A fan-favorite series is coming back to the site as it is officially prospect interview season. For anybody new to the site or for people who need a reminder, every draft season I sit down with prospects that are going to be in the upcoming NFL Draft to talk with them about their off-field accomplishments and some film aspects on the field. While I don’t always talk to star players, I have been able to talk to a few players who eventually ended up with the Colts such as Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, and Rock Ya-Sin.
Our next prospect interview is with Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. We had a great conversation about his impact as a vertical threat, his run after catch ability, and how he studies opposing players.
Weight: 180 pounds
Smith-Marsette is a former three-star recruit out of Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey. He was originally recruited as a cornerback but quickly made the transition over to receiver for the Hawkeyes. He had an instant impact as a freshman, spending time as both a return man and receiver for the team. His breakout season came in 2019 as a junior when he was named a Second Team All Big-Ten Return Specialist and an All Big-Ten Honorable Mention as a receiver. He finished his career with 110 catches for 1,615 yards and 14 touchdowns along with 34 rushes for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also averaged 28.7 yards per return on kickoffs and had two return touchdowns in his career.
ZH: So, you had the extra year of eligibility but opted to enter this draft. What went into that decision for you?
ISM: I just felt like it was my time. Ultimately, college did some great things for me but I felt like it was time to take my abilities to the next level and showcase them on the biggest stage.
#Iowa Special Teams in the Holiday Bowl...One of the top units in the country under Coach @LeVarWoods.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 13, 2020
And WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette is dynamic in the return game. Speed + vision. @NFLMatchup @HawkeyeFootball pic.twitter.com/WOEPok6COD
ZH: The first thing that pops off of film is your speed. Have you always been the fastest player growing up? Because you have easy speed.
ISM: For as long as I can remember, yeah. I started playing football in high school as a sophomore but I also joined the track team. So yeah, as long as I can remember I’ve always been one of the fastest— if not the fastest— players on the field. That has always been something that has been in my game.
ZH: What events did you run in track in high school?
ISM: 110 hurdles and 400 hurdles.
ZH: Gotta be a freak to run those (laughs). Did it take you a bit to get used to that running style?
ISM: It took some time. When I first started, I think my best was, like, 15.3 (in the 110 hurdle event). A year later, I became a 13.9. I dropped about 1.4 seconds off my time in less than a year. My track trainer was one of a kind. We had one of the best coaches in the state.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been Iowa’s biggest playmaker today. Blows by the Wisconsin secondary and does a great job tracking the ball. Unfortunately hurt his ankle on the flip. pic.twitter.com/af27qkxI4R— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) December 12, 2020
Run After Catch
ZH: The NFL is built in a way where chunk plays are the focus on offense. Not only hitting deep shots but also creating yards after the catch. Do you think this NFL is suited for a player with your skillset?
ISM: Oh yeah, definitely. The way it is shaping to be... It is becoming more of a pass-first and run second league, and that is right up my alley. Coming out of an offense that was really run-heavy, I feel like the NFL is a place where my talent can be shown at a high level. I feel like I’ll be able to turn it up a notch at the next level.
ZH: You did a great job at Iowa at creating after the catch. Is that what an NFL team is getting when they draft you? A type of guy who can win deep, but also a player who we can just get the ball to on quick screens and let him create?
ISM: I think that was a big part of my game at Iowa. When I got the ball in short yardage, I typically got more than what I planned on getting or looked like I was going to get. I think that at the next level, I’ll be able to do those same things. I can even take those things even further with the more touches I get. I feel like I can do it all, whether it is short, intermediate, or long.
An Ihmir Smith-Marsette appreciation post: Iowa’s most explosive player in a long time pic.twitter.com/mMs0oxME7Y— Iowa Nostalgia (@RetroHawkeyes) December 24, 2020
ZH: With the deep ball, we all know that speed plays a big factor. For the average fan though, what other factors play into a receiver winning deep on, say, a fly route for instance?
ISM: The DB leverage and how he is playing me is big. A lot goes into it like if he’s slow or fast, does he have catch-up speed, is he easy to stack... there’s a lot that goes into it. I’m one of those players who can adjust on the fly so if I recognize something in somebody’s game, I’m going to try and exploit it.
ZH: When you are watching film during the week, are you studying specific corners or what coverages teams use?
ISM: Both, actually. I try to scout the defense and look at what coverages they run and indicators of what their coverages are going to be. When I figure that out, I look at the DB’s one by one. Some DB’s like to be more physical, and their coaches only allow them to cover certain players. I look at their strengths, and if they get in and out of their breaks quick. If they have ball skills too. I just like to look at the small things.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette is really fun to watch. Excellent vertical threat with easy speed. pic.twitter.com/ICIYPb8iEI— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 7, 2021
Favorite Route + Receiver Mindset
ZH: What would you say is your favorite route to run?
ISM: Post-Corner. I get open on that route all the time.
ZH: When you are running a post-corner, when do you know the play is going to hit big?
ISM: We use it when the DB is really aggressive. They tend to try and get a break on the first step. I usually run straight at them, step on their toes, and then I break in. As soon as I break in, I get my head turned, and when I feel that DB break, I back out of it for a big play.
ZH: Have you ever told your QB that you can get a guy on a post-corner?
ISM: Oh, I’ve told the coaches! I’ll be like, “Imma be open, can we just run it?” There’s been times when I’ve told the QB, coaches, probably even the whole stadium... so yeah, I’ve told the QB about it (laughs).
ZH: Corners have to be insane to play their position, so they are these nutjobs who are talking all the time. As a receiver, you have to match that a bit right? What does your confidence level have to be like to be a receiver?
ISM: We gotta be high. Once a DB makes one play on you, they feel like they are locking you up and you can’t do anything on them. All it takes is getting one for them to start talking. Our confidence level has to be high enough to say, “Okay, you got that one but the other 9 out of 10, I’m gonna get you.” You gotta be high. I’m gonna get you back.
ZH: I love it. So, are you a smack talker on the field?
ISM: I mean, I talk during the game, of course I do. If (the corner) wanna start and open the game up like that, then I can go all four quarters. After the game, I’ll shake up and show respect but it’s part of the game. I do it though (laughs). Some people it is a part of their game... It is in mine.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette (top of the screen) was flashed on film. Has the traits you want in a future high level receiver. Smooth mover who tracks the ball really well. Could be a riser as one of the focal points on the Iowa offense next season. #NFLDraft #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/VChAatHBiU— Jack Borowsky (@Jack_Borowsky) May 28, 2020
ZH: What is my team getting when they draft Ihmir Smith-Marsette?
ISM: They are getting a hard worker who shows up everyday and gives it his all to the team. Somebody who is going to compete at the highest level, and somebody who is just fun to be around. I’m still young so I like to have fun with the game. I’m just somebody who is cool to be around. Work hard, get what you need to get done, and have fun on Sundays putting on a show.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette gets loose again! @HawkeyeFootball answers a pick six with a 96-yard TD return on the ensuing kickoff: pic.twitter.com/XarX2Y4kAM— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 29, 2019
This draft class is filled with speedy receivers and luckily, the Colts have a major need at that spot. Outside of Parris Campbell, who is never healthy, the Colts don’t have an elite vertical threat to stretch the field. With a player like Ihmir Smith-Marsette, the offense could have much more space to utilize.
While there are some things that point to him not being a Chris Ballard type of player, his dynamic ability should have the Colts interested. Even if they don’t draft him, I’m confident the Colts will add a speedy receiver in this upcoming class. I came away very impressed though with Smith-Marsette’s film and he should have a very productive NFL career ahead of him.