While this year’s draft class isn’t exactly brimming with safety talent, there is a little more out there than just Landon Collins. I decided to watch four of Fresno State’s Derron Smith’s games against Wyoming, Rutgers, USC, and Boise State to get a better idea of the skill set he brings to the NFL. The young safety is currently recovering from a sports hernia which kept him out of the NFL Combine. Here are my observations regarding his game play:
S Derron Smith, Fresno State, 5’ 10” 200 lbs.
Cons: His measurements, 5’ 10” and 200 pounds, make him at a disadvantage against NFL sized tight ends that will be bigger, stronger, and faster than him. Smith is not the most physical safety and lets blockers into his body. This makes it easier to account for him when the offense decides to run the ball. I thought he relied too much on his athletic ability to gamble. This caused him to over pursue or just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Smith needs to become a better student of the game, understanding what the offense wants to do every play, instead of being instinctive.
Pros: The defensive back is athletic and agile enough to play either free safety or line up as a slot corner back. He matches up well against quicker, smaller receivers. Smith has quick feet; uses a good back pedal, and can sky-high to get to the ball in the air. The safety breaks quickly on the ball using his good vision and has decent hands to try to intercept the pigskin. When he does get the ball in his hands, Smith shows a bit of wiggle and hurdles over would-be tacklers.
Smith can crowd the line of scrimmage while crashing it with designed blitzes against runs and passes. He likes to smash the ball carrier, playing well against the run. The safety is a good open field tackler, which is why he got used on special teams as well. Smith is also a decent punt returner, but I would expect him to focus mainly on defense in the NFL.
Overall thoughts: I like him as an end of the rookie draft stash, especially in dynasty leagues that have taxi squads. Smith is athletic enough to become a starter and depending on his future team’s linebacker situation, he offers upside to the team willing to gamble on him late.