By Bryan Dietzler
So far we have taken a look at a couple of linebackers that the Bears may be able to draft and use to improve their defense making things a lot better. There are several good defensive players in the draft and Jaylon Smith is looking like he could be another fine defender that the Bears may show some interest in and think about drafting with the 11th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Smith has the qualities and abilities that you would look for in a player worthy of being picked at that point in the draft.
The following is a look at Smith, his positive and negative qualities and how he might fit in with the Bears should they decide to draft him in the first round.
Some of the upside to Smith is his athletic ability to make plays from the inside to the outside and Smith’s athletic ability allows him to be and play all over the field. He also has the quick twitch and flexibility for an athlete of his caliber and has excellent balance. When it comes to speed Smith delivers. He has excellent speed in pursuit and closes quickly. He is quicker than most players at his position in this draft and is able to get to the corner quickly and make the play. He has the speed to diagnose plays fast and respond to them and gets good acceleration thanks to his great speed.
When it comes to burst Smith has that and it’s evident on the plays that he makes. He is also very explosive. He can locate the ball fast and is able to identify if the play is going to be a run or a pass in short order. He possesses good instincts for the position and has good eyes. He keeps those eyes on the play and doesn’t move them off until the play is over. When in coverage, he is able to read the quarterbacks eyes and move off his man and get to the ball.
When it comes to getting off blocks Smith shows good quickness and power to break himself free of blocks and get to the ball carrier in a hurry. He is able to get over (by leaping) blockers in the running game and makes an attempt to take on oncoming blocks with a physical punch and gets his arm extended to keep blockers off of him. While he is running, Smith can shed blockers well enough to not have them alter his quickness or path to the ball. Yet another thing that Smith does well is that he is a good tackler. He was one of the country’s best tackling linebackers and has a lot of power to knock ball carriers down. He is a hard hitter and is a sound tackler fundamentally who can finish plays wrapping up the ball carrier and possesses the ability to put the ball carrier into the ground.
When it comes to rushing the passer Smith has some ability but still has a few things to work on. He can locate quarterbacks quickly when blitzing and has all the tools needed to become an excellent blitzer with some training from a solid NFL coaching staff. Due to his explosiveness and speed, he has the ability to become an excellent blitzer between the tackles. He can blitz through the A gap and on delays well using this speed. When he put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end he would, at times, be able to overwhelm the tackle and get to the quarterback.
Smith is a very versatile player who has played every linebacker position. He lined up all over the field at Notre Dame and was an every down player. He could play any linebacker position in the NFL whether it’s in a 3-4 defense or a 4-3. He also has good knowledge of the game and has a high football IQ.
There are a lot of other things about Smith that stand out as being positive. One thing in particular that stood out while he was at Notre Dame is that he comes into the draft with no off the field problems and was well liked by the players there. Notre Dame Head coach Brian Kelley mentioned that Smith is the best player that he has ever coached. Some of the awards that Smith has won prior to his coming to the NFL include being named a consensus All-American in 2015, a second team All-American by the AP in 2015 and he was selected as a high school and college Butkus award winner. Some have even stated that Smith is one of the best college football players in the country. He was also Notre Dame’s top tackler in 2014.
Some other “mechanical” things that Smith seems to possess include some aspects of his build. He has a sinewy body with very low body fat and has the ideal height, weight and speed for the position. His change of direction is very good and he has a large playmaking radius. He makes plays sideline to sideline very well and makes plays all over the football field. Going back to his football smarts, Smith called the defensive plays during his sophomore season so he could have the smarts to call plays in the NFL. Smith is able to attack both laterally and going downhill and barely, if ever, gets burned. One other thing that Smith did real well at while he was in school was spying the quarterback. He had good vision to keep an eye on the quarterback and shadow him wherever he went. When the quarterback breaks the pocket, Smith has the burst and speed to get to the quarterback and bring him down before he can gain a lot of yards or complete a pass.
Finally, one of the better qualities that Smith has is his ability to change direction and his body control. Smith can turn on a dime and change direction quickly.
Like every player, there are some weaknesses to Smith that need to be looked at. One of the biggest problems that scouts have found with Smith is his strength. He lacks the top level strength needed for the linebacker position and does not have enough strength at the point of attack to get blockers off of him. He tends to get pushed backwards away from the play when blockers are allowed to get under his pads. There are also times he can get overpowered at the point of attack and get beaten out when defending against the run.
Another issue that seems to plague Smith is that he can be a little late to stack and shed blockers. He is also lighter than most middle linebackers (coming in at 235 pounds) and only stands six feet two inches tall. He struggles when offensive linemen get their hands on him and keep him from making the play so it’s advisable that he may want to add some weight when he gets into the NFL. Some other things that Smith needs to clean up include not taking so many false steps in making a play and work on his tackling mechanics because he likes to grab, hug and slam as opposed to driving into the opponent.
Smith wasn’t very productive in college when it came to tackles for loss. He tends to wait for plays to develop instead attacking it and moving downhill to make the play. His ability to shoot the gaps and make plays needs some work and he will sometimes move towards the ball with reckless abandon rather than using control and balance. He also has a tendency to lunge when making a tackle and doesn’t use his feet to get into a better position. Sometimes his speed and aggressive tendencies cause him to get out of position to make plays and he will need to control that in the NFL.
When it comes to dropping back into coverage Smith needs to be able to find the ball once he has his back turned to the quarterback. Another disturbing thing about Smith was his lack of production when it comes to interceptions. Smith only had three total as a starter at Notre Dame and while linebackers aren’t expected to get too many interceptions, there are some that feel that he could have been more productive in that area in college.
In regards to rushing the passer Smith has some work to do there. He hasn’t displayed the kind of pass rushing moves that would make him a strong pass rusher in the NFL. He needs to work on these moves to get to the quarterback. He also needs to work better at getting around the edge to get to the quarterback and doesn’t often get to the quarterback unless he is unblocked.
Smith suffered a major knee injury in Notre Dame’s bowl game on New Year’s Day and new information coming out is saying that he won’t be able to play during the 2016 season due to nerve damage that he is suffering from at this time. Due to this, he most likely won’t be a first round draft pick like many thought he would be before the injury but someone might roll the dice on him and select him later on in the draft. Could the Bears take a chance on him? Would they be willing to wait for him to get healthy before he has a chance to play?
Due to his size, Smith may be better suited at outside linebacker than on the inside and this might not appeal to the Bears who need help at the inside linebacker position. Smith’s medical issues may also scare the Bears (and other teams away) so they may not even want to take a look at him. Had he been in better health he might have been more on the Bears radar but you never know what they might be looking for.
Look for Smith to draw some interest, perhaps from the Bears but be a later round pick. If he comes back healthy he could be a pretty solid player in the NFL for several seasons. It will be interesting to see if the Bears show any interest in him and where he goes in the NFL draft.