In 2014, the biggest strength of an otherwise underwhelming defense for the Colts was their cornerback position. Led by Vontae Davis, who emerged into elite status with his high level of play, the position made it easier on a defense that struggled to get pass rush. With Greg Toler at the other cornerback spot and Darius Butler providing the valuable nickel corner role, the Colts seem set with the top three at the position.
But the number four guy? Last year, it was Josh Gordy, and things didn't go very well. Gordy is now with the Giants, as the Colts let him walk in free agency, and so Indianapolis needs a new number four cornerback. That might be where D'Joun Smith, who the Colts drafted with the first pick in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, comes in.
Smith, a rookie out of Florida Atlantic, will likely step in as the Colts' fourth cornerback, and head coach Chuck Pagano thinks that's a valuable role in today's NFL.
"You know with the way the game is going, it's becoming a pass-heavy league," Pagano said on Saturday, stating the obvious. "It's a matchup league and it's all about matchups, so the more guys that you have that can cover, and it doesn't matter whether it's three wides and a tight end, a really athletic tight end, there's going to be some size issues that come into play. But I don't think you can have enough, it's like pass-rushers, I don't think you can have enough cover guys because those guys are built like Ferraris and I hate to say it but Ferraris are in the shop a lot. It's hard to find mechanics to fix the damn things so it's good to have guys available. So if we get a guy who gets a nick here or there you got a guy that you feel great about throwing in there and playing at a high level."
In rookie mini-camp this weekend, Smith was working as both the outside corner and as the nickel corner, and the Colts will likely use him in a variety of roles. Whether that's as an outside corner, as a nickel corner, or even as a safety, Smith brings versatility that the Colts will love.
"He's done a lot of things, yeah," Pagano noted. "He's got a ton of position versatility and flexibility and so we're playing him outside. We're going to play him on both sides, right and left, because he's a guy that we think down the road can be a match-type guy and we're also playing him inside at the nickel position. There's no need in this camp based on who we have with our numbers and the free agents and the tryout guys to go ahead and throw him back there right now. We feel like his skillset, he's going to be somebody that is going to be really good for us outside and also at the nickel spot."
Basically, D'Joun Smith is a matchup corner. If the Colts need him as the right cornerback, that's where he'll be. If the Colts need him as the left cornerback, that's where he'll be. And if the Colts need him as the nickel cornerback, that's where he'll be. There even might be the scenario in which he plays a little safety, though Chuck Pagano seemed set on sticking with Smith at corner right now. And let's not forget about special teams, where Smith might make his earliest impact.
The bottom line is that D'Joun Smith brings a lot of flexibility as a matchup cornerback, something the Colts really didn't use a lot of last year. He'll likely step in as their number four corner in 2015, meaning that if someone needs a breather or if someone gets injured, Smith could be the guy that is called in. And the Colts are comfortable playing him anywhere, which is a great skill to have and should help him out quite a bit as he tries to impress his new coaching staff and adjust to the NFL.