So there was Chris Smith on NFL Draft Sunday, sitting around the TV in his Provo apartment with his entire family, waiting for the payoff for two All-American seasons at BYU.
Considered the top tight end in the country a year ago, Smith had heard rumors that he might go as low as the fifth or sixth round. That, he was prepared to deal with. Still, when the slowest draft in NFL history wrapped up its first phase Sunday after just four rounds, the anticipation was getting to him.By Monday morning he was upbeat and anxiously anticipating being selected in the first couple rounds. The fifth round passed, and the sixth, seventh and eighth. Two of Smith's teammates were drafted - offensive tackle Neal Fort in round six, cornerback Brian Mitchell in round seven - while Smith waited for the phone to ring.
"Toward the eighth round it was almost humorous," Smith said. "At that point I was hoping I wouldn't get drafted." By then, Smith and his agent were already discussing his becoming a free agent, allowing him some preference of team to tryout for. His top choices were Cincinnati, Phoenix and Green Bay.
The ninth and 10th rounds passed, and Smith's free-agent hopes looked within reach. Fifteen tight ends had been taken, including receivers from such little-known football schools as Toledo, Northern Colorado and Livingston.
Then came the call. With the 295th pick in the draft, in the 11th round, the Cincinnati Bengals told Smith they had decided to take a chance on him.
Whoa. Take a chance? On a guy who caught 128 passes in two seasons?Yep. It seems the Bengals, and apparently every other NFL team, had heard a report - which Smith terms erroneous - that he had injured a shoulder in a senior all-star game, that he was damaged goods.
"There was just a snowball effect," Smith said. "Everybody knew Denver needed a tight end, and they picked up someone (Reggie Johnson) from Florida State. All of a sudden people were asking themselves, 'Why didn't Denver pick up Chris Smith? What's wrong with him?' " Smith said there's nothing wrong with him, except an occasional tight hamstring that caused him to run some slower-than-normal times for scouts. The shoulder injury, he said, was so minor that it wasn't worth mentioning.
And despite being the victim of what he sees as a false rumor, Smith said he's not shattered by the experience.
"I was disappointed I was drafted so low," he said, "but I'm happy I was drafted. I couldn't be more excited about going to the Bengals."
Bengals' coach Sam Wyche told Smith that he is the only tight end they drafted, that the team already has three tight ends, and that they only intend to carry three on the roster. That means Smith has to beat someone out of a job.
"The one guy is All-Pro, so I'm not going to beat him out," Smith said. "But I like my chances."
Smith acknowledged he didn't know much about the Bengals' offense, but what he does know, he likes. "(Quarterback) Boomer (Esiason) prefers to throw the ball short. That sounds perfect for me."
And while Smith is pleased with his prospects right now, he knows some will say he should have entered the draft last year, when his stock was sky-high and he could have commanded the more lucrative contract that comes with being a higher-round pick.
"If I had come out last year," he said," I wouldn't have won all the All-American honors, I wouldn't have gotten to play with a Heisman Trophy winner, I'd be 60 credits away from graduation instead of 14. For my part, there are no regrets, no regrets at all."