NFL Draft Spotlight: RB Kevin Smith

NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber provides you with some insight on one of the nation's top running backs -- University of Central Florida's Kevin Smith. Find out why he could be a first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft in this feature.

When you think of all the schools in the state of Florida, you don't usually expect the University of Central Florida to produce one of the top running backs in the nation. Florida, Florida State, Miami, and South Florida dominate the recruiting in the Sunshine State, but the Knights were lucky enough to get their hands on the explosive Kevin Smith.

Ever since, opponents have found that getting their hands on him is a difficult assignment on gameday.

On the Knights first offensive play of the season against NC State, Smith made his presence known. On the UCF 20-yard line, quarterback Kyle Israel handed the ball off to Smith on a simple counter play. Smith headed around the right end, allowed his blockers to push defenders towards the far sideline,  creating a lane for Smith to run through. He quickly hit the hole and was home free for an 80-yard touchdown run.

Now that's how you make an impression.

"Kevin has gotten stronger. He is bigger," head coach George O'Leary said. "He is a very smart football player."

Smith, a junior, is relatively unknown around the country, but when he's on the field, defensive coordinators scheme their entire defense around stopping No. 24. Smith currently leads the nation in rushing -- recording 860 yards on 146 carries and 11 touchdowns -- with an average of 172 yards a game and 5.9 yards per carry.

Nicknamed "24K," Smith has drawn comparisons to Arkansas' elusive running back Darren McFadden and he has proved that he can be a featured back. Not only is he averaging 172 yards a game, but he's also carrying the ball 29 times a game.

In his first two seasons with UCF, Smith was tremendous. As a true freshman he carried the ball 249 times for 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished second among freshmen in rushing, trailing only Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton who finished with 1,474 rushing yards. As a sophomore, Smith was hampered by injuries, but he still managed to gain 934 yards on 206 carries and seven touchdowns. In addition to his impressive rushing numbers, he showed his versatility as he hauled in 23 receptions for 158 yards.

AP Photo/Reinhold Matay

"As a freshman, he did not know what was wrong when a play didn't work," said O'Leary. "Last year was a little better. This year he tells me that guard did not get his hat where it belongs. He knows what is going on and is not afraid to speak up, which is why I like Kevin. Whether right or wrong, he will speak up. Especially today with peer pressure, I do not see a lot of kids stand up for what is right or wrong. He will speak up when kids are wrong and even when he is wrong, which I appreciate."

At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, the Miami, Florida native is a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy award. With UCF off to a strong start this season, it will only help Smith's chances of gaining recognition for college football's most prized possession.

Smith is a strong, physical runner who can take over a game. He's got tremendous quickness, vision, and strength. He's patient and allows his blockers to set up in front of him, finds the open running lane, and quickly hits it. A shifty runner, Smith is a back who not only makes defenders miss, but is truly special in the open field. He's tough, can take a pounding and gets better as the game progresses. He flashes soft hands and is a receiving threat out of the backfield.

As good as Smith is, he's a bit tentative at the point of attack. He understands his strengths and knows that he can juke inside and bounce outside and make a big play. But the more hesitant he becomes about running inside, the more prepared defenses will be to contain him. Durability is a concern due to the amount of touches Smith receives along with the fact that he had surgery on his right shoulder last offseason.

Overall, Smith is an outstanding runner. He's got all the tools to become an elite back at the next level. A tremendous competitor who's selfless and credits his teammates for a lot of his success, Smith is a lock to be a first-round selection if he continues his rapid development.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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