Draft season is upon us, so I will periodically watch film on some of the upcoming prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. Typically, I choose players that I believe may fit the Buffalo Bills’ scheme, players on whom I have received some information, or just prospects who are interesting to me. Usually I will watch at least four games of a prospect before I come to final conclusions on their traits and will then assign a grade. During my film sessions I take copious, detailed notes, so I will try to share them with you in a manner that is digestible. These notes will not be final conclusions. Instead, they’re just pieces of information that I carry with me. Sometimes they will carry little weight in my final thoughts on a prospect because those traits may or may not shine through over the course of a season. With that said, enjoy the process and here are my notes from:
Nov 11, 2017; Auburn, AL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Roquan Smith (3) closes in on Auburn Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson (21) during the third quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers beat the Bulldogs 40-17. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
LB Roquan Smith vs. Notre Dame
Game statistics – Five solo tackles, two assists, one tackle for loss, and one sack
ELITE athletic ability. Possesses blue chip speed, quickness, explosiveness and pursuit. Smith is the type of player that plays at one speed. When he diagnoses the play he ‘fires his gun’ and brings the offensive player down. Watch the change of direction and burst once he realizes that the QB kept the zone read. It’s incredible.
As a scout, there aren’t many moments in which you get to see a linebacker open it up in a game. Here, Smith drops into coverage, widens with the running back, and as the pass goes to another receiver he goes from 0-60, lands a nice lick on the receiver, and even jars the ball loose. This is a good measuring stick when it comes to his overall speed and acceleration.
He was so amped for this game that he screwed up his run fit. Smith diagnosed the down blocks occurring in front of him and recognized that a puller was on his way. He quickly got downhill to meet the pulling tackle two yards deep into the backfield, but didn’t hug the down block tight enough or leverage the ball well. This allowed the running back to cut up inside.
He has very good agility. This agility will be extremely important at the next level. As a linebacker that is in the 225-235 pound range, he will not always be able to defeat blockers with stack and shed methods. He will have to use his athleticism to avoid blocks at times. Although he does not make the tackle, this is another one of those moments where you are still able to evaluate him.
I love his athleticism, but his ability to quickly key and diagnose is his #1 asset. He does it at an elite level. Watch how he is eyeing the quarterback. Quarterbacks are taught to drift 2-3 steps at the top of a drop when they are setting up a screen. AS SOON AS the QB takes those steps, Smith starts his attack on the running back. He quickly gets into a position to properly leverage the ball. Once he has the running back squared up he now needs to determine if the back is going to release toward the sideline or back to the field. The back opens to the sideline, so Smith gets downhill to make the tackle as soon as the back catches it.
He can quickly diagnose run-to-pass because he sticks with his keys. On this third down play his mental processing and mental toughness are on full display. Smith uses his peripheral vision to keep his key, the tackle, in sight while noticing that the far side running back is coming across the formation. The play action to the near back is supposed to bring Smith into the line of scrimmage so that the right tackle can pick him up. But Smith stays wide, reads flow coming at him, and closes to force fourth down. Did I mention his elite key and diagnose skills paired with elite athleticism? Dude has it all.
Smith made a similar play to the last one on a separate third down. Notre Dame aligned in a 3×1 set and sent two receivers acrossed the middle hoping Smith would chase one while the running back slipped to the flats. Smith read the route combination and closed the gap on the running back. The running back had a step on him to the field, so he under cut it and took away the passing lane. It was a great angle on the ball, and the quarterback wasn’t able to get enough arc on the ball to put it over the top.
Registered one sack on a blitz where the QB held the ball too long. Wasn’t explosive and didn’t display the attack mentality, but showed average bend and a nice swipe at the ball as he brought the QB down.
Smith played the weakside linebacker position in Georgia’s 3-4 defense, and he was often stacked behind a defensive lineman to help keep him clean.
Georgia won this game 20-19
This kid is a stud and a possible fit for the Bills’ defense. With Preston Brown more than likely departing, could Smith play Mike linebacker in a 4-3? His body frame and style of play is typical of a Will or weak side linebacker in the NFL.