NFL Draft Report Super Sleeper: SLB Smith

At just 6-foot-1, Arkansas' productive Chris Smith is destined to move to strong-side outside linebacker. That should be a good fit, the NFL's top scout says. Smith has superb quickness and change-of-direction agility, and a relentless motor coming off the edge to chase down the quarterback.

Changing positions is never easy for a player, but lots of undersized college defensive ends have gone on to great success playing strong-side linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment that is becoming increasingly popular in the National Football League. Arkansas' Chris Smith is one of those candidates to be volunteered for a position change once he reports to his new team in May.

Actually, the potential position shift might also entice a team to take Smith earlier than a team that still has him listed on their draft value board as a rush end. At 266 pounds, the Razorback is blessed with impressive speed, as he was timed at 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash during testing at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

Teams that might be concerned about his lack of size (stands 6:01) had those thoughts erased after the senior measured in with a 10'01" broad jump and then executed a 37-inch vertical jump, a figure that ranked fourth among all defensive linemen at the 2014 event and 10th-best when linebackers in Indianapolis were included in that tabulation. There were no concerns about his power base though, as he lifted the 225-pound bar 28 times during the bench press testing.

Smith's athleticism make him an ideal future strong-side linebacker, as his 21.5 sacks (fourth-best in school history) and 30.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage indicate that he will not have any problems delivering when the coaches call for him to blitz. Since the strong side of the offensive team is the side on which the tight end lines up, or whichever side contains the most personnel, the strong-side linebacker usually lines up across from the tight end.

Often the strong-side linebacker will be called upon to tackle the running back on a play, because the back will be following the tight end's block. He is most often the strongest linebacker (450-pound bench press) and, at the least, he possesses the ability to withstand, shed, and fight off blocks from a tight end or fullback blocking the backside of a pass play (Smith was knocked down just twice on 814 defensive snaps in 2013).

Smith, as a linebacker, also displays the quickness and retreat skills similar to that of a strong safety in passing situations, as he shows the fluid hips and range to cover the tight end in man-on-man situations (had just seven of 66 passes targeted into his area completed during the last three seasons). He is blessed with considerable quickness to play the strong-side and has shown the quick decision-making process to read and get into coverage in zone situations.

For the last two seasons, Smith established himself as one of the Southeastern Conference's elite pass rushers, ranking fourth in sacks on the league charts for both the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. His performance as a pass rusher also saw him rank 30th in the nation as a senior with 8.5 sacks, the eight-best total in school history.

In the previous season, Smith's first as a full-time starter, he finished fifth in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks with 9.5 sacks, taking over the seventh spot on the Razorbacks' annual record chart. His 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a junior ranked fifth in the SEC. In both of his final two campaigns, Smith would lead the team in both sacks and stops-for-loss.

During his time at Arkansas, Smith started 27-of-43 games — 15 at strong-side defensive end and 12 on the weak-side. He registered 122 tackles (64 solos), 21.5 sacks for minus-157 yards, 30.5 stops for losses of 172 yards and 20 quarterback pressures. He also recovered and caused a fumble, along with deflecting seven passes.

Chris Smith

University of Arkansas Razorbacks
6:01.0-266

Body Structure

Smith has a well-built frame with good chest thickness and defined arms (34 1/8-inch arm length and 83 1/8-inch wing span) and legs. He could stand to add at least another 15 pounds of bulk, if he is to play on the defensive line at the next level, but he does not have the big bubble and wide hips you look for in a down lineman, making a move to linebacker more likely. He shows above-average lower-body agility with straight, muscled calves and thighs. He is proportionately built in his upper body, with good hand size (9 1/2-inches) and strength to shed blocks vs. bigger offensive linemen.

Athletic Ability

Smith shows above-average change-of-direction skills, making a move to strong-side linebacker a better fit for a player of his size, athleticism and lack of bulk that you look for in a down lineman. He has that sudden burst to surprise a lethargic offensive lineman and plays at full speed all the time, yet he has the balance and recovery quickness to get right back into the play if he over-pursues. He runs with a quick, easy stride and knows how to put on the "afterburners" and accelerate when he sees he has a chance to get to the quarterback (see 2013 Southern Mississippi, Louisiana-Lafayette and Auburn games). He shows the flexibility needed to bend and flatten to the quarterback, as he uses his hands well, combining them with his speed and shake to defeat blocks at the point of attack. He displays very good agility working through traffic and down the line of scrimmage, using his hands effectively to avoid the low leg blocks. He is sudden bending the corner and covers ground in an instant vs. the outside run, taking proper angles to pinch the action back inside.

Football Sense

Smith is a smart, alert player who is very capable of taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He is combative in the trenches, yet knows it is better to "outsmart" the bigger blockers and avoid them rather than get into one-on-one battles (see 2013 Samford, Southern Mississippi and Texas A&M games). He has a good feel for the flow of the game and it is rare to see him bite on play action or misdirection. With his keen vision, he is quick to locate the ball, evident by the fact that no runner or receiver has scored on him through 27 games as a starter. He plays with his head on a swivel and shows good instincts closing on the ball and the quarterback, thanks to his keen knowledge for angling.

Competitiveness

Smith plays with a nonstop motor that the Detroit car manufacturers wish they had in their automobiles. He is constantly on the move, evident by the fact that more than half of his stops in 2013 came out of his territory (see South Carolina, Southern Mississippi and Samford games). He plays hard until the whistle and can be feisty and nasty when trying to shed blockers. He is a collision-type tackler who is not afraid to stick his "hat" into the action. Football is very important to him and any professional staff needs to realize that he is a player who will never back down and does his best to give all that he has on the field.

