The Cincinnati Bengals responded to losing starting tight end Hayden Hurst to the Carolina Panthers in free agency by inking Irv Smith Jr. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said Monday he believes Smith can slide right into that pass-catching role Hurst vacated.
"Yeah, we think he can come in and play that role for us," Taylor said. "There's always competition in that room, but that's the vision that we have for Irv to come in there and fill that role that Hayden had for us."
A former second-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings, Smith boasts intriguing athleticism and pass-catching prowess but has struggled to stay healthy for the balance of his four-year career. Since playing a full slate his rookie season in 2019, he's missed games each of the past three years. Smith was out all of 2021 due to a torn meniscus and played in just eight games in 2022 due to an ankle injury.
Smith generated 25 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns last season. He's never hit the 370-yard mark in any season in his career.
Despite the injury issues, there is reason to believe Smith can be productive in the Bengals' offense. After all, Taylor, Joe Burrow, et al. helped rehab Hurst's reputation; the former Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons TE started a career-high 13 games in 2022 en route to 52 receptions, 414 yards and two scores.
Taylor believes the addition of Smith and re-signing of Drew Sample gives Cincy a solid corps to work with.
"I feel really good about adding Irv," Taylor said. "He's a good weapon for us based on what he's done so far. We liked him coming out of the draft and the years he spent in Minnesota, I think he fits what we're looking for, and getting Drew back is important for us as well. You know, he's been so valuable for us, you know, got hurt in the second week and didn't get a chance to play, but we like what he's done for us over the years. And then we got all those guys, Devin (Asiasi) and a bunch of other guys that have really done a nice job last year, whether it's on the practice squad or on the 53, and so guys that we're excited about their future also."
With Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd commanding the bulk of the attention in the passing game, there aren't a ton of targets for the TEs. But with questions moving forward with Higgins and Boyd -- both free agents next season -- it would be on brand for Cincy to draft a tight end next week. It's a deep class at the position, and it would make sense to plan for 2024 to snag a TE who can grow in the system -- similar to what the Bengals did in the secondary last season.