One of the more exciting prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft is Texas A&M’s Ainias Smith. The reason he is such an intriguing prospect is his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands as both a return man and wide receiver. However, on the negative side, he lacks ideal size and is coming off a severe injury. In this week’s Inside the War Room, we look at how Smith’s game translates to the NFL.
In addition to breaking down Ainias Smith’s game this week’s article looks at the top performances NFL Draft prospects had in week one of college football. We also look at the top kickers in the 2024 NFL Draft, discuss a couple of Nebraska Cornhuskers who are seeing their stock fall and much more.
Ainias Smith Scouting Report
NFL teams covet playmakers and a player who fits that mold is Texas A&M wide receiver Ainias Smith. Smith has been making plays for the Aggies since his freshman year when he averaged close to 12 yards per punt return. In addition to being a key contributor on special teams that year he also caught 22 passes three of which resulted in touchdowns.
His production increased as a sophomore as he was a true triple threat. He notched over 300 rushing yards and added 564 receiving yards, earning him the title of the team’s leading receiver and accounting for an impressive 10 touchdowns. Additionally, he continued to excel as the primary punt returner on special teams.
In 2021 he was able to focus more on playing wide receiver and he led the team with 47 receptions and receiving touchdowns with six. He also earned his teammates and coaches’ respect being earning the Offensive Attitude Award and Special Teams Most Impactful Award.
Smith was off to a hot start in 2022 catching 15 passes in the first four games of the year. He was also averaging a career-high 19.4 yards per reception before he suffered a broken ankle that cost him the rest of the season.
Thankfully Smith has been able to return to full health for this season and in the team’s opening win against New Mexico he caught three passes for 40 yards. However, his play of the night was his 44-yard punt return. On this return, he evaded several defenders and showed the quickness that will make him a true threat in the NFL.
There is no doubt that Smith’s top trait is his ability to make the big. In this area, he shows the ability to cut on a dime and also displays the quickness to pick up yards in a hurry. This ability has helped him as both a punt retuner and wide receiver which will likely be his role in the NFL.
While Smith will likely primarily be a wide receiver at the next level his versatility is another thing working in his favor. In this area, he reminds people of 49ers Deebo Samuel. It also sounds like Texas A&M will use him in a similar way to the 49ers use Samuel in that he will see his share of passes thrown his way, but will also get touches on plays like Jet Sweeps or even lining him up in the backfield at times.
One more positive with Smith is despite his 5-foot-10 frame he runs with impressive power. The main reason for this is he is a muscular receiver who is extremely well put together. This size allows him to break tackles on a consistent basis and is another reason he is so dangerous with the ball in his hands.
The biggest weakness with Smith is his lack of catch radius. He comes in at only 5-foot-10 which makes him on the small side for NFL receivers. He also lacks the agility to go up and get the tough ball in traffic, or consistently make the low catch. This means the quarterback throwing him the ball pretty much has to be right on point when throwing him the ball.
When it comes to the role Smith will play in the NFL look for him to find a role as a slot receiver. He will fit best in this role due to his lack of size, and quickness to consistently create separation on short routes. This will also be a natural fit for him since he is such a willing blocker who is able to go block linebackers or attack safeties in the run game. In addition, to playing inside for the franchise that takes him also look for him to be the team’s return man which might be his top asset as an NFL player.
Now that we have defined the role Smith will play in the NFL the question becomes where will he go in the 2024 NFL Draft. According to Mock Draft Database, he carries an undrafted free agent grade. However, I give Smith a fifth-round grade mainly due to his ability to help on special teams as a rookie.
Top Ten Performances of Week One
The following is a list of pro prospects who shined during week one of college football.
1. Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado
There is no doubt about who had the top performance in college football this week, and that is Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders. In his debut with the Buffalos, all Sanders did was set a school record with 510 passing yards, throw four touchdown passes, and pull off the biggest upset of the weekend against 17th-ranked TCU. He also showed several NFL traits that show he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL including impressive accuracy, a quick release, and the poise to remain calm in even the most critical situations.
2. Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State
A player who is already proving he was rated way too low in Inside the War Room’s latest draft board is Florida State wide receiver Keon Coleman, who received a fourth-round grade. In his game against LSU, he showed first-round potential displaying several high quality NFL traits. One of these was his strong hands which allowed him to make several tough catches in traffic. He also showed impressive speed for a 6-foot-4 and 210 pound wide receiver.
3. Tyler Nubin, S, Minnesota
Going into the season two of Tyler Nubin’s top traits were his football IQ, and impressive ball production. Both of these traits were on display Thursday night against Nebraska. In this game, he came away with two picks with one coming in the final minute of the game, and set up the Gophers for the game-winning score.
4. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington
Michael Penix proved again on Saturday why he is one of the best quarterbacks in Washington’s history. In his game against Boise State, he threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns which is the first time a Huskie has thrown for this many yards and touchdowns in a game. The trait that will stick out to NFL scouts from this game is his impressive arm strength as he threw with good zip on his ball, and also hit several downfield throws on the day.
5. Kimani Vidal, RB, Troy
A player not many NFL Draft fans know about that had a big day was Troy running back Kimani Vidal. Vidal rushed for a school-record 248 yards and also led the team in receiving yards against Stephen F. Austin. While it is unlikely Vidal will get drafted this April, if he keeps putting up big numbers look for some team to sign him as an undrafted free agent if the junior decides to leave school early.
6. Kaimon Rucker, DE, North Carolina
North Carolina’s Kaimon Rucker became the first Tar Heel in ten years to be named the Walker Camp Defensive Player of the Week. He was able to come away with the award by putting on a dominant performance against South Carolina that included 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
7. Malik Fleming, CB, Houston
Another transfer who shined in the first game with his new teammate is Malik Fleming. Fleming spent his first five years at East Carolina, but this offseason he decided to transfer to Houston. In his opening game with the Cougars, he picked off two passes and also returned one punt 48 yards.
8. Marcus Carroll RB Georgia State
A player who burst onto the scene this week was Georgia State running back Marcus Carroll. Carroll averaged a very impressive 8 yards per carry on 23 carries and also scored three touchdowns on the night. This was quite an improvement over his 2022 production when he finished third on the team in rushing yards. If he can keep playing like he did on Thursday he could go from someone not even on team’s NFL Draft boards entering the year to a late-round draft pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
9. Tre Harris, WR, Ole Miss
New Ole Miss wide receiver had quite the start to his Rebel career against Mercer. He caught a total of four touchdown passes on the day, and three of them came within the first three minutes and 15 seconds. On these touchdown receptions, he showed impressive strength consistently breaking tackles.
10. Benjamin Yurosek, TE, Stanford
Benjamin Yurosek showed why he was named to the Inside the War Room All-Underrated Preseason team in his first game of the year. He caught nine of 11 passes thrown his way for a career-high 138 yards. While these stats are certainly impressive the athletic ability he showed stood out even more, as he made several tough catches. If Yurosek keeps performing at this level look for him to be a day-two pick.
2024 NFL Draft Kickers with Draftable Grades
1. Tory Taylor, Iowa
The best punter in the 2024 NFL Draft is Iowa’s Tory Taylor who carries a fourth-round grade. I have him rated so high because he is one of the best punters to ever come out of college. He shows plenty of leg strength booming 27 punts at least 50 yards last season. However, his top trait is his ability to pin opponents inside the 10-yard line.
2. Joshua Karty, K, Stanford
It’s hard to argue with perfection and that was what Stanford kicker Joshua Karty was last year connecting on all 18 of his kicks, including 13 from over 40 yards. He also showed plenty of leg strength making a career-long kick of 61 yards against Arizona State. In addition to his ability to be a consistent field goal, he has also done well on kickoffs averaging 63.4 per kick and having 40 of 55 of his kickoffs going for touchbacks.
3. Cole Becker, K, Utah
Utah should see improved special teams play this year now that they have added former Colorado kicker Cole Becker. After converting on only 71% of their field goals last year they are bringing in Becker who connected on 85% of his field goals last season, and over his career has put 67% of his kickoffs in the end zone. He also had some pretty amazing success in high school converting on 45 of 46 kicks with one coming from 68 yards.
NFL Draft Scouting Notes
— It looks like Ohio State has a serious concern at the quarterback position. The team’s starter Kyle McCord looked very average against Indiana and had trouble getting the ball to his playmakers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Harrison was only able to catch 2 passes for 18 yards, which is the third-lowest receiving yard total of his career. His teammate Emeka Egbuka didn’t fare much better either catching only three passes for 16 yards. If Ohio State can’t find more production from their passing game it will be interesting to see if Harrison’s and Egbuka NFL Draft stock fall due to a lack of production.
— One of the more underrated quarterback performances this weekend was Spencer Rattler’s. In South Carolina’s loss to North Carolina Rattler displayed several NFL traits. One of these was his ability to consistently throw under distress due to the Gamecocks’ below-average offensive line. He also showed good mobility often scrambling away from pressure and also picking up 43 yards on the ground. The most impressive thing he showed though was good accuracy going 30-for-39 on the night and placing the ball in a tight window on several occasions.
