, especially on Jet sweeps, a crafty offensive coordinator can steal a TD once in a while with trickery. Once we get a crafty offensive coordinator we will see if Smith is used in that way.
Jeff Smith’s biggest impediment to becoming a prominent receiver is his lack of technique. Unlike many swift receivers, size is not a problem. At 6’ 1” and nearly 200 lbs Smith is not a powerful receiver, but he can hold his own with any defensive back. Since he was a QB all through his years before college he never learned the nuances of the receiver position. At Boston College they utilized his speed as often as they could, which included many Jet sweeps along with other running plays. As a result Smith’s stat line his last 3 years (when he was a receiver only) was 72 receptions along with 64 rushing attempts. As a junior his only TD on the year came on this play, which is a 64 yard TD scamper against Syracuse.
With all the injuries at Jets camp Smith has had the chance to work quite a bit with Sam Darnold. He is not yet a polished receiver, but he is far ahead of where he was in college. Sam Darnold has seen the work Smith puts in. ‘’Obviously, he has some things to work on, but he’s working on them every single day, day in and day out, he’s been really good for us and I think Jeff’s a kid that can really have an impact for us this year.’’
Although he isn’t a natural hands catcher, Smith will make some impressive plays as a receiver. His speed in the open field is palpable but he needs to develop more than just rudimentary skills as a pass catcher. The lack of weight transfer in or out of breaks makes him easier to cover. He does have tenacity when going for the ball. Often that is as important as the technical aspect of route running. Here he runs a simple post pattern, then has to deal with the deep safety on the play.
His size, strength and solid hands, along with the confidence to go up and win the ball against a defender cannot be taken for granted. Jets offensive assistant Hines Ward had a similar road to the NFL. Ward started out as a QB at Georgia then switched over to receiver. Retiring after 14 NFL seasons, Ward successfully made the transition plus the right choice to switch positions. Ward believes there are possibilities with Smith.
“The potential is there with Jeff, it’s just a matter of getting some reps with the first team and getting that experience. Sometimes, being an undrafted guy, you put more pressure on yourself to go out there and perform with the first group. And sometimes it’s almost too much pressure that he puts on himself” Ward said.
So you won’t think the last play was a fluke, here is Smith in the same game running a similar pattern against a tough three deep zone. This defense is designed to stop the big pass play but Smith shows some good hands along with excellent body control to haul in the pass.
One thing about being a former QB is that as a QB you have to know the entire offense, where every player is supposed to be on every play. It becomes ingrained in you, it is hard to learn an offense without knowing every aspect of it. Smith has had that kind of problem with the Jets, ‘’I think my main thing is just to know the whole offense, and if my chance comes, just to be able to go in there and not think too much and just be able to play fast” Smith said.
This next play shows what can be accomplished with speed and some basic wall off blocking at the point of attack. Smith also knows when to change gears to pull away from defenders. Smith has game changing speed, he needs just a crease to make a splash play.
This next play is a double move by Smith. It is kind of awkward, but as long as he can get the defender to stop his feet Smith is golden. The defender was already in a horrible position as an island defender with no help over top. This play was originally called incomplete but upon further review it was clear that Smith had possession with one foot inbounds.
One thing about speed is it causes mistakes. Those mistakes are accentuated when you allow the man with speed behind you. Even on an underthrown ball you may never have the chance to catch up. Speed forces a defender to make decisions earlier than he wants to, which causes mistakes that can be exploited.
Smith can’t make mistakes if he wants to make the team. He has been working hard with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson to make himself ready to step up right away. The Jets lack of playmakers, a rash of injuries and insufficient depth at receiver has given Smith an opening if he can grab it.
Smith has worked to make an impression on his coach. Jefferson has seen it but he has to be sure he can count on Smith if the situation presents itself. ‘’He’s embraced it, and he’s hit it head on, he’s had some bumps in the road. My thing for him is when he hits adversity, what’s he’s going to do? ‘I’ve got to know before we get to Buffalo (in Week 1), whether he’s going to bite, I’ve got to put him through some stress for him to tell me and let me know that, hey, coach, I’m ready” Jefferson said.
Smith has to put in the work but he already has some natural skill to fall back on. Here he does another mediocre double move but his speed gets him past the defender anyway.
Smith is one of the few players on the roster who can stretch a defense vertically as well as horizontally (through go routes & Jet sweeps). He can also take a handoff, run to the sideline, then throw a 50 yard pass downfield to a wide open receiver. Even a team that controls the edge well will have to spread their defense a little wider because of the speed of Smith. He can simply run around any 5 tech or DE holding the edge. When you space the defense out even slightly it opens up running and passing lanes for your more featured players.
Jeff Smith is a unique talent who is not a featured type player but one who can supplement a roster with an exciting skill set. He has game changing speed, he has good size and he is a competitor and that is an asset to any team. Smith has not made it where he wants to go yet, but he has the talent and mental makeup to get there.
That is what I think.
What do you think?