With the 197th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Fresno State safety, Derron Smith. The later rounds of the draft are where championship teams earn their keep with role players and the Bengals have seemingly done so with their slew of day three picks.
The Bengals went offense with their first three picks, but have since gone defense with three of their first four day three selections. According to CBS Sports' rankings of the safety position, Smith was the No. 3 free safety in the draft and was projected to be a mid-round pick.
NFL Network's draft analyst Mike Mayock called Smith a willing tackler, but criticized his angles, as did Charles Davis. He had one interception in 2014 and had 89 total tackles last year. He'll need some polishing at the next level, but should provide immediate relief in special teams with the departure of Taylor Mays.
Both Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are set to become free agents in 2016, so the pick of CB/S Josh Shaw and Smith give the Bengals an insurance policy for the immediate future. Smith stands at 5'10 and 200 pounds, and might need to add to his frame to succeed at the next level. He did have a 4.6 40-yard dash at the Combine and a 10'3" broad jump.
According to NFL.com, Smith was a round two or three projection, saying:
DRAFT PROJECTIONRound 2 or 3
SOURCES TELL US"His height is going to hurt his draft stock. He's a good hitter and just average in coverage, but I'm telling you that teams don't like their safeties to be 5'10 or below." - AFC executive
NFL COMPARISONMarcus Gilchrist
BOTTOM LINELacks ideal size for the position, but checks off just about every other box teams will be looking for. Smith's ability to match up in space against slot receivers and his willingness to get downhill and tackle will be coveted. Smith must learn to play under control as a tackler, but he should have a shot to come in and compete for a starting-safety or slot-corner job quickly.
Like many of the Bengals' 2015 draft class, Smith met with the Bengals in the pre-draft process. The SB Nation website, "Mountain West Connection" has further details on Smith, including this tidbit:
His field vision benefits him both before and after he gets his hands on the ball, since he has a knack for both breaking downhill to grab passes and finding space for big returns once he does; he averaged just under 20 yards per INT return and scored twice. That same willingness to get downhill and get physical could serve him well in man coverage against inside receivers.
The draft gurus at the major networks seemed to have like the value of the Bengals grabbing Smith in the sixth round as well.
ESPN's Todd McShay on Bengals draft pick Derron Smith: "Ball skills are outstanding."— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) May 2, 2015
Vance Joseph and the Bengals may have just drafted one of the biggest steals in the draft. Love Derron Smith's insane instincts!— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 2, 2015
S Smith has 13 picks last 2 years. 4-year starter— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) May 2, 2015