Last season, the Indianapolis Colts shocked a majority of the football world after the team was projected to finish with one of the worst records in the NFL at the start of the season. Instead, after a 1-5 start, the team rebounded to win 9 of their final 10 games and reach the playoffs. After losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, how can the Colts get better?
In this new Film Room series, we’ll be looking at potential free agents who could help the Colts become a Super Bowl contender. The first player we will highlight is Washington Redskins edge rusher Preston Smith.
Smith is a former second round pick of the Redskins who has seen his production dip in recent seasons. Today, we will look at how he could help the Colts next season.
6’5” 271 pounds with 34” arms
40 Time: 4.74 / Bench Press: 24 Reps / Vertical Jump: 34 inches / Broad Jump: 121 inches / 3-Cone: 7.07 seconds
Career Stats (NFL):
164 total tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 59 QB hits, 24.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles in four years as a starter
The most important trait an NFL defensive end can have is pass rush ability. Preston Smith has it. He set his career best in sacks (8.0) as a rookie, a number he matched in 2017. Despite average sack numbers last season— only 4.5 on the year— he set his career best with 16 QB hits. He is a strong, fast edge rusher who has an impressive array of moves.
One of his moves is the spin move on the edge. In this clip, he gets chipped by the tight end, knocking him inside. He counters by re-engaging with the left tackle, setting up the inside move, then seamlessly spinning back outside to hit quarterback Deshaun Watson. The result is a big interception, due in part to the pressure caused by Smith.
Another way he wins is with his length. Smith measured with insanely long arms at the combine at 34 inches. He uses his length to keep tackles away from his frame while he works around the edge. Here, he uses his left arm to keep the tackle away while he turns the corner. By keeping a clean arc around the outside, he is able to pounce on Watson as he is attempting to escape the pocket.
Smith can also utilize his strength when rushing the passer. Here, he is able to swat away the hands of the left tackle and get inside his chest plate. When Dak Prescott begins to step up in the pocket, Smith uses his strength to quickly discard the left tackle. The result is a near sack and QB hit.
Strong hands stand out most on Smith’s tape. He frequently works through and discards left tackles. Here, he fakes outside before engaging with his hands inside. He is able to rip and move around the edge for the pressure. He helps to cause the incompletion.
Our final clips shows what happens when he puts it all together. He uses his length to get inside on the tackle. He rips past the tackle and dips around the outside. He finishes by using his speed to close on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for the sack. This is his upside if the Colts utilize him as a 4-3 defensive end.
Run Defense/ Effort
Coach Frank Reich showed last season that snaps will be earned with run defense. Kemoko Turay was one of the Colts’ best pass rushers but he lost playing time to players like Tyquan Lewis and Al-Quadin Muhammad due to his weakness as a run defender. Good thing Smith is a solid run defender.
Smith uses his length in run defense and it allows him to stack and shed blockers at the line of scrimmage. Here, he (left side of the line) is being blocked by a tight end on the edge. He gets his long arms inside and is able to swim around the block once he reads where the back is going. He squares up Zeke Elliott and makes a good, clean tackle in the hole for a loss.
Another way he defends the run well is with athleticism. Here, (right side of the line) he is blocked by both the tight end and the pulling guard on the sweep play. He is able to work across the field while absorbing the contact from those two blocks and make a tackle. The ability to get down the field and to the sidelines to make tackles is key in the Colts’ defense.
Our last clip shows how Smith makes plays through incredible effort. Here, he starts on the right side of the line but stunts inside on the twist. He fights through the line, as Fitzpatrick is able to get to the outside and begin scrambling. He doesn’t give up his pursuit and is able to chase down the quarterback just short of the sticks.
If he can defend the run and rush the passer, why might he hit free agency?
He is a bit inconsistent. For all of his upside and athleticism, he should have more than 24.5 sacks in his four year career. He struggles to finish at times and fails to bring the quarterback down when they are in his grasp. He also has his fair share of mental lapses in run defense as well.
The other big question is how well he can succeed without a stellar pass rusher on the other side of him. Only 24.5 sacks in four years with Ryan Kerrigan garnering most of the attention is not great.
First, we will examine Smith’s mental lapses in run defense. Here, Smith’s responsibility is to get inside of the tackle and force the running back to bounce outside, where the linebacker is twisting around. He gets inside but is knocked out of the hole way too easily. Smith needs to fight through contact and at least get a hand on the rusher. The result is a touchdown right up his gap.
For all of his upside in length and athleticism, Smith does struggle with top-tier tackles. In a match-up with Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, Smith struggled to get separation. He wasn’t able to get his long arms on the stout left tackle and as a result, he was unable to generate much of a pass rush.
Preston Smith is a very talented defensive end who played a bit out of position for the Redskins. With his size and long frame, he fits perfectly with what Ballard likes in his defensive ends. He would instantly be an upgrade to not only the pass rush, but also to the run defense.
Now, he is still not a fully developed pass rusher, which is a bit concerning for a 26 year old who will likely command top dollar. He also has his fair share of missed run fits and moments of poor awareness on tape. The key is confidence he can improve in these areas.
Overall, I think Smith is the perfect free agent fit for the Colts. With a lot of attention potentially being on Trey Flowers (New England) or Jadeveon Clowney (Houston), Smith may be a perfect under-the-radar signing. He is still young and fits the mold Ballard covets and has the ability to play well in both phases. If he is priced reasonably— somewhere below 12 million a year — I think we could see Preston Smith in Indianapolis next season.