Elite pass rushers can come from anywhere. One of the most feared in the NFL today, DeMarcus Ware, came from Sun Belt Conference member Troy, and teams will find talent no matter the size of school these guys come from. Another Sun Belt Conference player is starting to get some buzz this year as well, Western Kentucky's Quanterus Smith.
Smith was a four year player, getting snaps in each game his first three seasons, starting in 18 games over that stretch. He accumulated 97 tackles, including 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in those three seasons, which are nice numbers but won't get you noticed as easily at a small school. As a senior, however, he burst onto the scene, leading the country in sacks through 10 games with 12.5, regularly causing havoc in the backfield. Then against Louisiana-Lafayette, his season ended prematurely when he tore an ACL, leaving him unable to add to his mighty impressive sack total. He still ended up leading the country in sacks per game, but it meant no workouts before or after the Combine, meaning teams will have to go on tape only for Smith.
As we saw last year with Colts NT Josh Chapman, teams may be extra cautious with guys who had surgery so late in the previous season, which means Smith may have a 2013 season much like Chapman's 2012, standing in street clothes on the sidelines. It does mean, however, that he'll fall in the draft further than his talent level stipulates, and some team is going to get a steal. We know the Colts have already done this once. Would they be willing to do it again?
The Colts are woefully thin at OLB, with only Robert Mathis and Jerry Hughes coming back that have a legitimate chance at being game-changers. In some ways it doesn't make sense for the Colts to use a mid-round (3 or 4) on another guy that won't see any action in his first year, as they desperately need to improve a whole lot. But if they are willing to wait, and find a stop-gap for a year, it might work in the Colts favor, who are short their 2nd rounder this year. It's certainly an interesting thing to debate.
A big drawback for Smith is that he's always been a hand-on-the-ground pass rusher, which he obviously wouldn't be doing for the Colts. His body type (6'5", 250) says he's built to be a 3-4 OLB, but he's never had any experience rushing the QB from a two point stance. Probably another reason the Colts won't invest in the guy, but for a team with some depth already, he makes a lot of sense. No matter where Smith lands, the Sun Belt Player of the Year in 2012 will be an interesting case as to how much an injury will cause a guy to fall in the draft.
Possesses the length pro coaches love to see on their defense. Flashes the explosion off the snap as an edge rusher to beat most college tackles to the back of the pocket. Agile enough to contain on the edge and move in space when asked to drop, as well as the motor to hustle down the line and fight to the quarterback until the ball is away.
Pad level coming off the ball is poor. Needs to learn fire off low, roll his hips through contact, and convert speed to power. Must work on tightening his path to the quarterback around the corner, as he can be ridden out of the pocket too easily.
Strengths: Possesses good strength at this time and the lanky frame to add more mass without a significant loss of quickness. Shows impressive burst off the snap to get the tackle on his heels, as well as the flexibility to dip under his opponent's reach and the lateral agility to counter back inside.
Weaknesses: While the performance against Alabama was impressive, much of his production came against lower-level competition, including an eye-popping five sacks against Florida International. Relies on his agility and leverage to hold up against the run but is too often pushed off the line and/or sealed off from the action, which could necessitate a move to outside linebacker in the NFL, a position he has never played.
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