The Cincinnati Bengals liked what they saw from Chris Smith when he was a 2013 second-team All-SEC defensive end with the Arkansas Razorbacks. And they liked what little they saw of Smith after he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So, when they had the opportunity to make Smith a part of a defensive line that proved to be lacking in 2016, the Bengals did not hesitate to give up a conditional 2018 draft choice – probably a seventh rounder - earlier this year to bring him into the fold.
It marked the first non-draft trade for the Bengals since April 2012, when they traded linebacker Keith Rivers to the Giants for a fifth-round selection. Cincinnati selected safety George Iloka, who has proven to be a mainstay of the Bengals’ secondary. In 2010, the Bengals made another trade with the Jaguars that netted the safety Reggie Nelson, who went to a pair of Pro Bowls with the Bengals before moving on the Oakland Raiders last year.
Smith, at 6-foot-1 and 262 pounds, never got much of a chance to showcase his skills with Jacksonville as he played in only 19 games through his first three seasons in the NFL. During that time, he amassed just 16 total tackles and one forced fumble. His 4.5 sacks, though, is the same number credited to fourth year Bengals defensive end Will Clarke through 35 games.
The Bengals added a pair of quality pass-rushers in this year’s draft in Kansas State’s Jordan Willis and Auburn’s Carl Lawson, and it looked like Smith would have his work cut out for him to crack the 53-man roster, let alone compete for playing time. But Smith is determined not to make the final decision an easy one for the Bengals.
Friday night in the Bengals’ preseason opener, Smith teamed up with 2017 third-round selection Jordan Willis to provide virtually all of the pass-rush pressure for the Bengals. Smith ended up with three total tackles, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries while Willis recorded the lone sack of the night to go with one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.
Smith, who ran a 4.71 second 40 at the 2014 NFL Combine, relied primarily on his speed to be a disruptive force against the Buccaneers. That speed is fully on display in this first clip from the game, as he turns the corner on Tampa Bay tackle Korren Kirven, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama.
Smith lines up on the left side of the defensive line on this play, and simply runs past Kirven on his way to quarterback Ryan Griffin, who gets rid of the ball just in time to avoid the sack.
In this second clip, Smith lines up as the right defensive end and slides down the line to assist in the tackle of Tampa Bay running back Peyton Barber.
In this third video, Smith again lines up on the right side of the line and blows past Tampa Bay offensive tackle Cole Gardner, a rookie from Eastern Michigan, and has an unobstructed path to Griffin, who once again feels the pressure and is able to unload before Smith arrives.
In this final video, Smith bull rushes Gardner right back into the quarterback and causes him to throw before he can completely get his feet set, resulting in an incompletion.
While it may not been a very good night for the Bengals’ defensive front as a whole, Smith certainly proved to be worth the cost of admission. And he graded out as the Bengals’ top pass rusher on the evening, earning a mark of 89.4 from Pro Football Focus, which is a very solid grade.
We still have a long way to go before opening day, but it would appear Smith is well on his way to earning his spot on the elusive 53-man roster.