Kaden Smith has been catching passes and receiving compliments.
The rookie tight end’s latest contribution came against the Redskins at FedEx Field last Sunday. He completed a six-catch, two-touchdown game by grabbing Daniel Jones’ 3-yard pass in overtime for the winning TD.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Smith said after Friday’s practice. “But at the same time, you don’t want to kind of drag it on for a while. It’s kind of move on to the next week.”
This next week is the final week. The Giants (4-11) will close a season geared toward trying to develop young players when they face the Eagles (8-7) on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Smith didn’t get an opportunity to start until the 11th game. The 6-5, 249-pound Stanford product now has started five straight and become a factor.
“I think he’s developed his total game,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “In terms of run-blocking, he did a nice job last week, and he’s done a nice job [overall]. He’s making plays in the passing game. He’s got a real good feel for playing the position, and he’s got good football instincts. I think that’s why he’s had a chance to make an impact as a rookie.”
There have been other reasons: twists of fate, really.
The 49ers drafted him in the sixth round last April but needed another running back for Week 2 and waived him the day before the game. “I understood it,” Smith said. “It’s a business.”
The 49ers, who already had Pro Bowler George Kittle at tight end, wanted to re-sign Smith to the practice squad, but the Giants claimed him. Then injuries to Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison gave him his starting opportunity with the Giants.
“I hate for it to be in this situation with injuries, but it’s been nice to get out on the field,” he said. “At the same time, it doesn’t feel like it was earned, because of injuries.”
But he has been earning trust, making 22 of his 23 receptions for 169 of his 170 yards and all three of his touchdowns across the five starts. Tight ends coach Lunda Wells said Smith “understands how to get open.”
Besides that winning TD reception, he caught a 9-yard scoring pass from Jones in the third quarter. Smith has been rather impressed with the quarterback.
“He’s the hardest worker in the building,” Smith said. “I’ll try to get here really early and he beats me every time . He’s the first one in and the last one to leave. He just plays with confidence every day and just continues to try to learn and get better.”
Smith was born in Atlanta and raised mostly in Flower Mound, Texas. He said he was “excited for the new experience” after the Giants claimed him. He had never been to the Northeast.
“I feel like I’ve been doing better each week,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on improving.”
Notes & quotes: Ellison (concussion) was placed on IR. TE Scott Simonson (concussion) is out . TE Garrett Dickerson likely will be promoted from the practice squad. T Mike Remmers (concussion) is out . . . Cornerbacks Sam Beal (shoulder) and Corey Ballentine (back) and linebacker Alec Ogletree (back) are questionable Defensive tackle Chris Slayton was elevated from the practice squad . . . Saquon Barkley was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after posting a Giants-record 279 yards from scrimmage.