With that as a backdrop, Packer Report will run a series of profiles on this year's outside linebackers. We continue with ...
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3 3/8, 251 pounds.
Agility tests: 4.68 in the 40-yard dash…1.64 10-yard dash…2.72 20-yard dash…4.47 20-yard shuttle…7.48 three-cone drill…35-inch vertical jump…10'-1" broad jump…Bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times…34-inch arm length…10-inch hands…81-inch wingspan.
Injury report: 2011 season: Sat out the Pittsburgh, Connecticut and South Florida games with an ankle sprain. 2013 Season: Limited in spring and fall drills by an undisclosed injury.
Number to note: With 14.5 sacks in 13 games, Smith led the nation with an average of 1.12 sacks per game. The only other major college player to average more than a sack per game in 2013 was Stanford's Trent Murphy (1.07 per game; 15 in 14 contests).
Marcus Smith was a pretty good quarterback at Hardaway High School in Columbus, Ga. Good enough, in fact, that among his recruiting offers was one from Florida's Urban Meyer, who was looking to groom a replacement for Tim Tebow.
Smith wound up going to Louisville. Less than a week into his first freshman training camp, Smith's scattershot accuracy had then-coach Charlie Strong asking Smith if he was ready to move to defense.
Yes, he was.
After playing mostly on special teams as a reserve outside linebacker as a true freshman, Smith moved to defensive end for his sophomore season and led the team with 5.5 sacks as a part-time starter.
"When I first got to the defensive line, me and him used to butt heads all the time," Smith said at the Scouting Combine of his former position coach, Clint Hurtt, who was hired by the Bears in January. "I didn't know if I wanted to keep playing D-line and I didn't even know if I wanted to keep playing football because it's a hard position to play (at first). He brought me into a room one time and told me I was going to be a great player. I just needed to press through it and stop listening to all the yelling and just listen to the message."
Message received. Heading into his junior season, Smith said it was the first time he felt like a defensive player rather than a quarterback who was playing on defense.
"That's when everything started to break loose," Smith said. "I knew what I was doing, I knew everything that was going on. My freshman and sophomore years, I was still kind of shaky, I was still trying to learn the defense. I could help the defense with what the offense was going to do but I had to learn what the defense was doing."
Smith started all 13 games in 2012 and registered four sacks. His senior season, however, would be total domination. Smith was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive end, and was named the fledgling American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year after tallying 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
"I am real hungry to go get the quarterback," Smith said. "I used to be a quarterback myself so I know what it feels like to be hit by somebody. It feels good to be hitting the quarterback now."
At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Smith ran his 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds with a 35-inch vertical leap and 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Not only does he have explosive athleticism, but he's got long arms (34 inches) and a unique feel for the game that comes with playing quarterback.
The production and athleticism, coupled with his upside and coachability and what a scout called his "Clay Matthews-like" intangibles, make him one of the draft's top sleepers. It would hardly be a surprise if Smith is off the board by sometime in the middle of the second round — if not earlier.
"He's a talented kid," said Vance Bedford, the former Louisville defensive coordinator who followed Strong to Texas in January. "Athletically, I think he fits the 3-4 scheme in the National Football League. He's a pass rusher. You go back three years ago, when we were playing the University of Florida in the bowl game, he lined up as a three-technique because we didn't think the guard could handle him one-on-one. He's a very talented guy, a great pass rusher. He has the skills to play linebacker in the National Football League."
Officially, Smith played defensive end for the Cardinals. In reality, he played a 3-4-style outside linebacker. So, he has plenty of experience as a stand-up defender who has played man-to-man coverage.
"I've been playing this position for two years," Smith said. "I've got a lot of room to grow and a lot of work to do. I feel like I haven't reached my peak yet. I want to keep working and keep grinding."
Added Bedford: "There really is (a lot of upside) because his first three years, he had his hand on the ground. This is the first year we really stood him up the majority of the time. That's why I think his future is really ahead of him."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.