Chris Smith earned playing time as a freshman at Arkansas in 2010, but became a full-time contributor in 2011, playing in all 13 games and finishing the season with 3.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss. He had his breakout season in 2012, racking up a career high in sacks (9.5) and tackles for a loss (13).
Smith had a down year in 2013 as a whole, but still managed 8.5 sacks and earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where like Telvin Smith and Aaron Colvin, he was coached by Jacksonville’s staff.
Fit With Jacksonville
This is a situation that works out well for all sides involved.
Smith gets to go to a team where he will not be asked to do much early on, and he can take on the coaching he needs. He's also now in a scheme where he will be asked to pin his ears and get after the QB, and not else more --and this fits his strengths perfectly.
For Jacksonville, they are able to get a young pass rusher to groom behind Chris Clemons, without investing too much. Also, from a measurables and workout numbers standpoint, Smith appears to be a very good fit for what the Jaguars want in a LEO, as evident by this post by Alfie Crow.
I was not a fan of Chris Smith’s game film at Arkansas, but his stock rose some with a very good week of Senior Bowl practices and a good showing at the NFL Combine. I thought where Smith was selected matches his talent, so decent value overall.
Chris Smith’s Biggest Strengths
Using His Tools To His Advantage
Smith is a very explosive player, as made obvious by his combine workout results, especially the Broad Jump and Vertical Jump. Smith is also shorter than your stereotypical defensive end, with a stocky type of build. While a lot of evaluators would chalk Smith’s height up as a negative, I think it is one of his biggest assets.
The occasions where Smith was at his best as a pass rusher was when he was able to combine both his explosiveness and his height to get a leverage advantage and force offensive tackles into uncomfortable spots.
On this pass rush, Smith (top of screen) is able to fire low out of his stance and immediately get into the offensive tackle's chest. By having the natural leverage advantage, Smith now dictates the pass rush. He is able to convert his explosion into power and bury the offensive tackle into the quarterback.
Here is another angle of the play. You can see how smith physically dominates the offensive tackle from the second he makes contact.
On this play, Smith explodes off the Line and forces the offensive tackle to turn his shoulders immediately to try to stop his speed rush. Smith is able to decrease his own surface area by getting low to bend the corner, making it impossible for the lineman to stop him from getting the sack.
Smith does not have the natural agility or bend to win purely on speed rushes, nor does he have the power to just bulldoze through guys without having great technique. If Smith is going to be a quality pass rusher in the NFL, he will have to utilize his natural leverage advantage every chance he gets.
Chris Smith’s Biggest Weaknesses
inconsistency and Effectiveness as Pass Rusher
Smith was drafted to be developed into a guy who the Jaguars can bring onto the field in passing situations to wreak havoc. But as of now, smith is not that guy. He isn’t really close to being it either. Smith has a few tools to be an effective Rusher, but in terms of his college performance, I’d say where he is now, he is below average.
This is a play you see far too many times from Smith. He comes off the ball high and tries to power through the offensive tackle, but to no avail. When Smith takes away his own leverage, he takes away his greatest asset, and you get rushes like this. Right now, Smith doesn’t know how to beat blocks when offensive tackles get into him. If he beats the OT off the ball, he can get pressure. If not, he will likely not do much of anything.
On this play, Smith is actually able to get good leverage and power through contact, but his rush is stalled by the offensive tackle. Smith doesn’t utilize the right technique to shed the block, and does not create pressure. This play goes to show that while Smith does have some physical tools that will help him become a good pass rusher, but he must develop shedding technique as well. He won’t be able to blow by NFL offensive tackles as easily as he did in college.
One of the things I harp on the most when grading Pass Rushers is their ability to create space for themselves. This essentially means getting offensive tackles away from their body so they have room to bend the edge and get to quarterback by using their hands, length, etc...
Smith has a long way to go in this department, as he looks uncomfortable using his length to get off blockers. As of right now, Smith has a long way to go to ever become a consistent edge presence. He needs to develop hand usage, creating space for himself, and overall more consistency.
The Best Case Scenario for Chris Smith’s Rookie Season
The best case scenario for Smith in 2014 would be for him to provide a second option at LEO after Chris Clemons. I’m not shy with my feelings on Andre Branch. He hasn’t played well in the last two years and I don’t have high hopes for him this year. Outside of Clemons, the Jaguars do not have a consistent edge-rushing option on the roster. I like Ryan Davis a lot, but he does better when lined up inside on third downs, though I could still see him producing at LEO.
The best thing that could come out of Smith this year would be to see him step up and stake his claim as the No. 2 LEO.
The Worst Case Scenario for Chris Smith’s Rookie Season
The worst case scenario I can foresee from Smith this year would be for him to be unable to separate himself from Davis and Branch, and not create any opportunities for himself to get snaps. I expect LEO to be the Jaguars biggest need going forward in the next year or two, so Smith needs to earn snaps to see if he’s worth investing more time on or not.
Reasonable Expectations for Chris Smith’s Rookie Season
This year, I expect Smith to have trouble finding playing time early on. Clemons has the No. 1 LEO spot locked up, the coaches are very high on both Branch and Davis, and, frankly, Smith needs a ton of work.
But towards the end of the year, when the Jaguars are likely eliminated from playoff contention, I do expect Smith to see heavy playing time. Whether or not he proves his worth during that time, I don't know. But it's reasonable to see him at least get a heavy dose of snaps at the end of the season.
Overall Opinion of Pick
I am not a Chris Smith fan based on his game tape. It is just bad to me. But by all accounts, the light clocked on under Bradley and his staff at the Senior Bowl. I am hesitant to think Smith will ever grow into a steady contributor, but I will not be surprised by any means if head coach Gus Bradley and Smith prove me wrong.