The 2018 Indianapolis Colts were filled with plenty of surprises. Cornerback Kenny Moore rose from a borderline roster player to being one of the team’s best players. Linebacker Darius Leonard went from the “worst pick in the NFL Draft” to being named the DROY. Guard Mark Glowinski went from preseason laughing stock to the starting right guard for the foreseeable future. Out of all the surprises though, the biggest one may have been Braden Smith emerging as the future at right tackle.
Smith was selected with the 37th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as a guard out of Auburn. At Auburn, he logged 41 consecutive starts. The only time he lined up at right tackle was in a game against Jacksonville State in his Sophomore season. He was an All-American and/or All-SEC guard in each of his four seasons in college.
Today we will look at why he was so effective at right tackle for the Colts and what he can improve upon to take the next step in his development.
A major emphasis for GM Chris Ballard has been to draft athletic players. Guard Quenton Nelson was drafted in the first round and he was an athletic freak in college. Braden Smith was no different. He dominated with his athleticism at Auburn as he was the catalyst in their run game.
Smith was a vital part of the Colts’ running game. He was asked to pull out into space on long toss plays or stretch plays and reach the second level to spring big runs. Smith may not have the quickest first step or be the fastest player but he knows how to take correct angles and is agile for a man his size. Here, he gets just enough of the safety on the toss play to spring the big run. Jordan Wilkins ends up rushing for 53 yards on the play.
A major aspect of the Colts’ outside running game is pulling linemen sealing the edge. Smith does that here, as he pulls to the edge and takes out safety ReShad Jones with a monster block. This block on the outside, takes away one of the Dolphins’ best tacklers and allows Marlon Mack to cut back to the inside.
Although the Colts struggled with running backs screens, they found a ton of success with the wide receivers toward the end of the year. The key to success was getting the fast, strong offensive linemen out in space to block the smaller safeties and corners. Here, Smith picks up the key block to spring Nyheim Hines for a big gain. He gets out into space, identifies the safety responsible for covering Hines, and levels him to create the big hole.
A key part of playing offensive line is just being bigger and stronger than the man lined up across from you. Playing in the top football league in the world surrounded by top level athletes, Smith makes moving them around look easy. Smith’s strength was apparent before joining the Colts. He benched 225 pounds a total of 35 times at the combine and was the Kansas shot put and discus champion in high school. That strength off the field has translated to a huge asset for the Colts’ offense.
Short yardage plays are where Smith can really show his strength. When he is tasked with just moving defenders off of the line, he is at his absolute best. Here, Smith is down blocking on #97 Jordan Phillips on 3rd and short. He drives Phillips back around five yards and gives Marlon Mack just enough space to slide through for a first down.
Near the goal line, it is the same deal. Lineman have to get a big initial push so the running back can squeeze through and get into the endzone. Here, Smith is blocking JJ Watt on a run up the gap. He keeps his feet moving and is able to drive Watt across the line of scrimmage. This creates a huge cut back lane on the backside where Mack is able to fight through and score.
Smith is insanely strong at the point of attack and it shows when engaging linebackers in the hole. Wesley Woodyard was one of the top linebackers in football last season and Smith is able to drive him back a few yards on contact here. Obviously you’d want him to keep this block until the play is over but the pure strength to drive a high quality linebacker back off of just the initial pop is really impressive.
There was a noticeable change in the Colts’ pass blocking once Smith stepped in against the Patriots. He combines his strength and athleticism to lock down the right side of the line. He certainly needs to refine his technique— which we will talk about in a bit— but his raw ability alone made him a noticeable upgrade at the position.
Smith was dominant against one of the better pass rushes in football when facing the Buffalo Bills. Here he is lined up against former first round pick Shaq Lawson and controls the entire rep. He gets a good jump out of his set and takes away the outside angle for Lawson. Once he takes away the initial rush, Lawson attempts to spin back inside. Smith does an excellent job of resetting and controlling the block again after the spin.
JJ Watt is one of the best pass rushers in football. In his first matchup against the Colts, where he lined up against Denzelle Goode, Watt logged two sacks and two forced fumbles. Against Smith in the next two matchups, Watt only logged one sack— which was a result of coverage. The main reason Smith had so much success is his strength and balance in pass protection. Here, Smith is able to stay balanced and is not beaten by Watt’s deadly bull rush. The result is a big play and a first down.
Speaking of elite pass rushers, Smith was also superb against DeMarcus Lawrence for most of the game. Here, he gets a bit of a chip from the running back to take away the outside rush. Lawrence extends his arms and knocks Smith a bit off balance but he is able to re-anchor and get his hands inside to win.
Smith’s biggest flaw on film is his lack of experience and raw technique. His kick step is pretty inconsistent and his hand placement is all over the place. He lacks a natural feel for when to punch at the point of attack and loses on plays when he stops his feet. He has all the movement ability and upside to be a top tier tackle but he needs refinement.
Here, Smith doesn’t get wide enough on his drop and has his hands way outside. The main issue is that he exposes his chest to the bull rush. The result is Yannick Ngakoue getting his hands inside and driving Smith into Andrew Luck’s lap.
Smith struggled most against pass rusher Cam Wake of the Dolphins. Smith’s kick step needs work and this rep shows that. The steps are choppy and he doesn’t get good enough depth to cut off the arc run by Wake. The result is Wake getting the edge and nearly picking up a sack.
The next rep was one of Smith’s worst of the season. He doesn’t get good enough depth and his punch barely effects Lawrence at all. Smith needs to get wider on drops and gain control of the defender early on. Lawrence is able to throw a quick inside step to throw Smith off balance and then swipe away his hands to create the pressure. These are small mistakes that elite pass rushers take advantage of.
Braden Smith is an excellent player with immense upside. He has insane strength to move any defender in the league and is athletic enough to excel in the Colts’ spread out offensive scheme. His pass blocking was solid for most of the season as he was able to win with his strong anchor and balance.
The only real flaw is that he isn’t truly developed tackle yet. He has a work to do if he hopes to improve his kick step, his punch, and his hand placement. If Howard Mudd and Chris Strausser can coach up his technique, I think he has a high ceiling. He could even make a jump into being a top ten right tackle with the proper coaching.