Irv Smith Jr.'s football path might be seen by some as predetermined.
His father, Irv. Sr., was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1993. Smith Sr., a burly tight end who played in the NFL for eight seasons, is still remembered by Notre Dame fans for his 1991 touchdown reception against Indiana, a play in which he carried three Indiana defenders into the end zone.
Smith Jr., however, wanted to break the mold. He wanted to be a receiver.
His football career began on such a path, starting in the ninth grade. But by the time his junior season arrived, Smith accepted the inevitable: His inherited size and skills would lead him closer to the offensive tackles.
"Once I bought into the tight end position, I'm a physical player, I like to block and get down and dirty," Smith explained when asked how difficult it was to make the change. "I like to have fun and tight end is a great position that you can do that. With my talent and just being versatile, it helps out a lot."
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It has worked in his favor. The younger Smith ended up earning a scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he blossomed in 2018, catching 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns -- a single-season record for Crimson Tide tight ends. Smith landed Second Team All-SEC honors for his efforts and could become the latest Alabama tight end to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah ranked Smith as the No. 18 prospect in the entire 2019 draft class, touting Smith's "excellent blend of size, athleticism, ball skills and toughness."
That same blend might lead to Smith joining his father as first-round selections, and becoming the newest first-round father-son combo in the NFL (the last was Jets safety Jamal Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick of the Giants in 1985).
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Smith Sr.'s own career saw him play seven seasons in the NFL: five with New Orleans, one with San Francisco and a final campaign with the expansion Browns in 1999. Smith Jr. was just a year old when his dad suited up in Cleveland and caught 24 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown -- in a 44-28 loss to the Bengals in Week 14 -- in 13 games before calling it a career.
Smith Sr. was in the starting lineup when the reborn Browns recorded their first win, coincidentally, in New Orleans. Smith Jr. was born in the same city a little more than 14 months earlier.
"He loved Cleveland," Smith said of his father's lone season with the Browns. ... "He said it was a great year he was there and it would be a great spot for me."
Smith has landed anywhere from the mid-teens to the upper 30s in mock drafts, making his pairing somewhat difficult to predict. But if he ends up in Cleveland, he'd be joining a talented tight end room that includes David Njoku, Darren Fells and Seth DeValve.
"A lot of coaches here scouted my dad 20 years ago, which is crazy," Smith said. "They joked with me a lot about that and they told me I was a better player than he was."
Perhaps he'll get a chance to be a better Brown, too.