Above: 5’9” 181 lb Shaun Crawford watches lovingly as his new daddy, 6’5” 260 lb Kaden Smith, catches a pass last year at Stanford Stadium.
For the first time this fall, there’s a distinct chill in the air as I type this out. Summer is slowly relinquishing its hold, and with the cooler weather we conjure images of fallen leaves, apple picking, goblins, ghouls, zombies with no conscience, and giant tight ends wearing Stanford white and cardinal.
Enter Kaden Smith.
The 6’5” 260 lb tight end has led the Cardinal in receiving yards in three of four games this year, the lone exception being the opener against San Diego State. He was a nightmare for Oregon, reeling in six catches for 95 yards, and similarly abused USC to the tune of four catches for 77 yards. Last year against the Irish, Smith had catches of 20, 26 and 19 yards for TD. Surprisingly, he has yet to record a touchdown this season, but it’s not difficult to imagine him rectifying that situation on Saturday. We all know Stanford loves to bring in jumbo sets in short yardage, and whether he’s helping pave the way for Bryce Love or out running shallow to the pylon to catch a bootleg pass, Smith is overdue to have an impact in the red zone.
But the scarier part of his game is that Smith is the type of player who is going to bail you out when you get behind the sticks. Go ahead and get comfortable with Stanford repeatedly converting third and long on Saturday, because this kid is a goddamn cheat code on third down. Through four games, here’s what happens when you target Kaden Smith on third and long:
San Diego State:
3rd & 8, complete for 14, first down
3rd & 6, complete for 8, first down
3rd & 7, complete for 11, first down
4th & 8, complete for 11, first down
3rd & 13, complete for 7, Stanford kicks a FG 4th & 6
3rd & 9, complete for 22, first down
3rd & 23, complete for 25 (ooh ouch owie!), first down
3rd & 9, complete for 24, first down
These plays are obviously absolute gut-punches for the defense, and also not that great for the fans at home! You win on first and second down, you’re about to get off the field, and then KJ Costello just hucks it up to the 6’5” dude who, even if he’s covered, just boxes out his defender for a first down. These plays are brutal, they will happen on Saturday, and Kaden Smith will be involved in more than a few of them. Let’s go to the tape!
The catch radius on Smith is enormous, and he frequently just goes over the top of guys who are in perfect position to make a play, and takes the ball away. Once again, you can do everything right, and it doesn’t even matter because Kaden Smith is still going to steal your lunch money and take your girlfriend to prom.
We can assume that covering Smith will generally fall to the safeties and linebackers. Not to sound like a broken record, but neither Drue Tranquill nor Te’von Coney has looked exceptional in coverage this year, despite their sure tackling skills. Through the first four games, the linebacking corps has exactly one (1) pass break-up to their name. Asmar Bilal, playing from the rover position, will likely have his work cut out for him — especially since he gives up three inches and 35 pounds to Smith. The safeties, who have performed extremely well to date, are at a similar disadvantage — Jalen Elliott is listed at 6’1” 205, Alohi Gilman at 5’11”, 202. The physical presence of the Stanford receiving options (6’7” Colby Parkinson, 6’3” JJ Arcega-Whiteside, 6’2” Trenton Williams) will be mentioned early and often on Saturday, and there are only so many double teams to go around.
Scary, I know.