Za'Darius Smith Player Evaluation

Scout's Dave-Te Thomas breaks down Kentucky defensive end Za'Darius Smith.

Za’Darius Smith has the raw power to play on the inside, if needed, but is likely to be used as a 3-4 rush end in the NFL, thanks to his impressive foot speed and closing burst. The East Mississippi CC product earned JUCO All-American honors after coming up with 47 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2012. His first season at Kentucky produced six sacks among 59 tackles in 2013.

An intense offseason training program greatly increased the transfer’s power in 2014, evident as he finished third on the team with 61 tackles, making 4.5 sacks, 7.5 stops-for-loss and four QB pressures, one that caused a fumble which he recovered and advanced 8 yards in 2014. During his senior season, he played both end positions, along with five-technique when the shifted from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defensive alignment.

Even though Smith has established himself as a pass rusher, he also displays the ability to be a productive run defender. He has a strong initial burst off the ball and for a taller player he demonstrates the ability to play with good pad level. He uses his hands and reach to maintain separation and reacts to blocks well by getting his hands on the blocker and squeezing down. As a pass rusher, he can be disruptive as he can get up field with a good initial burst and is violent with his hands, using his reach well.

Smith is a quick reader who has the lateral agility to get transfer and has the balance and foot speed to pursue through trash. He seems to kick it into high gear when the play is developing away from him. He shows tremendous effort to pursue that play. He has a wide array of pass rush moves, but will show reliance on his spin move.

When he gets engulfed by the larger blockers, he is usually contained on the spot if he gets his hands outside his frame. He has developed good strength, but has had better success by pushing the pocket with technique and quickness. He is best coming off the edge, but when he starts “playing games” with the offensive tackle rather than try to locate the ball, he can get widened and steered in both phases (pass and run). He has the leverage to hold up at the point of attack, but is more effective on the move.

Smith has the hip flexibility to drop back in pass coverage - reminding some of the Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka when he does so. He has enough quickness to run with the tight ends and backs down the seam ands very good change of direction agility. He demonstrates good balance and superb lateral movement working down the line, as his basketball skill-set translates well to the gridiron (very flexible and light on his feet).

The Wildcat defensive end is explosive out of his stance, and very quick to close on the ball. Because of his size, he has that reach to keep outside blockers off his body and also the ability to split double teams when working in-line to get through traffic. He is quick to engage the offensive tackles and tight ends and has a good feel for blocking schemes.

While field fast in the short area, he flashes some cat-like quickness covering tight ends in the short area, especially when reacting to movement, making him also a viable “Sam” linebacker candidate for a 3-4 base defense. As he proved when the coaches often moved him around, he has the quick hands and feet, along with movement skills to play either standing up or with his hand down.

Smith has the strength, arm length and reach to hit, wrap-up and secure. He will square up and wrap, thanks to his above average hip explosion. He plays with a good pad level and despite his lanky frame, he usually holds up well at the point of attack. If he fails to penetrate, he will make a determined effort to string the play out. In the short area, he has enough arm strength to lock up and take out the outside leg of the ball carrier to prevent forward progression after the collision. He follows through the plays in front of him with good balance and on plays vs. plays on his side, you rarely ever see him gather before redirecting.

With his improved power, he has had good success pressing the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. He also demonstrates the flexibility and leverage to burst and collapse the quarterback’s pocket. You also can see he has the feet and flexible hips to turn the corner when generating his edge rush. He flattens quickly and has the suddenness to come up and under, but needs to work on getting through inside trash better. When he breaks free, Smith shows the quickness to close, as he takes dead aim on the passer.

Za’Darius Smith NFL Scouting Combine measurables

6-4/274 (4.83 forty)
32 5/8-inch arm length
10-inch hands
29-inch vertical jump
113-inch broad jump
7.42 3 cone drill
4.66 20 yard shuttle
12.65 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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