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Interview with Mountain West Connection on Derron Smith

Mountain West Connection's Matthew Kenerly spoke with us about how he sees Derron Smith fitting in with the Bengals.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

We spoke with Matthew Kenerly of Mountain West Connection to learn more about safety Derron Smith, the Bengals sixth round draft pick out of Fresno State. Kenerly thinks Smith will benefit from learning from the Bengals veterans during his rookie year and that not having to rush into playing Week 1 will help Smith to fully recover from a hernia injury that slowed his production in 2014.

Cincy Jungle: What do you think of the Bengals selection of Derron Smith in the 6th round of the draft?

Matthew Kenerly: I may be a bit of a homer, but I was honestly shocked that he fell as far as he did. There seemed to be a bit of agreement that this class of safeties was somewhat thin, which I (and other pundits) suspected would drive up his value at least a little. SB Nation's own Dan Kadar had him ranked well within the top 10, yet he was the 13th safety taken overall. If nothing else, Cincinnati got good value here right off the bat.

CJ: When did you expect he would be taken?

MK: I'd taken my cue from a lot of research and concluded he was most likely to be a Day 3 pick, as he actually ended up being. But I'd pegged him as a fourth-round selection to one of the teams I thought were really in need. Two of them actually ended up taking other safeties, the New York Giants (Mykkele Thompson) and Pittsburgh Steelers (Gerod Holliman), so I guess I wasn't too far off.

CJ: Do you see Smith as someone who could make an immediate impact in the NFL? Do you think he still has some learning to do?

MK: I think he may ultimately benefit from not having to play in Week 1. For one thing, he'll be able to prove definitively that he's recovered from last season's hernia injury, though I suspect that's less important than learning to compensate for his sub-six-foot height on the next level. That might involve getting reps in nickel coverage against slot receivers or figuring out how to cover Tyler Eifert in practice week in and week out.

CJ: Was he a star on the team?

MK: Definitely. Smith earned all-conference honors three times and really acted as the linchpin of a very aggressive defense. His ballhawking skills have always been top-notch; there were certain plays where the opposing quarterback would throw a pass over the middle and, within a split second, you could just tell Smith would break and make a play on the football. Besides racking up 15 interceptions in his college career, it wasn't out of the ordinary to see him attack the quarterback on an occasional blitz. He also saw some time last season as a punt returner and was fairly effective, which may intrigue the Bengals if they want to give Adam Jones a breather every so often.

CJ: Did he have any stand-out good or bad games?

MK: One game that stands out to me is one that I had the pleasure of seeing in person. Granted, the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl wasn't great overall for the Bulldogs -- they were more or less blown out by the USC Trojans -- but Smith was everywhere that afternoon. His 18 tackles, and an electrifying INT return for a score, gave him an argument for being the best player on the field. There's also the 2013 Mountain West championship game against Utah State, in which he had a sack and an interception and was named the game's MVP.

On the flip side, last year was much tougher for Smith, not only because he was playing through an injury but also because the rest of the defense collapsed around him. The three-game stretch to open 2014 -- USC, Utah, and Nebraska -- was particuarly tough to watch and looking over scouting reports, you'll see comments that he may have overcompensated for the breakdowns around him, which is a fair indictment.

CJ: Are there any current NFL players who you would compare Smith to?

MK: Lance Zierlein of compared him to Marcus Gilchrist, which I suppose is a fair analogy. I'd also argue it's fair to compare Smith to another former Bulldog, Washington's Phillip Thomas, who is physically similar to other up and coming safeties like Bacarri Rambo and Dezmon Southward.

CJ: Is there anything else you think Bengals fans would be interested to know about Smith?

MK: One thing I've been fond of pointing out is that former Fresno State quarterback, Derek Carr, suffered a hernia injury of his own during his junior year, in 2012. He rebounded to have a stellar senior campaign which led him to be selected last year by the Oakland Raiders, and it's hard to argue he wasn't a second-round steal now. When Smith is 100%, I think he'll learn a lot from Reggie Nelson, who was perhaps undervalued like Smith and is undersized like him, as well.