Each and every year Ohio State is one of the leaders in total players drafted to the NFL. In this series, I am going to be profiling the former Ohio State Buckeyes who have declared for the NFL Draft.
Ohio State’s defensive line came into the 2021 season with extremely high expectations, none more than former top-50 recruit Tyreke Smith. Smith played an incredible game against Clemson in the playoff match up with 1 sack, 1 TFL, and 1 PBU in 2020, which sent his expectations through the roof. Throughout his career he struggled to stay on the field due to injuries limiting his total production, but the times he was on the field he was a noticeable difference maker. If you listen to Buck Off, many of you know I was extremely bullish in my projections for Smith heading in to 2021, and I still hold a strong belief that when he finally puts together a consistent stretch he will be a great player.
One of the reasons Smith will be touted by draft experts is his high level athleticism. Smith plays with the bend and flexibility NFL teams want in their edge defenders, but a major selling point will be his ability to fit in both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes. Smith had a solid overall performance at the Senior Bowl, but did not do much to change his draft standing. After the combine and pro-day we will be able to fully see his draft profile, but I expect a similar evaluation as former linebacker Baron Browning where the athletic profile outweighs his collegiate production.
The former Buckeye defensive end will be drafted, but the range in his draft projection is far from solidified.
Tyreke Smith Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round Pick
For an NFL edge defender, there are some key physical attributes that are assessed by NFL talent evaluators. Flexibility and explosiveness at the snap are the two predominant traits that teams will be looking at. Smith has incredible bend and gets off the ball well — this is his strength as he heads to the next level. Where Smith needs to improve is in his play strength and durability. Smith has been pushed around at times, but his motor has made up for it in a lot of situations. The one red flag is his inconsistent ability to stay on the field. Regardless of reasoning, teams will be digging into his medical history to find answers in this area.
Overall, Smith came to the Senior Bowl and measured in at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, which is small for a traditional defensive end. This to me hints that his agent has told him his best bet at success is playing in a 3-4 scheme as a stand up edge defender. Smith has the athleticism to transition here and I believe this increases his value looking at the success of both Johnathon Cooper and Baron Browning this past season. We’re going to look at the strengths that can help Smith have a long football career if he is able to put it all together.
A term draft experts and talent evaluators throw around all the time for edge rushers is “bend.” When you hear this, it is the ability for a player to contort their body at the top of their rush to maintain their leverage and turn to get to the quarterback.
In the play below, we are going to see this at a high level by Smith as he sacks the Penn State quarterback. Smith has a great get off when the ball is snapped, immediately eating up the cushion of the Penn State offensive linemen. After his initial move, Smith plants his foot and bends his body to get to the quarterback. We can see how this allows him to stay in line with the quarterback and finish the play with a a strip sack that leads to a touchdown.
First step quickness is one of those traits that every Ohio State defensive linemen enters the league with. Smith as a player has a tremendous amount of explosiveness at the snap and this is a skill that will translate immediately.
The reason this skill is so important starts with the depth NFL offensive tackles are able to get in pass protection. Being a smaller edge player, Smith will rely on this to attack opposing blockers. In this next play, we see how Smith’s explosiveness can create challenges for opposing blockers. Smith’s first step gets him even with the offensive linemen, his second step allows for him to do a quick rip move to get past the offensive linemen. Once again we see his flexibility as he turns the corner, and this play ends with a quick sack for Smith due to his explosiveness.
The Buckeyes have utilized “Rushmen” packages for multiple years under Larry Johnson. In the play below, we see Tyreke Smith lined up on the inside of the formation matched up against a guard.
In a limited capacity, Smith can be used as a blitzer from the second level from an outside linebacker position or as a pass rush specialist in 3rd-and-long situations. Smith shows incredible explosiveness and utilizes a spin move which highlights his athleticism. As a player, pigeon holing Smith might hurt teams. To maximize his value, teams will need to utilize his strengths which our pass rushing and his high end athleticism.
