You don’t need to sell David Shaw on the benefits of having a pair of talented tight ends. Two tight end sets have been a staple for the Stanford Cardinal since Shaw took over as head coach in 2011. That’s why he's is eager to see what the San Francisco 49ers have in store for Kaden Smith.
The 49ers selected Smith in the sixth round (176 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft in the hopes that he can be a complement to budding superstar George Kittle.
“You’re talking about two guys who can threaten a defense and are physical,” Shaw told 49ers.com.
Smith (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) caught 47 passes for 635 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore. The biggest pre-draft knock on the tight end was his 4.92-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Both John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan shared that Smith plays faster than his mundane 40 time. Shaw agreed that the tape doesn’t lie and said Smith’s ability to make contested catches earns him a quarterback’s trust.
“You turn the film on, and you see this guy make plays down the field,” Shaw said. “He’s extremely good running the seams and running vertical. He’s got a great feel for the game and route running.”
At an initial look, it’s a bit surprising that Smith opted to forgo his final two seasons at Stanford in order to make the jump to the NFL. It’s reasonable to suggest that another productive season or two would have helped Smith’s draft stock.
View the best photos from San Francisco's rookie class' first weekend as 49ers.
However, Shaw explained that it made sense in Smith’s case. The tight end is already well-developed physically and his skill set is ready for the NFL. Smith’s speed is what it is at this point, and he probably could have only climbed one or two rounds had he stayed in college. As Shaw put it, the reward of being a fourth-round pick wasn’t worth the risk of suffering an injury and potentially losing his draft stock all together.
Shaw cited Smith’s improved ability as a blocker (the tight end spent the beginning of each practice working on his footwork and technique with Stanford’s offensive linemen), maturity and work ethic as reasons why the tight end was ready for the NFL. The coach said there’s no reason why Smith can’t be a three-down player sooner rather than later.
“I truly believe that,” Shaw said. “And if he’s not there right away, he’ll be there very shortly. He’s made huge improvements in his blocking, and he takes a lot of pride in that area.”
Shaw also expressed his eagerness to see what Shanahan has in store for Smith. San Francisco’s head coach is well regarded for creating mismatches with tight ends and using misdirection to get them open in space. Kittle’s record-setting 2019 campaign affirms that notion.
Smith will have the opportunity to earn a role similar to Dallas Goedert’s with the Philadelphia Eagles as the counterpunch to superstar Zach Ertz.
“I think Kyle is so good at manipulating defenses with personnel groupings and formations and motions and route combinations,” Shaw said. “That’s good for guys who are athletic and can make contested catches, but also guys who are bright. Kaden is going to come in, he’s going to study and he’s going to know everything there is to know about the offense.”