Positives: Has impressive size and speed for a cornerback. Turns and runs well, especially when in press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. Shows good ability to jam and has speed to recover if he misses the jam or doesn’t effectively move the receiver off the route. Has long arms that he can use to jam and to knock passes down in coverage. Can locate the ball in the air as a defender which will help him avoid pass interference calls in the NFL. Shows some ability to be a wrap up tackler and can set the edge as a run defender or against screens. Flashes some very impressive closing speed at times and shows some pop as a hitter at times which I like. Is assignment saavy and doesn’t often bite on play action. Has good speed especially in long distances and turned and ran well with everyone I saw him cover. His size and leaping ability will allow him to match up with even the biggest and most athletic receivers in the NFL, especially because he is so adept at mirroring receivers in man coverage and turns and runs so well out of press-man coverage. Because he is usually in good position and because he has a reputation as a good man coverage corner quarterbacks don’t usually go after him much.
Negatives: Smith needs a lot of development on his footwork, I think it needs a lot of improvement. I rarely see him in a straight back-pedal, though when he does it looks alright. He did seem to be a bit high when he was pedaling though. However far more often he is in press-man coverage where he will press and then turn and run with the receiver or he will be off the ball and take slide steps before breaking on the ball or turning slightly to run with the receiver downfield. I think he will need work on his back-pedal, plus he needs work on his footwork when transitioning from his pedal or whatever steps he is using to closing on a pass or changing directions. When he tries to transition he will either waste steps (which hurts his ability to close on passes in front of him) or he will stop his feet instead of clicking them and closing, which also hurts his closing ability. So his footwork needs improvement in my opinion, and that hurts his ability in zone coverage. His tackling is suspect also and despite his physicality as a press-man corner he is not aggressive at all in run support, preferring to wait for the ball carrier to come to him more times than not. He won’t work hard to get off wide receiver blocks most times and will tackle too high far too much and will resort to dragging guys down at times. He is also very used to being able to have his hands on receivers five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and that could result in penalties in the NFL since he will get handsy at times in coverage. I think he will struggle with smaller, quicker receivers that will be able to change directions better against him, even when in man coverage. I am also not impressed with his ball skills and while he does locate the ball he is usually pretty late in doing so, and rarely makes a nice play on the ball (only 11 pass deflections the last two years, and only two interceptions the past two years, both as a junior). Has had past character concerns that may scare some teams away from him.
Overall: Smith definitely has potential as a man coverage corner in the NFL but I am not sold on him in zone coverage. His footwork needs enough work that I don’t think he will ever be very good in zone, and I don’t think his ball skills are good enough that he will consistently make quarterbacks pay for challenging him if he does bait them into throwing at him. He is an impressive athlete but his technique needs improvement and that makes me wonder how well he will transition to the NFL in his first year or two in the league. I don’t think he will make a very clean transition unless he is asked to play a lot of press-man early on in his career. I think he has potential to be a quality starting corner in the NFL though, but he won’t ever be elite because of his lack of good ball skills in my opinion. But his combination of size, athleticism and arm length will make him very intriguing for teams that have to consistently go up against big, physical receivers because Smith will be able to mirror them without a problem and force quarterbacks to go elsewhere or get the ball to that receiver against pretty good coverage.
Projection: Late 1st, early 2nd. I think he could go late in round one, especially to a team that needs a physical presence at corner (unless you want a really good run defender, that’s not Smith’s mantra). He definitely could slide into the 2nd round, but I don’t see him making it out of the top 40-45 selections.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Man Coverage: 4.0
Zone Coverage: 2.5
Ball Skills: 2.5
Thanks for reading!