Explosion/Pursuit

To say that the Razorback defender is explosive off the snap would be an understatement. He can get on the edge and keep advantage with the best in the 2014 draft class and while he is sudden coming out of his stance, he also has a good feel for knowing when he needs to burst and close on the quarterback (see 2013 Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Mississippi games). With the suddenness in his initial step, he is able to get upfield and turn his shoulders to bring pressure off the edge. He also shows good short-area quickness, relishing jamming or rerouting tight ends, slot receivers and backs working the underneath passing game. With his change-of-direction agility and balance, he looks at ease when having to redirect and take on opponents in the short area passing game.

Strength at Point

Smith is a savvy player who hits with a thud and is an efficient wrap-up tackler, but he lacks the "sand in his pants" to take on bigger offensive linemen in one-on-one battles, as he relies more on his suddenness to defeat blocks than raw power. Despite being outweighed by more than 40 pounds to his opponent, Smith might lack the mass to stall a double team at the next level, but he will use his hands swipes with good efficiency to split some of that coverage and he always competes until the whistle. He knows how to use his upper-body strength and leverage at his level of play, but because of a lack of bulk, he will be much more effective standing up as a linebacker than playing a down-line positon.

Use of Hands

Smith compensates for a lack of bulk with great hand usage. He looks natural keeping them inside his frame, knowing how to keep blockers off his feet. He uses and keeps his hands very active in attempts to shed and will surprise a lethargic blocker with the thud he puts behind his arm swipes and hand punch. That is why he is able to compete well vs. bigger people, thanks to his leverage and proper use of his hands and feet. He has a "no quit" attitude combating blocks on the move and shows above-average hand placement to get off second-level blockers to make tackles in pursuit (see 2013 Texas A&M and Mississippi State games). With those active hands, he's had good success shedding and falling underneath, as he has that natural chop and swipe off the line to get a blocker reeling back on his heels.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort

Moving Smith to strong-side linebacker would be a natural, thanks to his change-of-direction agility. He plays with a relentless motor and constantly is in the backfield to apply pressure or run down plays from behind the line (see 2013 Samford, Southern Mississippi and Auburn games). He is very effective when needed to bend down the line and shows no hesitation when laying out to make plays on the move. He has good chase speed to get downfield and deliver impact hits from the backside. His balance is evident by the way he keeps going through traffic to close on the ball with urgency.

Tackling Ability

Smith is showing marked improvement as a wrap-up tackler since his sophomore year. He is a physical striker who does not soften when colliding and plays with good intensity, knowing how to take the outside leg of the ball-carrier out to prevent the runner from picking up additional yards falling forward after the initial hit. He works hard to finish when chasing down the quarterback and gives 100% to make plays all over the field. The only time he gets in trouble is when he lunges in attempts to drag and grab, as he tends to slide off those hits, at times (see 2013 Florida and Louisiana State games).

Run Defense

Smith shows good hand usage and the ability to cross the face of an offensive lineman or lead blocker, as he plays with leverage, showing good engagement and shedding ability when he does not try to stand in the trenches and simply battle it out with a bigger opponent. Because of his active hands and decent arm extension, it is hard for blockers to reach him, as he always does a nice job of keeping his feet free, especially when taking on double teams. Among his 122 career tackles, 30.5 of those hits were produced from behind the line of scrimmage. You can see on film the quickness in his hands when shedding one-on-one blocks. He can beat the tight end in time to make plays on the move and likes to swim at the five-tech vs. turn-out blocks. When he gets his hands inside and gets his shoulders turned up field, he has great success utilizing his rip moves to stay active at the point of attack.

Pass Rush

Smith has developed good pass rush moves, but must rely more on avoiding blockers to generate the backside pursuit he enjoys on the way to the quarterback. He shows very good dip and body lean coming off the edge and has the flexibility and sudden burst to leave the bigger offensive tackles grabbing at air while he arrives "home" with a big sack on the passer (see 2013 Rutgers, Southern Mississippi and Auburn games). His feet and hands are generally active in pursuit, as he shows the flexibility to flatten. The thing I see most on film is his shake and counter ability, along with the shoulder dip that makes it difficult for a blocker to telegraph his moves.

Closing on the Quarterback

Smith seems to relish his ability to get into the backfield, as six of his 20 QB pressures caused interceptions, while two others produced fumbles. He is very creative working the offensive lineman and has that burst to consistently finish when he gets a lane to the passer. There is no hesitation in his back-side charge and he does a good job of changing speeds when he sets himself free in attempts to close. He has the balance and feet to close well down field and with his short-area burst he would be an ideal blitzer from the strong-side linebacker position.

Instincts/Recognition

Smith is instinctive to backfield movement and shows good eyes recognizing blocking schemes. He is quick to react when he sees the plays develop and uses his hands well to work the blocker or accelerate off the edge. He is quick to play off the block and spill inside, displaying the instincts to find the quarterback in a hurry. The only thing lacking a bit is that he does not seem to be always alert to chances for batting down the ball at the line of scrimmage, despite impressive leaping ability (just one PBU as a senior and seven in 43 games). He works his feet effectively to get down the line of scrimmage and when he recognizes the outside threat, he is good at holding the edge vs. the perimeter run.

Compares To

LaMarr Woodley, Oakland: Smith would be better served in a stand-up position, but only due to a lack of great height and bulk that you look for in a down lineman. He has proven to be very capable of recognizing and thwarting the short-area passing game. With his superb quickness and change-of-direction agility, he has a relentless motor coming off the edge to chase down the quarterback and moves freely when pursuing plays laterally. Like Woodley, he is a savvy player with a good head on his shoulders. He might not be as flashy as some of the more high-profile players, but few play at the consistent level he's shown at Arkansas.


Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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