Irv Smith Sr. refers to his son as “Irv 2.0, the improved version.”
Dad was an NFL first-round draft pick as a tight end 25 years ago, selected by the New Orleans Saints with the 20th overall pick in the 1993 draft. Pretty soon, he may not even be the highest draft pick in his own family.
Deionte Thompson and Quinnen Williams aren’t the only Alabama underclassmen rising up NFL draft boards. So is Irv 2.0.
Irv Smith Jr. is on his way to having one of the best statistical seasons for a tight end in Crimson Tide history, is emerging as a big-time NFL prospect and could be a big factor this weekend against his home-state school.
“He’s way further along than I was at this stage,” said Smith Sr., who played at Notre Dame. “It’s not even close.”
Growing up in New Orleans, Smith Jr. was an LSU fan.
The family also had a connection with Les Miles’ old right-hand man, Dean Dingman, who was Smith Sr.’s first NFL agent.
Still, the Tigers weren’t much of a factor during Smith’s recruitment.
LSU wasn’t aggressive in recruiting Smith. Also, father and son determined early on that LSU wasn’t a great fit for a tight end.
Instead, Smith landed with the Tide and is now establishing himself as one of the better tight ends in the country as a junior at Alabama.
“Irv can block. Irv is really, really dynamic with how he runs his routes. He’s very fast and he’s very strong,” Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said of the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Smith. “He’s a very good catcher as well. And if he was a lot skinnier than what he is now, he’d probably play receiver or something. He’s really that good.”
Not since the late 80s has an Alabama tight end had this many touchdown catches in a season.
O.J. Howard never had more than three. And no one had posted more than four as a tight end in almost 30 years for the Tide — until Smith.
Smith already has five touchdowns, the most for an Alabama tight end since Lamonde Russell had five in 1989.
Smith had a career-high five catches against Tennessee, a career-best 123 yards versus Arkansas and ranks first among SEC tight ends with an average of 17.5 yards per catch.
NFL teams are taking notice.
ESPN’s Todd McShay recently identified Irv 2.0 as one of the more underrated prospects among draft-eligible players and said he’s making “first-round noise.”
“The biggest growth has been his confidence,” Smith Sr. said of his son, who had 14 catches and three touchdowns as a sophomore last season. “His freshman year, he was very fortunate to be able to work under O.J. Howard and be able to work with a guy who’s a superb professional and to learn how to practice, most importantly, like a pro and then to be able to translate it onto the football field. Last year was one of those years where he had a chance to get his feet wet. And this year, I feel like, when I look at him on the field, he’s a totally different player because he now feels like he belongs. He’s not (overthinking) and is able to just go out there and use his God-given talents.”
Matt Zenitz is an Alabama and Auburn reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mzenitz.