Rookie Report Card: Irv Smith Jr, Scott Miller and Patrick Laird

Dan Meylor

Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and how well he’s lived up to those expectations at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade the player in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2019 potential and long term upside.

The series continues this week as we look at a trio of rookies, Irv Smith Jr., Scotty Miller and Patrick Laird.

Irv Smith Jr., TE MIN

Week 11 Stats: three receptions, 20 yards, one touchdown (three targets)

Coming out of Alabama, Irv Smith Jr. was a highly regarded, although slightly overshadowed prospect in the 2019 class of tight ends. With T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant getting most of the hype at the position, he was widely known as the TE3 in the draft but that narrative has already started to change.

Smith Jr. left Tuscaloosa following his junior season despite being considered by many to be a raw prospect with a lot to learn about route running and work to do at the catch point. Despite those weaknesses however, he showed with the Crimson Tide to be an athletic target with good hands and strong run after the catch skills. Draftniks and dynasty owners alike loved his long-term upside as a seam stretching tight end that could develop as a strong red zone presence because of his knack for using his size (6’-2”, 242 pounds) to out-position smaller defenders.

Most expected Smith Jr. to take time to show his upside – particularly after he landed in Minnesota behind Kyle Rudolph – but through his first 11 games as a pro we’ve already begun to see the potential so many got excited about over the off-season.

After catching just seven passes for 93 yards and playing 48.8% of Minnesota’s offensive snaps in the opening six games of his career, Smith Jr. has racked up 20 receptions for 168 yards and a touchdown while seeing his playing time increase to 66.7% of snaps over the last five weeks. And while some of that spike in usage may be attributed to the loss of Adam Thielen from the offense due to a hamstring injury, there’s been no debating Smith Jr. has taken advantage of his added opportunities.

Against the Broncos in week 11, Smith Jr. was targeted three times, catching all three for 20 yards. His biggest play of the game came in the red zone when lined up in the slot to the left, he used a subtle shoulder fake and jab step to the outside to get inside position on cornerback Davontae Harris on a post route before making a contested catch in the back of the end zone.

The play highlighted a lot of what dynasty owners liked about Smith Jr. coming out of Alabama. Athletic enough to line up flexed to the outside and get separation on defensive backs, and big enough to make contested catches in the end zone.

For the rest of 2019 Smith Jr. will continue to share playing time with Rudolph – who has caught five touchdowns over the last five weeks – which will likely cap his weekly ceiling and keep him out of fantasy lineups. But despite Rudolph’s four-year extension which he signed in June, it should be a surprise to nobody if Smith Jr. gets the lion’s share of tight end snaps in Minnesota in 2020 and beyond.

Despite coming into draft season as the clear TE3 on most dynasty rookie draft cheat sheets, Smith Jr. is inching closer every week to being in the same tier as Hockenson and Fant. He’s an excellent trade target for those looking for a young tight end with mid-TE1 upside and according to the DLF Trade Finder he’s still relatively cheap. Recent trades include Smith Jr. going straight up for Darius Slayton, in a deal for James White, and in a swap for Mohamed Sanu.

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Scotty Miller, WR TB

Week 11 Stats: four receptions, 71 yards, (six targets)

Coming out of Bowling Green State, Scotty Miller was a bit of an unknown to most during draft season but entered the NFL with a nice college resume that including 208 catches for 2,838 yards and 23 touchdowns in his three seasons as a starter for the Falcons. He profiled as a small (5’9”, 174 pounds) but quick (4.36 40-time) slot receiver that was known for a lightning fast first step and an ability to work all three levels of the defense.

Although he wasn’t selected until the sixth round by the Buccaneers (208th overall) and was the 29th receiver taken in the draft, there was buzz throughout off-season workouts and into the pre-season that Miller could carve out a role in Tampa Bay’s pass-first offense. Multiple reports pointed to head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston raving about the speedster which put Miller on many dynasty owners’ radar going into the season.

Since the season opened Miller has been mostly quiet, catching just three passes for 39 yards over the first nine weeks. But over the last couple games, his playing time has spiked slightly and he’s contributed six receptions for 104 yards on nine targets, mostly as an outside receiver.

Miller’s biggest play of the season came in week 11 against the Saints when he beat safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson on a go route up the right sideline. The 48-yard play nearly went for a touchdown as he fell just short of the goal line. Nonetheless, it showed the great speed and explosive ability he has.

With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin entrenched as the top-two targets in Tampa it’s unlikely another receiver in that offense becomes worthy of starting. But in an offense that throws as much as the Bucs do, the third receiver is worth keeping tabs on for dynasty owners and for the first time when both were healthy, Miller played nearly as many snaps (35-to-36) as Breshad Perriman.

Although Miller should only be owned in the deepest of dynasty leagues, there are worse players to have as the final player on a roster. After all, he’s an injury to either Evans or Godwin from potentially being a big part of one of the heaviest passing volume offenses in the league.

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Patrick Laird, RB MIA

Week 11 Stats: one carry, seven rushing yards, six receptions, 51 receiving yards (six targets)

Patrick Laird had a nice college football career, accounting for 2,761 yards and 19 touchdowns at the University of California. With that said, I never heard of him until I saw him lined up in the backfield, run a route in the flat and catch a pass.

It looked almost as if the play was designed to go to Laird which made sense since Mark Walton was suspended and Kalen Ballage had proven over the first few months of the season that his hands were made of stone.

Laird played 16 snaps (23%) in week 11, mostly in passing situations. He piled up six catches for 51 yards while also running once for seven yards. Although he didn’t look particularly special on any of his touches, he looked more explosive than Ballage – who carried nine times for nine yards and a touchdown while also catching five-of-six targets for just eight yards.

Considering Ballage’s struggles, it should surprise nobody if Laird’s role grows in week 12 and beyond so those that are extremely desperate in deep PPR leagues could add the rookie.

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dan meylor