Notre Dame TE Durham Smythe passes tests, improves stock at Senior Bowl

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Durham Smythe was on his P’s and Q’s last week.

Not to mention his 16s and 17s.

During an interview with an NFL team prior to last Saturday’s Senior Bowl, Smythe — Notre Dame’s departed 6-foot-6, 257-pound tight end — was asked to demonstrate his cerebral capability by pairing numbers with their coinciding letters.

A1

B2

C3

D4

You can probably fill in the rest.

Of course, the Belton, Texas, native also passed his fair share of on-field tests, a highlight being Smythe’s 27-yard touchdown catch from Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in the week’s culminating game.

Smythe — who was voted a team captain by the Denver Broncos’ coaching staff, which mentored the north team — finished with three catches for 48 yards, but three letters and numbers stood out most:

T, D and 6.

“(My goal) was just proving that I can be a reliable target in the passing game, just because I think my volume in terms of receiving production was a little bit lower than a lot of the other tight ends there,” Smythe told the Tribune in a phone interview on Monday. “Having practices to show off that I can actually be a receiving threat, and then in the game as well, was something I was really trying to focus on throughout the week.”

Smythe’s emphasis yielded the intended results. The former Notre Dame graduate student — who registered 28 catches for 381 yards and six touchdowns in his five-year Irish career — impressed during the three practices that accompanied last Saturday’s celebrated scrimmage.

“He might not be the fastest out there or the biggest, but he is very consistent,” said Dane Brugler, a senior NFL Draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. “I think he’s a well-rounded player. He’s more of a one-speed type of route-runner, but he’s deliberate in his movements. You can tell he pays attention to the details.

“I think he’s consistent catching the football. He did a nice job in traffic. A lot of times the defender was right on him and the quarterback made a tight window throw, but he was able to secure it. He has the ability in traffic to stay focused and out-physical defensive backs. That certainly showed.

“I thought overall he had a strong week and cemented himself as one of the top seven tight ends in this draft, when you include the juniors. In a really strong tight end group, that’s saying something.”

But what does it say about his draft prospects? Sure, Smythe won’t enter the spring with the NFL buzz that surrounded former Irish tight ends Kyle Rudolph or Tyler Eifert, not to mention offensive linemen and likely 2018 first round picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for a player capable of delivering consistent results.

“I think third or fourth round is probably what we’re looking at, borderline top 100,” Brugler said. “It’s a deep tight end group, so it will be interesting to see the domino effect and how they come off the board. There’s a chance he could go in the top 100. If not, (it’ll be) early day three.

“He’s a guy that, he might never be that true No. 1 tight end for a team, but at worst he’s going to be a reliable No. 2. He’s going to give you the same things day in, day out. His level of play is going to be consistent. You know exactly what you’re getting from a player like Smythe.”

More specifically, you’re going to get sure hands. You’re going to get precise routes. You’re going to get physical, fearless, assignment-sound blocking.

You’re going to get all of the things Irish offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long helped instill.

“He was able to teach me things that I didn’t previously think about — things in the defense that I could see so I could anticipate movement, little intricacies within routes and blocking,” Smythe said.

“It was little things here and there that really added up to slow the game down even further for me.”

Granted, those lessons didn’t dramatically impact Smythe’s 2017 statistics — 15 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown — but his comprehensive skill set was on display last week. Smythe is currently training with Irish teammates Nelson and McGlinchey at EXOS in San Diego, in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine in early March.

Once he gets there, Smythe will undoubtedly be subjected to more drills, more meetings, more interviews, more questions.

Maybe even more letters and numbers.

Whatever it takes to pass another test.

“Obviously scoring a touchdown is a good experience, but it’s more about the week as a whole for me,” Smythe said of his Senior Bowl highlight. “Having a full week to get close to these other guys that are going through the same process, to be able to work with them and compete with them and against them all week and in the game, it was a pretty sweet experience. I really took a lot from it.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

North squad tight end Durham Smythe of Notre Dame in action during the North teams practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game in Mobile, Ala.,Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)