With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Missouri outside linebacker Aldon Smith. In just two seasons on the field (23 total games), Smith made an enormous impact - and that was predictable based on the impressive athleticism and penetrative ability he displayed in practice as a redshirt freshman in 2008. In 2009, he put up 60 tackles (40 solo), 11 sacks, and a forced fumble. In 2010, despite missing three games with e broken fibula and playing the second half of the season with the injury, he amassed 48 tackles (34 solo), six sacks, and one interception.
Pros: Smith is great at splitting blocks (even double-teams) with speed, upper-body strength, and violent hand use. Will get sideways quickly in a gap to exploit motion. Doesn't just come straight on at all times; he's developed a repertoire of inside moves that allow him to execute loops and stunts and take advantage of slower-blocking linemen. Redirects very well against the run no matter how quickly he's rushing the passer; Smith has an excellent sense of looking for gaps and then looking for the ball - he doesn't often lose his target.
Good, but not great, sideline to sideline speed for his size (6-foot-4, 258 pounds), but he'll take a play to the edge every time. Persistent player form snap to whistle. Adjusts well to motion - he's so used to teams motioning extra blockers to deal with him, he has developed an innate understanding of how to get around double teams off the snap. When he jumps inside to five-tech, he's even more dynamic off the snap - his hand use allows him to get around guards and centers with alarming quickness. Great inside fake to outside (and vice versa); Smith gets offensive linemen off their bases with misdirection as well as any collegiate pass rusher I've seen in recent years.
Cons: More a pure pass-rusher than a truly elite run defender; Smith will likely be an outside linebacker in name only at the next level. He's a guy off the edge in four- or five-man fronts; the question is whether he can deal with tackles with better technique who outweigh him by 60 pounds. More inclined to stunt inside or push off the blocker than do the traditional "dip-and-rip" - his outside rush will need some development. Plays with good base strength at his current level, but there may be an adjustment when he's taking on "bigger/stronger/faster". Decent when dropping back in coverage, but it's not a strength.
Conclusion: On a surface level, Aldon Smith brings a very scary comparison to mind - Arkansas' Jamaal Anderson(notes), another elite college speed-rusher with limited experience and a skill set that saw him even more effective when he moved or lined up inside. Anderson washed out with the Atlanta Falcons, but what separates Smith from the Andersons and Jarvis Mosses of the world (Moss was another first-round bust) is his intriguing array of quick moves to gain the speed advantage. Add in his ability to use his hands to fend off blockers, and his upper-body strength, and it's clear that smith has the tools that will keep him from washing out of the NFL, as long as he's in the right system.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue | #17 - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama | #16 - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa | #15 - Tyron Smith, OT, USC