After comparing two 1st-round tight ends in the last article, here is another entry in the End to End series. This time we are looking at two tight ends that were selected on day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft. Here is Smith vs Sternberger.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Irv Smith with the 18th pick of the 2nd round. Meanwhile, Jace Sternberger went to the Green Bay Packers in the 3rd round (pick 12). Even while being drafted in different rounds, Smith and Sternberger are in similar situations. Let’s compare.
Here are Irv Smith’s college stats:
And this is Jace Sternberger’s production at the previous level:
Both tight ends achieved most of their receiving yards in 2018. Smith because he was at Alabama and it is really tough to break out as a freshman in that program. Sternberger because he dealt with injuries throughout his time in college.
Much like Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson in the previous End to End, Smith and Sternberger’s career receiving yards are almost identical (838 and 837 in favor of Smith). Both also had 10 touchdowns in college. The only stat with a significant difference is their career yards per reception. In that regard, Sternberger bests Smith 17.1 to 14.4.
While Smith and Sternberger are both decent athletes, neither had as impressive of a combine as Noah Fant. Still, there were some bright spots, such as Smith’s 4.63 40-yard dash (85th percentile at the position). There is a bit of a difference between that and Sternberger’s 4.75 40. However, once the scores are adjusted for weight, they are much closer. Smith comes in at the 69th percentile, while Sternberger is in the 57th percentile. A smaller difference, but still an edge toward Smith.
Both players’ burst scores are less than encouraging, however. The burst score is a combination of the vertical and broad jump results after taking into account a player’s weight. Smith had a 111.9 burst score, while Sternberger came in at 111.6. Those results place both of them in the bottom third among tight ends.
However, a more encouraging sign is the agility score, the sum of a player’s 20-yard short shuttle time and 3-cone drill time. Sternberger recorded an 11.5 second time for the two drills combined (61st percentile), while Smith comes in with an 11.65-second agility score (39th percentile).
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Finally, we have the SPARQx score (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness). It is one of the best metrics to determine a player’s overall athletic ability. Smith’s SPARQx score is 108.9 (59th percentile) which is better than Sternberger’s 102.1 (34th percentile).
In most athletic testing categories, Smith beats Sternberger. However, Sternberger gets the edge in the all-important agility score. Agility is one of the most important qualities for a receiver to have as it can allow them to separate more easily from a defender. Therefore, while Smith is the winner of the athletic testing comparison, it is much closer than what appears.
Both rookies ended up on teams who currently have a veteran tight end in place. On the surface, these may appear to be bad landing spots. However, upon looking into to contract details, we see that these may actually be ideal locations.
Starting with the Vikings, Kyle Rudolph is in the final year of his contract. Perhaps they will resign Rudolph, but after spending a 2nd round pick on Smith, they are probably planning for the rookie to produce as early as 2020.
Sternberger is also in a situation where he may be the starting tight end in 2020. Jimmy Graham is signed through the end of the 2020 season, but his dead cap total next season is only $3.67 million. With a cap hit of $11.67 million in 2020, the Packers will save $8 million of cap space by releasing Graham before next season.
I mentioned that these spots may be ideal. The track record for tight ends producing as rookies is very short. Both Smith and Sternberger are in situations where they can sit a learn to play the position in the NFL for a year before potentially becoming starters in 2020. Perhaps that is what’s best of the long term development of both players.
Smith and Sternberger both have the advantage of entering the NFL on teams with established veteran quarterbacks. However, the amount that those signal callers target tight ends, has varies throughout their careers.
Looking strictly at the seasons where he was the full-year starter in Washington, Kirk Cousins certainly looks often towards his tight ends. During that 3-year stretch in Washington, the TE market share was just under a quarter of the team’s targets (24.39%). On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Aaron Rodgers. In the 9 seasons where Rodgers played the majority of the year, the Packers’ tight ends only once had a higher market share of targets. That was in 2009 when the Green Bay tight ends accounted for 25.14% of the team’s targets.
That 2009 season, was a decade ago. And Cousins is now on the Vikings. So things change. Looking at recent history, the tight end has not been a large part of Rodgers’ repertoire. Even with the money spent to bring Jimmy Graham to Green Bay, Rodgers only targeted his tight ends 20.77% of the time. While that is not horrible, it is not quite at the level that Cousins was targeting the position in Washington.
Speaking of Cousins, how did his first season in Minnesota go? With regards to tight ends, not very well. He only targeted the position 15.68% of the time in 2018, almost an 8% drop from his last year in Washington.
What does this all mean? Well, rookie tight ends rarely produce at the level where they can be started in fantasy football. Neither Smith nor Sternberger are exceptions to this and dynasty players should not expect much from them in 2019. However, they are certainly worth drafting in order to hold on to them for 2020 and beyond.
There wasn’t much to separate Smith from Sternberger. They had almost identical production in college and while the athletics metrics favor Smith, Sternberger isn’t far behind. Finally, Smith gets a slight edge in terms of team fit because his new quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has historically favored tight ends. However, he will need to target the position more than he did last season. Meanwhile, Sternberger is with a quarterback who has primarily looked to the outside.
Smith and Sternberger are close in terms of fantasy viability. The fact that Smith was drafted a round before gives just one more reason why I would favor him. Couple that with the slight edges that he gets in other categories, and my answer for Smith vs Sternberger is Irv Smith.
Thank you for reading this Smith vs Sternberger comparison. Be sure to stay connected to Full Press Coverage as we continue our fantasy football rookie content.