LB Brandon Smith, Penn St.*

6’3” – 241 lbs.

Background:

Played lightly as a freshman (14-2.0-0.0), then became a starter the following year and went 37-8.0-2.0 over nine games, also intercepting a pass. Put together an impressive 81-9.0-2.0 line as a junior, opting out of the bowl game and declaring for the draft.

Positives:

Tall, long, and leggy inside linebacker whose frame could accommodate more weight. Played behind both three- and four-man lines. Patient, fundamentally-sound player who doesn’t take himself out of too many plays. Shows impressive flexibility for a player his size. Keeps his shoulders square when playing the run between the tackles. Does a nice job of slipping blocks, with impressive quickness and a nice shoulder-dip; can also get extension with his arms to lock out opponents. Flashes the ability to make tackles while engaged. Top-end speed is very good. Has sideline-to-sideline range with smooth closing burst and a wide tackling radius. Makes smooth drops into zone; nice knee-bend and clean footwork. Fast enough to carry backs and receivers into the flats. Transitions cleanly from dropping to driving.

Negatives:

Some teams may want him to add more bulk and functional strength. Didn’t make a ton of splash plays. Sometimes looks more reactive than instinctive; can be a beat slow to read the play at times, relying on his athleticism to get back to the ball. At times, takes some less efficient paths to the ballcarrier by working around blockers instead of taking them on directly. Contact balance is a little bit inconsistent and can struggle to disengage. Not a tone-setting thumper; would like to see him throw his body into tackles more consistently. Has the physical and athletic profile of a player who could play different positions, work in man coverage, and potentially rush off the edge, but wasn’t asked to do those things much during the games reviewed.

Summary:

A very long-limbed, athletic, and fundamentally-sound linebacker who can navigate through congestion to make stops between the tackles, chase down ballcarriers from sideline to sideline, and drop into zone coverage, traits which could make him an every-down player in the pros. Some teams might want him to add more bulk to improve his contact balance and add more pop to his tackling, but otherwise seems like he should be able to get onto the field sooner rather than later. Versatility and conservative temperament would make him a good fit for a defense that likes to show different looks and favors a “bend, don’t break” approach.

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