The Denver Broncos believe they found a gem in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft. Of course, defensive end Quanterus Smith of Western Kentucky should have gone much higher than the Broncos 146th pick. In November of last year, he led the nation with 12.5 sacks, a total that included three sacks earlier in the season against eventual National Champions Alabama. In the Alabama game, Smith worked against first round selection offensive tackle D.J. Fluker.
It would be the speed and athleticism he demonstrated against Fluker in the Alabama game that initially caught the attention of John Elway and John Fox. Elway would later say that the Sun Belt Conference player of the year was drafted for his pass rushing abilities.
Smith made steady progress during his career at Western Kentucky (sack totals by year: 0, 4, 7.5, 12.5). The sky was the limit for him as an NFL draft prospect until a fateful game in early November. Playing against Louisiana-Lafayette, Smith tore his ACL, ending his season.
Unable to work out in the NFL Combine and his team’s pro day, Smith’s draft stock fell. It fell, in fact, into the laps of the Broncos organization, who were more than happy to select him with their 146th pick.
“Q”, as he is known by his teammates at Western Kentucky, feels that despite the injury, he will be healthy enough to contribute to the Broncos this season. If he is able to return to the form that caught the eye of Elway and Fox, Smith could eventually fill the pass rushing void left by Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil.
The pick was a risk for the Broncos, but it was a pick with tremendous upside. ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay commented that Smith had the potential to be “a big-time steal for Denver” when the Broncos took him.
A few notes on the Smith pick: despite missing the last two games of the season, Smith finished the year ninth in the country with 12.5 sacks. He comes from a conference known for great defensive players like Osi Umenyiora, DeMarcus Ware and “Mean” Joe Greene. If Smith can fully recover from the ACL tear and is able to get on the field for the Broncos, his match-up with Fluker will take place twice a year as the San Diego Chargers selected Fuker with their 11th pick in the draft.