Will Smith must step up in a huge way in 2013 now that recently-signed outside backer Victor Butler has gone down with a knee injury that will cost him his season. Smith has been moved from 4-3 defensive end to the New Orleans Saints‘ Jack linebacker spot in their new 3-4 base defense, as he’s been the team’s best pass rusher for most of the past half-decade.
Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune thinks the Saints’ D will be in decent shape without Butler, and that Smith or Martez Wilson would be the key to taking this blow: “I expect Wilson or even Will Smith to slide into Butler’s spot without much if any drop-off in production. Behind them, look for Ramon Humber or one of the newcomers Baraka Atkins, Rufus Johnson and Chase Thomas to vie for playing time. Whichever one emerges in training camp will likely earn the fourth roster spot at outside linebacker. Regardless, the Saints will be fine.”
Perhaps Smith will suddenly rebound at the not-so-ripe age of 31 now that he’ll ostensibly be moving to new position rushing a little further off the age. However, Smith did rank 61st among 62 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends last season according to Pro Football Focus metrics, while his PFF pass-rush grade for 2012 is also at 61 of 62. This is based off a grade that sunk to below -20 after landing near -8 in 2011 and -2 in 2010.
The Saints clearly hope that moving Smith to the Jack linebacker spot will jumpstart him in their new 3-4 base defense.