As injuries continue to sideline the NY Giants offensive weapons, a golden opportunity has arisen for Kaden Smith to become an impact player.
Not much has gone according to plan for the NY Giants during the first two weeks of the 2020 NFL season. After starting 0-2 for the seventh time in eight years and losing running back Saquon Barkley for the year, it’s hard not to feel as if the season is over before it even had a chance to get off the ground.
Adding insult to injury after last week’s loss to Chicago, wide receiver Sterling Shepard suffered a turf toe injury that placed him on IR, sidelining him for a minimum of three weeks.
While the loss of Barkley is crushing, the abysmal offensive line he was running behind, his liability in pass protection, and the lack of creative ways he was being used in the offense oddly makes his absence seem slightly less impactful than Shepard’s.
The NY Giants entered the season with a thin receiving corps and Golden Tate’s slow start due to a hamstring injury hasn’t helped matters.
Now with Shepard gone and defenses no longer having to key on Barkley, it leaves offensive coordinator Jason Garrett with a huge problem to address and a sorely thin list of playmakers for second-year quarterback Daniel Jones to address it with.
With no free-agent receivers having been brought in, it seems like the most logical and likely solution is going to be to move tight end, Evan Engram, into a true slot receiver role and using Kaden Smith as the more traditional in-line tight end.
Last week, after Shepard exited with his injury, Engram moved outside and finished the game with more reps at receiver (35 – with 19 in the slot) than at tight end (28).
To no surprise, he also finished the game much-improved with 6 receptions on 8 targets for 65 yards.
With this shift, Kaden Smith will see a lot more playing time at tight end, where he has the opportunity to become a sneakily impactful player.
For starters, Smith is by far the best in-line blocking tight end on the roster, and why he hasn’t been utilized more at this point is head-scratching.
It’s not just his 6-5, 250-pound frame that makes him an ideal blocker, it’s the fact that his tape and track record proves it dating back to his days at Stanford.
Smith moving into this role more consistently should help an offensive line that slightly improved last week. The new running back by committee of Devonta Freeman and Dion Lewis (with Wayne Gallman possibly getting into the mix) isn’t as threatening as Barkley but could provide efficient carries with defenses more focused on Daniel Jones, Darius Slayton, and Engram.
There’s no question that providing more help and stability in the run game will be one of Smith’s biggest and most immediate impacts for the NY Giants, but it will be his role in the passing game that will truly make him an x-factor.
Smith came on strong in the latter portion of 2019 in the absence of Evan Engram, recording 30 catches for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns from weeks 12-17.
He’s much more than a bulky, blocking refrigerator. He has the athleticism and hands needed to make contested catches and move the chains.
By no means am I saying Kaden Smith needs to or should become the #1 guy in the passing game, but he should 100% be used to his strengths. Letting Smith get his hands dirty in the trenches and potentially help kick start the run game will allow for everything else to open up offensively.
And when defenses are paying attention to Engram, Slayton, and Tate – Smith can become an extremely valuable asset in the passing game as we saw in 2019 as he would potentially get juicy 1-1 matchups with linebakers.
At this point, with only 29 combined points scored in the first two weeks, the NY Giants need to exhaust every possibility they can to get the offense moving in the right direction.
This is not going to be easy with no Barkley or Shepard, but the tools are there in Kaden Smith to ease the transition of Engram to the slot.
If both Smith and Engram are used correctly and to their strengths, we could see the offense slowly begin to improve starting this week against the injury-riddled 49ers defense.