JBB Draft Profile: Derron Smith, FS, Fresno State, Potential Third Round Steal

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Dec 21, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver Marqise Lee (9) is defended by Fresno State Bulldogs safety Derron Smith (13) in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. USC defeated Fresno State 45-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football Skills

Smith is a typical free safety in terms of his physical profile. At 5’11” and around 200 pounds, he is approximately the same size as the Chargers’ Eric Weddle, but has a rangier build that makes him appear taller.  Most estimates of his 40-yard dash time have him clocked in in the low to mid 4.5 range, slower than Weddle or Earl Thomas but with speed on par with or better than other top safeties like Jarius Byrd or Eric Reid.

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  • Smith, who played at about 190-195 pounds in the past two seasons, had some struggles as a tackler in 2012, causing him to be briefly benched in a game.  Since that time, he has improved as a tackler, though in 2013 he still had trouble finishing tackles against larger ball-carriers.  He is a willing tackler, and can play around the line of scrimmage, though he does tend to be taken off his feet and out of plays if he is faced with a larger lead blocker. He will also occasionally take a bad angle in pursuit, though this is something he has improved on coming into the season.  That said, he is an excellent fundamental tackler and has gotten bigger and stronger throughout the course of his college career.  He wraps up ball carriers and takes them down rather than attempting knockout shots, although he can deliver impact hits in the right situations. Smith can be an intimidating presence in the run and the pass game due to his willingness to be physical, but won’t whiff on very many tackles and won’t get a lot of flags for unnecessary roughness.

    He also protects his body by executing good fundamental tackling in most situations, which will help him stay on the field at the next level. While he has been used primarily as a single-high safety in Fresno State’s defense, he is occasionally called upon to play down near the line of scrimmage, where he can also have a major impact in the run game (eight tackles for loss last season) or effectively blitz the quarterback (four sacks in 2013).

    As you can see, Smith excels as a zone pass defender, especially in a deep zone where he can play an “outfielder” role and help cornerbacks over the top. He excels at locating, closing with and snagging deep passes and plays with very good range, and has great skills with the ball in his hands, evidenced by his 275 career interception return yards. While Smith is not exceptionally tall, he has long arms and great vertical leaping ability that belies his background as a standout high school basketball player. With that leaping ability, Smith can elevate and grab a ball at its highest point, and is able to secure the interception once he gets his hands on it. He also plays deep safety with a lot of discipline and a high football IQ, rarely being caught out of position or fooled.

    Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who has faced Smith twice in his career and is preparing to face him a third time, praised Smith’s intelligence and the way Smith wins the “eye battles” with opposing quarterbacks. Fajardo also calls Smith a “freak athlete.” While he has done his best work as a deep single high safety, he can also be effective in a robber zone or even playing out in the flat. His ball skills, range, discipline and understanding of what offenses are doing are all key skills that will translate immediately to the next level.