By: Mark Leipold
- Fights for every yard
- Pass catching
Patience – Smith does a great job of waiting for his blocks to set up. Since he’s undersized, he’s not able to bulldoze defenders like some of the other backs in this class, so he allows his blockers to get out in front and follows them. He does this well, which allows him to turn small gains into bigger runs. Watch him follow his lineman in the first play, where if he’d just run ahead, he’d have most likely been tackled by the first defender. I promise the last two clips are different plays (check the clock, and he goes out of bounds on one), but they both show how he waits to let the blocks set up before he bounces to the outside with lots of space to run.
Fights for every yard – Your normally see the big power backs have this trait where they carry defenders forward for an extra few yards. While Smith, at his size, isn’t going to carry defenders often, that won’t stop him from trying. He gets a little help on this one but keeps churning forward to pick up the last yard and score.
Pass catching – This is normally the expectation of a back with Smith’s size, and he delivers. He has a versatile route tree and can be deployed in many different ways (think: Darren Sproles lite). If NFL teams want to scheme plays for him, he could be used similarly to Sproles or Tarik Cohen, and he has the ability to deliver. Watch a nice over-the-shoulder catch here as an example.
Juke – The other expectation of the smaller running back prototype is quickness (think: Christian McCaffrey). Smith delivers here as well. He evades tackles pretty well for his size – watch him juke two defenders in a row out of their socks.
- Goes to ground to make catches
- Ball security
Blocking – No surprise here, but blocking is a concern. Smith is not a great blocker when he engages defenders, so often resorts to chop blocks, but he isn’t even particularly effective in that. Check out these two examples, where in the first one he makes solid contact but the defender is still able to make the play (he grabs the runner’s leg). In the second example, the defender hardly notices he was just chop blocked and bounces right off.
Goes to ground to make catches – The one area of pass-catching that Smith lacks is catching off-balance for balls thrown slightly off-target. Rather than leaning in or stepping to them, he has a tendency to fall toward them and make the catch going to ground, eliminating all possibility for YAC, which is where you want him to shine. You won’t know if from this clip, but on the play immediately before this one, he did the same thing on a screen pass and lost yards by falling down to make the catch.
Ball security – This is the biggest concern for me. Running backs who fumble the ball don’t last long in the NFL, and Smith carries the ball pretty loosely. For a guy who doesn’t have the requisite size and strength of the average NFL running back, he needs to make sure he does extra to secure the ball. Watch him dangle it in this first slow-motion replay and get stripped easily. The second clip shows that he’s not even extra cautious near the goal-line, which is even more worrisome. Granted, I’m not expecting him to be a goal-line back in the NFL, but to be loose with the ball near the end zone is inexcusable.
I was higher on Smith before digging in for this profile than I am coming out. He’s not exceptional at the things he should be exceptional at (e.g., the quickness of Christian McCaffrey, the pass-catching of Darren Sproles). In order to make a living in the NFL at Smith’s size, you have to excel in some of those areas. He’s good in all of them, but not notably great in any. He was deployed in college as more of a workhorse, but he will have to translate to a specialist to contribute meaningfully in the NFL. Smith probably has the absolute ceiling of Theo Riddick, both in NFL value and fantasy value.
Smith is an intriguing prospect, because the satellite backs are often underrated for fantasy purposes. We’ve seen good return on investment for players like Theo Riddick, Duke Johnson, and Christian McCaffrey in PPR formats. Smith would need to follow suit to carry much fantasy value, and he just doesn’t excel in the same ways that the other players on this list do. The other satellite backs in the NFL all bring exceptional talent in at least one area (e.g., quickness, pass-catching, route-running), but Smith just doesn’t. He’s a late-round flier in rookie drafts to me at this point. His role is unclear, but I’ll value him more if we see that an NFL team values him by drafting him earlier than expected into a position of need.