Positives: Smith has great size and very impressive athleticism. He has long arms, a large frame and is quick off the ball. He has surprisingly good hand usage for such a young player (redshirt sophomore) and between his burst off the snap and his hand usage he can beat a lot of blockers off the line of scrimmage with one move to get into the backfield. He has a good bull rush, swim move, rip move and club move, so he has a pretty good compliment of pass rush moves despite only being a two year starter at Missouri. He is very good at countering inside and because of his hand usage he stunts very well thanks to his pass rush moves and he is too athletic for guards to handle. He plays with good leverage against the run and uses his long arms to keep blockers at bay. He reads plays well and plays smart, and seems to have good instincts. He also does a good job of getting his hands in passing lanes to bat passes down or to alter throws. He was moved inside to DT at times at Missouri but his hand usage and athleticism allowed him to completely overwhelm interior linemen. A lot of the pressure Smith generates is from stunting inside and beating one on one blocks or from countering inside against offensive tackles. He can be a good wrap-up tackler and can make plays because of his athletic ability and long arms that other defensive ends wouldn’t be able to make. He also has a good motor and pursues well from the back-side, he also works well down the line and makes a lot of stops near the line of scrimmage. He shows the ability to drop into coverage and seems to be a fluid athlete and has good instincts.
Negatives: While Smith is a very impressive athlete I wonder about his ceiling as a pass rusher. He has a good first step and burst off the ball and is almost never the last defender off the line of scrimmage but rarely does he just beat offensive linemen off the edge with a speed rush. He flashes a shoulder dip and hip flexibility, but he rarely beats offensive tackles off the edge with a speed rush where he dips his shoulder to get the edge. Instead he usually counters inside with a swim/club/rip move when at defensive end. The vast amount of the pressure he creates is from taking the inside move, stunting at defensive end to go inside or when he just lines up at defensive tackle and beats an offensive guard at will. He will at times try to arm tackle quarterbacks when he is a little out of control in the backfield and that allows them to maneuver causing him to slide off of them. While he definitely is more refined from a technique standpoint than I expected him to be I think he could stand to refine his pass rush moves and he could stand to improve his hand usage to help him shed blocks better in the run game. He also needs to get stronger and fill out his frame a bit because while he is strong for his size he looks thin on film and could really use some lower body strength to help him hold up better versus the run.
Overall: I really like Smith as a prospect because he is very athletic and has surprisingly refined pass rush moves for a redshirt-sophomore. I expected him to be a raw athlete who needed a lot of time to develop but I think he will be able to contribute early on as a rookie because he is relatively sound fundamentally. If he has good/very good edge speed (as it was tough to tell at times because he was playing hurt his year) then I think he can be a dynamic pass rusher in the NFL. He has 8-10+ sack potential especially considering how far along he is as far as pass rush moves are concerned. He should continue to be effective on stunts, inside counter-moves and just lining up at DT in special packages in the NFL. However, if his edge speed is limited and he relies too much on countering inside when lined up at DE then his production will suffer and his potential will be severely limited. I tend to believe he has the edge speed and enough hip flexibility to be an effective RE in the NFL, the question will be just how effective. I also believe that if he doesn’t quite have it in him to be an 8-10+ sack artist at RE he could try to gain more weight and slide over to LE and be one of the better LE’s in the NFL, making him less of a risk. He also offers scheme versatility because I believe he could play either 3-4 OLB position in the NFL. So, while I wonder about his injury and just how well he will beat NFL OT’s off the edge I think he will be a very good pass rusher in the NFL.
Projection: Top 15. If he makes it to the Buccaneers I think that will be as far as he falls, but with the Texans, Vikings and Jaguars all looking for pass rush help I’d be surprised if he fell out of the top sixteen selections come draft day. If he does I imagine there will be a couple teams that try to trade up for him.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Pass Rush: 4.0
Point Of Attack: 3.0