Smith Jr. entered the league as a high-second-round NFL draft pick and has unfortunately stalled due to various injuries.
He now finds himself on a Bengals roster that boasts one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses.
Maybe Smith Jr. will rebound his career and be a viable fantasy option in 2023, but the jury is still out on how much we should be excited about him.
What We Learned Last YearSmith Jr. spent the 2022 season primarily serving as a backup TE in the Vikings’ offense. He concluded the season as the TE43 overall in PPR with 6.9 points per game.He only appeared in eight games last season due to a high ankle sprain sustained in Week 8.The former second-rounder logged a top-five fantasy performance in Week 2 of 2022 but only had three other top-24 weekly finishes to speak of. He was otherwise an afterthought.Thus far in his career, Smith Jr. has been a bust. The Vikings spent the 50th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft on him, yielding little to no return on that investment.In his four years of NFL experience (three healthy seasons, missed 2021 with a torn meniscus), Smith Jr. has logged just eight games with 10+ PPR points. He’s also never tallied more than 40+ receptions or 400+ receiving yards in a single season to date.Prior to the NFL trade deadline, the Vikings acquired TE T.J. Hockenson from the Lions in exchange for draft pick compensation, effectively ending Smith Jr.’s tenure as a loosely relevant player on the roster. The team subsequently didn’t re-sign him, making Smith Jr. a free agent.
What to Expect in 2023Smith Jr. inked a one-year “prove it” deal with the Bengals this offseason worth up to $2 million ($1.75 million base salary).As frustrating as his career has been, Smith Jr.’s athletic talent and pedigree are all there:His father, Irv Sr., was a first-round NFL draft pick who played seven seasons as a TE in the NFL between 1993-99 with three different teams.His uncle, Ed, played seven seasons of minor league baseball before bouncing around NFL Europe, the XFL, and playing 30 career games as a TE in the NFL with three different teams.Landing with the Bengals’ offense definitely helps Smith’s speculative case for professional redemption.Ultimately, Smith Jr. is a post-hype sleeper who should start the 2023 season on the waiver wire.
Smith signed with the Bengals after spending his first four NFL seasons in Minnesota. The 2019 second-round pick has flashed at times, but he has struggled with injuries (29 missed games over the last three seasons, including all of 2021) and has yet to clear 365 yards in a season. In 2022, Smith was limited to one top-12 fantasy outing in nine games and ranked at or near the basement at the position in yards per target (5.2) and yards per reception (7.3). Smith is still young (25) and a high-pedigree player, so perhaps he'll get his career on track in the Bengals' pass-heavy, high-scoring offense. He'll likely file in fourth in line for targets behind the team's outstanding WR trio and should be valued as a fringe TE2 and a deep sleeper for a post-hype breakout.