Irv Smith Jr. Fantasy Outlook: Can This Former Sleeper Become Fantasy Gold With the Cincinnati Bengals?

TE Irv Smith Jr. hasn't put it all together yet. Now that he's joined the high-powered Cincinnati Bengals, what is his fantasy outlook in 2023?

At PFN, we’ve researched more than 350 fantasy football players, trying to identify which ones are overrated, underrated, and priced right. With that in mind, here is Cincinnati Bengals TE Irv Smith Jr.’s fantasy outlook for 2023.

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Irv Smith Jr.’s 2023 Fantasy Outlook

A former second-round draft pick, Smith was a breakout candidate entering the 2021 season before a cartilage tear in his knee sidelined him for the year. The little-used and less-heralded Tyler Conklin replaced him and played so well that he earned a $20.25 million contract ($10 million guaranteed) with the New York Jets.

Then, last season, Smith looked decent as the weekly starter — but only “decent” — before an ankle injury knocked him out for half the season. Immediately after landing on injured reserve, the Minnesota Vikings traded for T.J. Hockenson. Who knows whether Smith might have elevated his game as the year progressed. Regardless, Hockenson was a far better fit.

So after four years in the NFL, Smith doesn’t have much to show for his pre-draft potential. At this point, he’s a 25-year-old reclamation project — a nothing-to-lose flyer with the talent to do plenty of damage. He’s also one of the most injury-prone starting tight ends this league has seen since Tyler Eifert.

Speaking of Eifert, the Bengals have been searching for a true franchise TE for years. Since Eifert’s breakout 2015 season (52-615-13 receiving line), Cincy hasn’t had a top-14 fantasy tight end.

It’s not for a lack of trying. Last year, Hayden Hurst was fairly solid but played in only 13 games — and was forced to exit one of those contests early. The year before, C.J. Uzomah was an adequate top-20 TE with a bit of pop. Both of these guys had paths to top-14 production. It simply didn’t work out.

Smith arguably is more talented than Hurst and Uzomah. So the question is whether Joe Burrow will look his way more often — if the still-young TE can become a 5.5-to-6.5 target guy, versus the four or five targets we’ve seen in recent years from Cincy’s No. 1 tight ends.

Fortunately, Smith will operate ahead of Drew Sample and Devin Asiasi on the depth chart. It bodes well for Smith’s chances to earn enough snaps to secure a top-20 fantasy floor.

It also helps (from a fantasy perspective, of course) that Joe Mixon has shown some decline in the past year or even 20 months. For example, he’s netted only 3.8 yards per carry on his last 400 attempts. If he were a 27-year-old journeyman named “Burt Hufflepuff,” the Bengals might not be so eager to take the ball out of Burrow’s hands near the goal line.

If Mixon continues to be inefficient this season, then it’s also distinctly possible that Burrow will need to take on more work near the end zone.

So it should be noted that all nine of Smith’s career touchdowns have come inside the opposing 15-yard line, with five of his last six connecting from the 4-yard line or closer. As a presumed top-five target in this offense, a 500-yard, eight-TD season is entirely doable.

As a result, Smith is one of those fantasy assets that managers can safely snag at or near the end of their fantasy drafts, but with enough ceiling to hit the top 10-12 if things break right.

While that might not seem glamorous (because it isn’t), if you’re seeking a TD-dependent flier with the same or more pop as his immediate Cincy predecessors, then Smith should at least outperform muted expectations.

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