The Buccaneers decided to go small school again in the fourth round of this year’s draft with cornerback Ryan Smith. Smith set a school record with a whopping 168 solo tackles while at North Carolina Central, and built up nearly 35 pounds of solid muscle over the course of his college career.
Since the Bucs picked up CB Brent Grimes in free agency and drafted CB Vernon Hargreaves number 11 overall in this year’s draft, it’s clear that Bucs GM Jason Licht knew defense was a glaring need for the team. However, what’s unclear is what Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith will choose to do with Ryan Smith in his scheme. One possibility is playing him at safety.
“We see him (Ryan Smith) as possibly being a safety,” Jason Licht said at Day 3 of the NFL Draft. “That versatility is always good. We like the versatility here, there’s a theme of that.”
Licht also said that he thought Smith was an explosive player in college, and could translate that intensity to the professional level.
“He’s an aggressive guy,” Licht said. “He’ll hit you. He’s got a great mentality.”
From his college tape, one of Ryan Smith’s strengths is his impeccable vision. In zone coverage as a safety, he could be efficient at covering the mid-range of the field while linebackers blitz, and in man coverage has shown a valuable ability to stick to his man while keeping eyes locked on the quarterback. Smith would be especially effective as a safety against slant passes to tight ends, and while he is good at contesting for passes might be better off helping prevent YAC in short passing plays and stopping the run. Smith also displays an explosiveness off of the snap, and ran a 4.47 at the NFL Combine.
The average NFL safety runs a 4.62, which also is an advantage in switching Smith, because he would be quicker than the average. Speed at the safety position is crucial in both safety blitz packages and moving in to stuff up a run play. Seasoned backs in the NFC South such as Devonta Freeman and Jonathan Stewart will be frequently used against the Bucs, and having a man to assist in tackling them, especially in power situations will be crucial for the Bucs, who already have newly-acquired significant talent at cornerback.
Stopping a nearly-genetically perfect quarterback like the Panthers’ Cam Newton, who can make throws from the pocket while being able to run over defenders has also proven to be quite a challenge for the Buccaneers. Having a dominant safety can at least aid in limiting Newton’s ability to run for first downs, and Smith could be the guy the Bucs have been looking for to get the job done.
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