Kaden Smith
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

New York Giants TE Kaden Smith has thrived with Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison injured and now may have a future with the team.

The 2019 campaign has been miserable for the New York Giants, who sit at 4-12 after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale.

Perhaps one of the upsides for New York this season has been the emergence of some hidden gems. This includes fifth-round draft pick Darius Slayton, who’s caught eight touchdown passes, and linebacker Markus Golden, who’s recorded 10 sacks.

One name not receiving much attention though is Kaden Smith. The rookie tight end is emerging as a player the Giants can move forward with. 

Smith spent three college seasons at Stanford University, where he took over the starting duties in 2017. In that year, he caught 23 balls for 414 yards and five touchdowns.

He followed that up with a strong Junior season in 2018, catching 47 balls for 635 yards and two scores. His efforts earned him All-Pac 12 Second-team honors. 

Fresh off the big season, the 6-foot-5 tight end opted to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft. The San Francisco 49ers selected Smith in the sixth round, but he didn’t impress in camp. This led to the team waiving him on Sept. 14.

The Giants claimed him two days later, and in the last few weeks, the young pro has mightily impressed coaches, teammates, and fans.

After injuries to both Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, Smith stepped in as the team’s starting tight end during the Week 12 loss to the Bears. He’d go on to record five catches for 17 yards and one score, which would keep him in the starting lineup.

The following week against the Packers, Smith impressed once again. The rookie hauled in six catches for 70 yards, including a season-long 32-yard reception. 

Smith’s workload was light the following two games but his breakout season continued in Week 16. In a win over the Redskins, Smith racked up two touchdown receptions, including the game-winner in overtime. He finished the contest with eight catches for 35 yards.

In total, Smith has racked up 31 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns in just seven games this season. 

When looking at the Giants’ depth at tight end heading into 2020, it looks like there will be room for the 22-year-old. They’re in a bit of a tricky spot with Engram though, who’s a former first-round pick.

Engram has been among the NFL’s most productive and explosive tight ends when healthy. Nonetheless, injuries have forced him to miss a total of 14 games in his first three years.

With injuries a concern, and only two years remaining on his contract, there’s been some speculation that the team could trade Engram this offseason.

Outside of Engram, the Giants will also have Ellison under contract in 2020. The veteran will be in the fourth year of a deal that’s earning him $4.5 million-per-season. The 31-year-old hasn’t quite produced like the Giants were hoping he would. Ellison has amassed just 674 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his first three years with the team.

Thus, he could be a cap casualty. His release would save the Giants $5 million in cap space for 2020.

If the Giants do end up trading Engram and cutting Ellison, they’d likely attempt to add a tight end via free agency or through the draft. Nevertheless, this wouldn’t keep Smith from making the roster in 2020.

Whether Engram, Ellison, both, or neither return next season, Smith has proven he may be a future difference-maker. He could indeed be part of a Giants team looking to make it back to the playoffs in 2020.