For the price of a conditional 2018 seventh round pick, the Bengals acquired the Jacksonville Jaguars 2014 fifth round pick Chris Smith, a third year defensive end from Arkansas. Considering that the Bengals are potentially giving up a later pick than what Smith was drafted as, this seems like a low risk/high reward scenario for a team starved of pass rushers. But what are the Bengals really getting in this deal?
Long arms. Very good take-off, burst and closing speed. Wins with quickness and effort. Plays hard with good urgency and runs to the ball. Good finishing speed and hustle in backside pursuit. Gradually improving strength. Likable personality with natural leadership traits. Has a 37-inch vertical jump.
Lacks functional playing strength and can be controlled easily when big-bodied blockers get their hands on him (see Alabama). Struggles to split the double team. Not a nuanced pass rusher -- reliant on upfield speed too much. Can do a better job diagnosing the run more quickly and shedding blocks.
Smith’s athletic profile is also very telling about the type of edge player he is:
The slow 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle times indicate Smith has tight hips and would have very little success bending around the edge and turning the corner as a speed rusher and changing direction in space. The fast 40-yard dash and 10-yard split along with the high vertical and broad jumps perceived Smith to have ample burst and explosion. Based on Smith’s minimal production in very little playing time, I’d venture to say these statements hold true. Smith is not a fluid speed rusher who can get under tackle’s punches, he’s a player who relies on winning with force and can finish plays with quick burst and pure effort. If you’re looking for a comparison to a player in this year’s draft class, think of a lesser version of Takkarist McKinley.
Smith was never able to crack the Jaguars starting defense for three years and we’re talking about a defensive that desperately needed pass rush help. He appeared in 19 games, played 311 snaps as purely a back-end rotational piece, and produced 4.5 sacks and 20 tackles in that playing time. Last season, Smith played a total of 69 snaps, and obtained 1 sack and 4 tackles. With such little exposure, I had to go back to the preseason to see how he fared playing snaps on a down-to-down basis.
On this first play, you see the explosion and burst Smith has when he has to play read and react:
In Week 2 of the preseason, the Buccaneers ran a variation of a bootleg to the tight end, disguised as a fake halfback `toss. This play design is intended to manipulate the defense’s first steps in the opposite direction, and requires discipline and quick reactionary skills to get back on top of the play. Smith is the backside edge, and reads the quarterback’s motion to toss the ball back to the running back, but recovers quickly and pounces on the tight end in the flat. This is a good example of Smith’s burst and explosion, and how he can use it on the backside of plays.
The following week, the Bengals got to look at Smith up close and personal as he sacked backup quarterback AJ McCarron:
This is that lack of bend I was referring to with his lackluster 3-cone time. Smith starts out lined up as the Wide 9T outside the inline tight end, but isn’t able to turn the corner effectively and disrupt the pocket. McCarron steps up and is flushed out of the pocket by pressure coming from in front of him and to his right, it is Smith’s closing speed and effort that awards him the sack to force a third and long.
This is mainly what you can expect from Smith. His production isn’t clean and is never easily obtained, but he’ll have the second gear and motor to run down plays that some others can’t.
Getting into the regular season now, Smith rarely took any snaps (about 8 per game he played) so there’s not much to look at, but two plays stood out. The first was against the NFL’s third best rushing offense:
DeMarco Murray and the Titans gashed defenses all last year with counter plays like this. It’s designed to look like an off tackle stretch with the way the offensive line blocks, but the fullback screams across the formation to seal the edge instead of a guard doing it, which is what a traditional counter in an iso-set would consist of. Smith plays this exactly like you’re taught to. When he engages the fullback, he keeps his outside shoulder clean so he never loses the edge. After disengaging, his burst allows him to stay in front of Murray and force him back inside for only a one yard gain, which is all he, or any other player in this position, is tasked to do.
Lastly, let’s look at Smith’s lone sack of the 2016 season:
Lined up at Wide 9T again, Smith takes the inside path when he sees his teammate at 4T going too far upfield. Smith basically shoves him out of the way and gets past a missed block by the center, and ends up wrapping up Andrew Luck for a loss. There’s nothing technical about it, just effort and force. Which is all you really get from Smith.
There’s a very little chance that Smith will make any impact on the Bengals this year, let alone make the team. But for a conditional seventh round pick in 2018, there’s nothing wrong with filling your 90-man training camp roster with a high-motor 25-year-olds like Smith. Just don’t expect a high reward for such a low risk.