— Last season, former Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec struggled completing under 60% of his passes and throwing only 11 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions. However, he looked much better in game one this season with his new team the Pittsburgh Panthers. He did an excellent job of distributing the ball, with nine different receivers catching a ball. He also showed impressive mobility for a 6-foot-5 235-pound quarterback, with his top rush being a 23-yard touchdown run. It is also worth noting that Boston College saw spotty quarterback play again last week, so Jurkovec’s struggles last year might be more about playing in a poor offense than due to a lack of talent.
— Nebraska tight end Arik Gilbert definitely didn’t help his NFL Draft stock last week when he was arrested for burglary of a vape shot. When he was arrested he had 1,674 dollars worth of vape products on him. This will definitely raise red flags with NFL scouts about his character. It also doesn’t help that Gilbert hasn’t had a productive season since 2020 when he caught 35 passes for LSU. For these reasons, unless Gilbert has a dominant year this season look for him to go undrafted.
— Speaking of Nebraska products who might go undrafted another player who fits in that category is quarterback Jeff Sims. In his game against Minnesota, he displayed impressive athletic ability picking up 91 yards, and juking out several defenders. However, he also showed he has a long way to go as a passer. He struggled going through his reads and threw way too many passes into coverage resulting in three picks. He also showed questionable footwork in the pocket which hurt his accuracy. If he doesn’t improve in these areas NFL teams may view him more as a wide receiver than quarterback at the next level.
— NFL teams that are looking for a return man are going to want to check out Weber State’s Abraham Williams. Williams proved again on Saturday that he is the best kick returner in college football, returning his fifth kickoff in the last nine games for a 100-yard touchdown. He also led the nation in kickoff returns last year with a 37.4 average and was the only player in all of college football to have more than two kickoff returns for touchdowns.
— To say the least UNI quarterback Theo Day did not have the game he was hoping for is an understatement. His day started off with a pick-six, and most of the day he looked nothing like a future NFL quarterback. In order to get drafted now he is going to have to dominate FCS competition the rest of the year. He will also need to earn an invite to an All-Star game like the East-West Shrine Bowl and look like one of the top quarterbacks at this game.
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— The Green Bay Packers continued their streak of having an undrafted free agent, make their initial roster to 19 years. This year the team had three players make it with them being running back Emanuel Wilson, linebacker Brenton Cox Jr., and wide receiver Malik Heath. The main reason the Packers have success with these players is that they actually give them a chance to prove themselves in camp. This is definitely something for players who don’t get taken in the 2024 NFL Draft to keep in mind.
— For all the latest NFL Draft news make sure to check out The NFL Draft Notebook.
NFL Draft Quotes of the Week
"“Shedeur Sanders is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen wear that (Colorado) uniform.”Fox analyst and former Colorado QB Joel Klatt"
"“He’s got great ball skills and great in traffic and he’s a really good runner after he catches the ball.”Stanford coach Troy Taylor on tight end Benjamin Yurose"
"“The thing that really jumps out about Jaylan is his tenacity, how hard he plays and the fact that he’s always in the right place to make big plays That comes from great preparation in practice, the film room, the weight room — everything it takes to be great. We’ve watched film together and talked a lot, and Jaylan has a great football IQ. He has all the physical traits necessary — size, speed, strength, vision — and is always working to get better at all of those. But, he really gets the importance of the mental side of the game, preparing, studying and being ready for anything an offense will throw at you. That’s going to go a long way in him having a big senior year this season. I’m looking forward to watching him.”Former Texas linebacker and College Football Hall of Famer Derrick Johnson on current Longhorn Jaylan Ford via Texas Sports"
"“He’s still got a journey and a climb. He’s not even close to the top of the mountain. He has a long ways to go. And he knows that better than anyone. That’s his focus and our focus each and every day. But, yeah, dude, I wouldn’t put any limits on what he can accomplish.”USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley on quarterback Caleb Williams via Andscape"
"“A week ago, someone asked me the same question, and I told him, ‘I’m happy to be his receiver right now.’ I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback prepare this well and be on target like he is right now. He’s ready to show the world what he can do. He’s locked in, not listening to the outside noise. Every chance he gets, he’s making the most of it, and we can see that. He’s locked in and he’s ready to go.”South Carolina wide receiver Ahmarean Brown on quarterback Spencer Rattler"
"“Jordan Davis. I just think that he’s kind of settled into the scheme and you’ve obviously seen, genetically, he’s a blessed guy. But also just incredibly hardworking, great personality. He’s committed to being the best player he can be, and all those intangibles combined with his talent and his size.”Philidelphia running back Boston Scott when asked by The Athletic what Eagle would have a breakout season."
"“Probably 90 yards”Tennesse quarterback Joe Milton when asked by College Game Day how far he’s thrown a ball this offseason"