Breakdown: Redskins Select Preston Smith

Everything you need to know about the Washington Redskins’ second-round selection of linebacker Preston Smith out of Mississippi State from Scout's college and pro football experts.

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Preston Smith
Mississippi State / 6'5 / 271 lbs
  • DE
  • [2] #6


Smith spent his playing career in Starkville splitting time starting at both defensive end spots. He finished with 134 tackles, 16 sacks and 27 tackles for a loss. He’s a strong, long and fairly quick player that just needs to develop more moves and technique. That will come as he matures. At 6-foot-5, 270-pounds, Smith possesses a great frame that’s continuing to fill out.

Dave-Te' Thomas Player Evaluation

Instant Analysis from Scout's Jamie Newberg:

The Redskins feel he can stand up and be an outside linebacker and stand him up at 6-foot-5, 271-pounds. That will be interesting to see if he can make that transition. Smith spent his playing career in Starkville splitting time starting at both defensive end spots. He finished with 134 tackles, 16 sacks and 27 tackles for a loss. He’s a strong, long and fairly quick player that just needs to develop more moves and technique. I believe Smith could also get bigger and play defensive end and the five-tech position in their defense.

Report from NFL Scouting Services' Dave-Te' Thomas:

During his first three seasons as a “lunch pail” type of left defensive end, Preston Smith produced seven sacks and twelve stops-for-loss through 34 games. He added 86 tackles during those first three seasons. In 2014, Smith recorded one of the finest seasons by a down lineman in Southeastern Conference history, becoming the first player in league annals to be named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week three consecutive times, earning that accolades vs. Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama. He finished the 2014 season with a career-high nine sacks and 15.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage, adding 15 QB pressures with two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

Smith has outstanding size and a developing frame. He displays a solid upper body frame, wide back, long arms, good lower body strength and room on his frame for additional growth without it impacting his quickness. He can be sudden in his moves off the edge and has good straight-line speed along with effective change of direction agility. He shows good hip strike on contact and is a normal strider who plays with good body quickness, but will get reckless and over-pursue plays.

Smith’s length, reach and initial quickness will see him get on top of san offensive lineman in an instant. He takes a wide loop around the corner to avoid, but has the balance and burst to get to the quarterback in a hurry. Despite his long arms, he does not handle low blocks well and can be taken down when the opponent attacks his feet, especially when he struggles to free up once he’s engaged with a blocker, even the smaller tight ends.

Smith has good initial quickness to challenge the offensive tackle in passing situations, as he’s very capable of forcing the pass blocker wide, which then opens a lane for his spin back inside. Among his better traits is his explosive initial pop, due to his upper body strength and long arms (34-inch length). When he keeps his pads down and hits with force on the rise, he can knock back the run blocker and make the tackle in the hole. He’s also a very good leaper who blocked a pair of kicks and picked off two passes at its high point last season.

The Bulldog senior has good upper- and lower-body strength, but he struggles trying to maintain leverage. With his strong initial pop, he can knock the run blocker back into the pocket to disrupt running plays and he can walk the pass blocker into the pocket on the bull-rush, but there are times where his functional strength turns on and off. When he lets the linemen get into his jersey, he will struggle to get off a block when rushing the edge. If he doesn’t get the initial position advantage vs. a blocker, he takes way too long to get off a block, despite his above average quickness.

Smith has seen plenty of time on the outside, both left and right defensive end, and seems to be a better producer on the move that when having to slug it out in a phone booth. He has the ability to create mismatches and absorb double teams across the line, but while he has the talent and technique to be a classic drag-down tackler with the strength to pull down ball carriers on the move, until 2014, he was too inconsistent with his pursuit effort.

Smith flashes impressive agility, balance and straight-line speed to pursue laterally, but he can be shut down once the ball carrier gets up the field (type of player that needs a lane to generate momentum for explosive hits, but does have five forced fumbles – three as a starter).

Smith has the valid initial quickness to force the tackle on his heels. He is not explosively fast around the edge, but one look at his frame and you can see that he has such a long gait that he can get around most offensive tackles. He just needs to develop an effective inside spin move. There are times when he will play too high, but he has good upper-body strength and long arms to push the tackle back on the bull rush.

Smith shows adequate use of hands to slap away the tackle's efforts at getting into his chest to control him, but doesn't consistently enough use great technique. He shows a good two-to-three-yard burst when the ball carrier is near, but may not possess great closing speed to chase when having to go long distances.

With his lateral agility and ease of movement flowing down the line, Smith showed in 2014 that he can get to the quarterback from every angle, but is best used as an exterior rusher on passing downs. He uses a nice spin move to the inside gap while maintaining balance and power, but can be stalled when he fails to keep his hands inside the frame. When his leverage is right, Smith can use a variety of moves to get past a blocker and in to the passer’s face very quickly.

Preston Smith NFL Scouting Combine measurables

6-5/271 (4.74 forty)
34-inch arm length
10 5/8-inch hands
34-inch vertical jump
120-inch broad jump
7.07 3 cone drill
4.28 20 yard shuttle
11.70 60 yard shuttle

Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.


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