Colts General Manager Chris Ballard struck gold in the 2018 NFL Draft when he selected two future All-Pro players in Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard. What may be even more impressive though is how he found the Colts’ right tackle of the future in a guard from Auburn. Braden Smith is lesser known find of this draft class but his play in the NFL has been nothing short of remarkable.
After playing guard for all four years at Auburn, Smith had a bit of a learning curve in the NFL. Last year, his second year in the league, he struggled a bit being on an island at right tackle as he allowed 7 sacks on the season. This year however has been drastically different as he has allowed 0 sacks and only one QB hit through eight games played.
So today I wanted to take a look at Smith’s overall game and show the improvements he has made in the passing game and showcase some of the great things he does as a run blocker. He is well on his way to being one of the top right tackles in the league and his film shows that.
Power in the Run Game
Being that Smith was a guard at a run heavy college football program, he has always been much more developed as a run blocker than a pass blocker. His natural power is among the best in the league and he is able to vault and move defenders with ease. When this is combined with his elite athleticism, he is an absolute road grader for this team. The one thing that shocked me a bit through his first two years is that he wasn’t finishing blocks as much as he did in college. That seems to have improved quite a bit in year three which is evident in this clip below.
Braden Smith's film this year has been really fun to watch. He really is coming into his own as a right tackle. Just in time for the Colts to give him a nice extension this offseason pic.twitter.com/zMBzNwcZmS— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 11, 2020
An area where Smith is really able to excel in the run game is with pins and combo blocks. He has a massive frame that many tackles in the league simply don’t have. This frame allows for him to quickly punch defenders on the interior to help his running mate in Mark Glowinski control blocks. Smith has been an excellent run blocker this season despite the Colts’ woes in that area of their offense. There are a lot of reasons for the team’s struggles there— from running backs missing holes to predictable play calling— but Smith has been a bright spot as a run blocker for the Colts.
I get what Taylor sees here as Braden Smith gets a beautiful pin on the interior to open up that hole. I just can't help but thinking that Marlon Mack would press inside then bounce out behind Quenton Nelson for a 20+ yard gain here pic.twitter.com/4eRcf7E58L— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 24, 2020
Pass Blocking: A bit more nuanced of an Evaluation
Now when it comes to Smith as a pass blocker, there has to be a bit more of a nuanced opinion. First to properly grade his pass blocking, you have to understand what he is being asked to do in this department. Smith and the rest of the Colts’ offensive line learned under the late great Howard Mudd along with current Offensive Line Coach Chris Strausser. Both of these great coaches believe in an aggressive approach to pass blocking with an attack mentality. This clip below from last season illustrates the techniques well.
Howard Mudds footprint is all over Braden Smiths film:— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 15, 2019
- Shorter Pass angle
- Shakes hands
- Initiates contact
- Stops the rush
Not perfect but its the core aspect of the Mudd Method. My Film Room on Smiths improvements + his work in this technique drops tomorrow @StampedeBlue pic.twitter.com/xiwB7t9t3Z
A lot of these fundamentals showed up in how Smith performed against Khalil Mack in a big match-up against the Bears in week four. Mack is one of the top pass rushers in the league and Smith held his own in this game, allowing 0 sacks or QB Hits to the elite pass rusher. Smith’s power matches well with top rushers in this game and he executes the Mudd principles well. Look at this clip below as he has an aggressive angle, flashes his hands, and braces for the bull rush to shut down the outside rush.
Nice balance and ability to anchor against Khalil Mack by Braden Smith. Stops a bull rush in its tracks pic.twitter.com/Ye342ci1fP— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 29, 2020
There are still some things for him to improve on but I like the direction that he is heading. He is learning how to be better with his hands and isn’t getting beat by speed rushers as much as he had in the past. He is also learning little nuances of the game to help him better combat certain looks he is getting from pass rushers. Here the bull rush initially gets inside to his chest but he is able to re-anchor and drive the rusher out of the play. He is continually trending upwards as a pass blocker and that is all you want to see out of a young offensive tackle.
Really like this rep in pass pro by Braden Smith. Absorbs the bull rush on the edge and is able to anchor and drive his man out of the play. Great stuff pic.twitter.com/z9qIxl3e3n— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 11, 2020
How To Videos by Braden Smith
I mentioned above how Smith is slowly learning nuances and intricacies of being an NFL right tackle. These two videos show just that. The first one features the pass rusher lined up against him in a wide stance. The pass rusher, established veteran Carlos Dunlap, tries to set up Smith by using a long arm move to drive him into the backfield. In the past Smith may have been content just running him out of the play from this position but instead he uses Dunlap’s momentum against him and swats the long arm down, leading to Dunlap falling to the turf. This is exactly how you combat a long arm as a tackle.
How to combat a long arm by Braden Smith. I've watched this play maybe 30 times now pic.twitter.com/5f3Nf7bIob— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 27, 2020
Stunts and twists have become huge in the NFL in recent years as defensive coordinators are trying to find new ways to simulate pressure without sending extra rushers. Smith and Glowinski are very used to playing alongside each other at this point so they are great at IDing and switching on these stunts. This right here is a textbook stunt pickup by Smith though. As soon as he sees his man break inside, he gets his hat on Glowinski’s man and drives him out of the play. This block seals the edge and effectively takes out multiple defenders on the play.
How to eliminate a T-E stunt as a tackle by Braden Smith pic.twitter.com/s8NFzrwYy8— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 29, 2020
Career Game against the Ravens
As someone who has closely studied Smith’s game for three years now, I want to say that Sunday’s game against the Ravens may have been his best game as an NFL player. He was as great as ever in the run and screen game as he paved way for the Colts’ runners. In pass pro he handled really good pass rushers like Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon without much help from chips or doubles. It was a really strong performance on a big stage against a top team.
Thought Colts RT Braden Smith had one of his best games in the NFL on Sunday. Looked really good in pass pro against a group of talented pass rushers that included Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon. Smith still has given up 0 sacks and allowed just 1 QB Hit this year: pic.twitter.com/I9br6dTDvT— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 11, 2020
Braden Smith often gets overlooked in that great 2018 Draft class by Chris Ballard because his development has taken a bit of time compared to some of the other stars from that class. Make no mistake though, he is a very good right tackle who is continually getting better each and every year.
The Colts have a tough stretch coming up with talented pass rushers in each game. This may have been something to worry about in year’s past with Smith but I find myself very confident in his abilities in year three. I think he will prove over these next few weeks just how far he has come as the right tackle for the Colts.