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Film Room: Braden Smith is putting it all together in year three

Braden Smith has been superb for the Colts in 2020

NFL: NOV 08 Ravens at Colts Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.