Report: Has Smith Chosen Atlanta?

It's not official yet, but former Eagles tight end L.J. Smith told the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 13 that he has chosen the Atlanta Falcons as his new team. Smith met with the team a week before and was looking at Atlanta and Detroit as his primary options.

First, the particulars. Smith is a 6-3, 258-pound, six-year veteran from Rutgers. The Eagles franchised him for the 2008 season after he lost seven starts in 2007 to groin and knee injuries. Smith "rewarded" the team by catching 37 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns in Philly's pass-heavy offense. If Atlanta signed him, Smith would be the Falcons' #1 tight end, but what does that mean? We asked longtime Eagles observer (and my Football Outsiders compadre) Mike Tanier for the lowdown.

L.J. has pretty good speed and is pretty good at sitting down in zones and getting open on shorter routes. That's the good news. Here's the bad news:

1) He has very poor hands. He will drop a lot of balls, and when he does catch the ball, he double clutches and bobbles. He doesn't help his quarterback very much, so the ball had better be right in his breadbasket for him to make a reception.

2) He fumbles and is easy to strip.

3) He makes mental errors at the line of scrimmage and will mess up the snap count or line up incorrectly.

4) He is average at best as a blocker.

L.J.'s ability to stay in the league and keep a starting job is one of life's great mysteries. He's a receiver-type tight end with poor receiving skills. The Falcons are weak at tight end, but there are several prospects in the draft who could get up to speed by midyear and outplay L.J.

Still, Smith's deficiencies could see him helping the Falcons in the short term -- Atlanta has more dynamic receivers than the Eagles do, though there is no singular threat to compete with Brian Westbrook. More importantly, signing Smith would put the Falcons in a position where they're not reacting at a need level in the draft. Most mock drafts have them taking Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but the needs on defense are great at every level.


Doug Farrar is the Publisher of FalconInsider.com. You can also find his work on Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to contact Doug here.


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