The 11th player in school history to receive All-Conference honors three times during a career, Derron Smith recently became only the sixth player in school history to record 300 tackles (304), chipping in with 93 hits this season. He also deflected seven passes and picked off another as a senior, tying for the national lead among active FBS player with 15 pass thefts (also tied for fifth on the school career-record chart and second in Mountain West Conference annals).
Smith and Marquez Pope, who he recently passed on Fresno State’s record list for the most career tackles, are the only Bulldog safeties in school history to earn first-team all-conference honors three times. He had joined the Bulldogs program as a dual threat quarterback and cornerback, but settled into the lineup at free safety during the 2012 season, making a triumphant return to the gridiron after missing ten games the previous season with a broken arm. He ranked second in the nation with seven thefts in 2013, as he also had four sacks among eight stops-for-loss and 87 tackles.
Smith is a bit “height challenged,” but he has an athletic frame with good arm length and long limbs. He could use additional bulk, especially if the increase would also improve his marginal-to-adequate strength. He studies the quarterback intently, getting a good jump on the action in front of him and is smart enough that the coaches had him make the defensive calls and adjustments.
He has the loose hips to shadow and trail and allows little cushion underneath. He does a good job of spotting fakes, jukes and hip snap to stay tight on the receiver throughout the route. He can press, turn and trail his assignment well, especially when asked to mirror the tight end, but there are times where he takes extra steps when trying to generate the recovery burst needed when a quick receiver gets behind him.
Where Smith truly stands out is with his quick ball reaction skills, evident by 33 passes defended during his career (18 break-ups, 15 thefts). He has a good forward burst to close, whether in front of him or moving laterally, but just average ability to close ground and catch up when the play gets behind him. He demonstrates good range off the hash, along with the quickness to close on the ball when working underneath.
Smith has a very good feel for turning and locating the ball. He is quick to read, recognize and react, seeing the horizon and making plays on it. He anticipates the passer almost immediately to break on the thrown ball. He is explosive getting to the catch point and times things out well to attack and beat the receiver to the ball.
Smith times his leaps well and has very good high-point skills. He uses his long arms and timing to extend for the ball and has the natural hands to pluck outside his frame. He is effective at timing his leaps to reach over and around the receiver to deflect the pass or use his natural hands to steal the ball. He gets a good break on the ball and will not hesitate to challenge receivers. The thing I like most is the way he plays up on the flat route, arriving with the ball to knock it down or pick it off.
Smith lacks a strong hand punch to jolt the lead blocker in run support, but he does have soft hands and good extension competing for jump balls. He looks the ball in well and will extend to catch away from the framework. He is a natural hands catcher who consistency high-points on the ball. He can extend, secure and snatch the ball with ease. He has also developed good hand usage in press coverage, using them effectively to disrupt the receiver’s route progression.
Smith is aggressive and shows no hesitation to step up and support vs. the run. He has greatly improved his ability to angle as a senior, doing a nice job of running the alley with good toughness to set the edge.
Smith might lack great strength, but he shows good tackling form, as he faces up, hits with decent pop and causes fumbles with his ability to reach around and try to dislodge the ball from his opponent. He is a consistent hitter who can get ball carriers down in space, coming to balance quickly. He plays low in his pads and strikes with good force. He might get a little reckless in attempts to wrap, but when he strikes opponents, they feel it.
Derron Smith Scouting Combine measurables
5-10/200 (4.46 forty)
29 3/4-inch arm length
38-inch vertical jump
120-inch broad jump
6.83 3 cone drill
4.07 20 yard shuttle
11.44 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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