Here is a shocking statistic: in 2009, 6 BCS players got at least 60 tackles and 11 sacks: Ndamukong Suh, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Wisconsin end O’Brien Schoefield, Purdue end Ryan Kerrigan, Oklahoma end Jeremy Beal, and … Missouri Redshirt Freshman end Aldon Smith? Yep, it’s true. Aldon Smith was the most productive Freshman in the NCAA in 2009, and I think the most underrated player in the FBS (though not the most underrated draft prospect).
Physically, Smith isn’t going to wow anyone. He possesses excellent height, but he could afford to add 10lbs of bulk, but he has solid athleticism. Don’t get me wrong; I love Smith, but he isn’t quite as athletic as anyone says he is. His athleticism isn’t really that amazing. However, because he is so young, he still needs to mature out physically. He should be a great athlete in time, right now his athleticism isn’t much above average.
What makes Smith so special and so productive is his use of hands. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Smith uses his swim move more effectively than every defender in the FBS. He does it with outstanding quickness and suddenness, he has long arms that help him separate from lineman, and he always uses the move with excellent form. Also, in general, he uses his hands brilliantly to separate from lineman. Surprisingly, he is one of the most polished linemen in the FBS. It’s his use of his hands that makes him so special.
Smith attempts to use that swim move on just about every other play. The issue with using the swim move too often is that it will become predictable; lineman will eventually the start hitting the defender in the rib cage and start driving him off the ball. Smith can get away with it simply because he has been utilized brilliantly by the Missouri coaching staff (Gary Pinkel is the most underrated coach in the NCAA). Missouri has a tendency to line Smith up at all areas of the line and use countless defensive line stunts with Smith. That doesn’t work with ends that use the speed rush; for it is impossible to use the speed rush on the interior of the line. But it is exactly how a coach should use an end that relies on pass rush moves. If Smith lines up against every lineman on the opposing team, it will take more time for each individual lineman to catch on and see how heavily he relies on that swim move. Plus, coaches will be able to see what lineman defend his swim move the best and what lineman struggle against it the most. Missouri’s use of Smith allows him to stay effective throughout the game, instead of just one quarter per game.
Smith is also an effective run stopper. His instincts are above average, and he is an effective tackler that plays with phenomenal on field intensity. However, Smith’s greatest weakness is a lack of strength. He lacks strength, he is incapable of having success using the bull rush, and he struggles to get natural pad leverage on lineman or make arm tackles in traffic.
One big question seen with Smith is what position he will play in the NFL. People wonder if he is best suited for 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. I’m leaning toward 3-4 outside linebacker. Right now, Smith has a little bit too much bulk for linebacker. If he loses 10-15lbs, he’ll be athletic enough to handle the linebacker position. He also has shown that he is a quick learner. Believe it or not, Smith played wide receiver in high school. To master the defensive end position and play it with such polish in such a short amount of time is a testament to Smith’s intelligence (and Missouri’s coaching staff), and it makes me think he could learn linebacker pretty quickly. Also, I mentioned that Smith is used at all areas of the line, via defensive line twists and stunts. This would make him a great fit at 3-4 outside linebacker, as they will be used a lot in defensive line twists ands stunts, and they may have to attack the interior of the line. Smith is a natural at doing this. Smith’s ability to learn quickly and handle complicated defensive schemes makes me think he would be a great fit at 3-4 outside linebacker. And I think he would be a natural at that position.
Here are some highlights of Smith:
Aldon Smith vs. Colorado (By the way: you see that swim move I was talking about on that last sack, and it’s pretty easy to notice that he lines up all over the line throughout the game.)
Overall, I am amazed with Smith’s use of the swim move and how well Missouri’s coaching staff rotates him throughout the line. Smith is a great player, and I think he will be very successful at the NFL level.
NFL Comparison: A more polished Kamerion Wimbley, mostly with the use of his hands.
Grade: 97 (worthy of an early first round pick)
Projection: 94 (will be drafted around the middle of the first round)
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