Scheme and Team Fits
Tyreke Smith played as a traditional weak side defensive end at Ohio State in their four down linemen scheme. As we’ve seen over the last few seasons, the defensive staff at Ohio State has tried fit square pegs into round holes, and despite being an incredible athlete there are some things Smith struggled with as a traditional defensive end.
A transition to a stand up role in the league could benefit Smith greatly as he transitions to the NFL. There are quite a few teams that would love the opportunity to mold Smith as a player and his athletic profile fits the profile of a stand up 3-4 EDGE/Outside Linebacker.
Los Angeles Chargers (Round 4): The Chargers run a base 3-4 defense under Brandon Staley and have the likes of former Buckeye Joey Bosa – one of the best defensive players in the league – as one of the defensive ends. As defenses look to fill out their rosters, the value of Smith who can line up opposite of Bosa as a stand up EDGE rusher or play in a back up role makes Smith a good fit here.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 5): In Pittsburgh they seek out athletes who are moldable under Mike Tomlin. With players like T.J. Watt who came into the league with an undefined position, the Steelers have maximized his skill set. Smith comes into the league with a similar athletic profile and would fit in well in a developmental capacity.
Cleveland Browns (Round 4): The Browns run a 4-3 which isn’t necessarily a system I see Tyreke Smith in, but as a situational pass rusher he can provide great value. Cleveland will be looking for depth pieces behind Myles Garrett, and if they don’t bring Jadeveon Clowney back they will need players to help provide a pass rushing threat.
Bud Dupree (Tennessee Titans): Dupree was an incredible athlete at the University of Kentucky and played a versatile role on the two teams he’s played for. As a Pittsburgh Steeler, Dupree played in the exact role Smith would excel in. As a stand up EDGE rusher he was able to impact the game as a pass rusher and over time developed into a solid run defender.
Yannick Ngakoue (Las Vegas Raiders): When you look at the size of Ngakoue, his measurables are incredibly similar to Smith’s as well as their play styles. The NFL has shifted to players like Ngakoue, as they provide a lot of value due to their athleticism and size versatility. If Smith wants to be successful he has the blueprint in Ngakoue.
In the name of fairness, here are some other evaluations from “NFL Draft Experts”:
Kyle Crabbs (The Draft Network): In his scouting report Crabbs said, “Smith feels like a player destined to become a more productive pro than he was in college but he’ll need to work through the nagging injury history that has dogged him in Columbus... Smith was a pleasant surprise to study and his NFL team is getting a high-tools, high-motor, high-upside player who should be able to serve in a rotational role up front sooner rather than later.”
Bryant McFadden (CBS Sports): In an article about under the radar draft prospects McFadden had Smith as a player that people need to keep an eye and had this to say, “Smith’s game is all about power and speed. He’s strong against the run and has the versatility to play the 3- or 5-technique. The Buckeyes are always loaded on the defensive front, and Smith is a big part of that, but he’s not getting as much acclaim as his teammates. Don’t sleep on this guy.”
Mike O’Brien (profootballdraft.com): In his draft profile O’Brien said this about Smith, “Tyreke Smith is another height-weight-speed guy with good pedigree who NFL teams will value as a player with a higher upside than his film suggests... if he tests well and confirms that he’s a traits guy, he can rise even higher than that and ultimately develop into a key contributor on a defensive front.”
Tyreke Smith is a player who has shown flashes of an extremely high ceiling and should find himself drafted in the middle rounds. Despite not having flashy production, his athleticism is off the charts, and after the NFL Combine he may project even higher then he does currently. With athletic potential that’s through the roof, he still has a lot of attributes that NFL teams are looking for in their edge defenders.
If he finds a team that will utilize him in a hybrid-outside linebacker/defensive end role, there is a lot of potential for him to make an early impact at the next level. But if he gets drafted to a team that forces him into a traditional defensive end role, we will see some similar struggles to the ones he had at Ohio State. If Smith is drafted to a the right place, he can reach the ceiling many of us believed he had at Ohio State. Scheme fit is extremely important to how Smith will translate to the next level and his long term success in the NFL.
Overall, Smith is an incredible athlete with an extremely high ceiling. Teams will fall in love with his potential, but we will find out how they really feel come April.