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 Feb. 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 Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, who put up three interceptions, 18 passes defensed, 164 tackles (129 solo), and three tackles for loss in 47 games for the Buffaloes. As is the case with many elite cornerbacks (think of it as the "Nnamdi Asomugha Rule"), stats don't always reflect performance on the field -- the best pass defenders aren't often targeted enough to put up wild numbers. What does the tape tell us?
Pros: Tall, angular build (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), and he has good trail speed and agility in space. In press man coverage, Smith locks on well from the snap with a jolt within 5 yards and the ability to tightly follow different routes. Takes slants and crosses well and doesn't lose ground. Comes down hard on screen and swing passes to tackle and doesn't get misdirected.
Good eye for sitting in zones and sensing where passes are going based on route concepts. A willing and physical tackler when he's not blocked out of a play, and he's very quick to diagnose run when he's playing off-man or off-zone. Has the recovery speed and diagnostic skill to jump comeback routes. Boxes wideouts in well on nickel sets and has a good sense of what's going around him in zones.
Cons: Not always an accurate tackler when bouncing off blocks, takes on blocks with a high-stance and can be "out-leveraged" fairly easily. His eagerness to play the run can lead to a tendency to bite on playfakes. Misses interception opportunities by batting the ball away at times. Can be a bit stiff in hip turn in shorter routes, but that's typical of taller cornerbacks and it isn't an enormous issue in his case.
Conclusion: Smith has been behind two big names at his position through the pre-draft process -- LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. He's kind of the middleman in that equation -- not yet a true potential NFL shutdown corner prospect like Peterson, nor an interesting hybrid player who may project better to safety like Amukamara. As a result, Smith's is a name you'll be hearing more and more as draft analysts catch up to him from a tape-watching perspective, but scouts and teams certainly know what he's capable of. A strong combine performance may bump him up a little bit, but he's a very safe mid-first-round draft pick for any NFL team needing a bigger cornerback who can play man and zone and tackle well. Spreads out well against motion from run support to wide coverage.
The Cromartie comparison speaks to Smith's height, weight, and basic athletic skill set, but he seems to be less boom-and-bust -- we'll just have to see if he can take that to the NFL (picking up a few more interceptions along the way). If he can do that, Jimmy Smith could wind up as one of the best first-round values of the 2011 draft.
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