The Jacksonville Jaguars had an outstanding class in the 2014 NFL Draft, one that’s widely considered amongst the best in the league. It was heavy on offense in the first couple rounds, which was to be expected after a defense-heavy class in 2013. Towards the later rounds of this years draft, the Jags once again focused on defense, and they may have found a steal in DE Chris Smith (Arkansas), their second selection in the fifth round and 159th pick overall.
There’s two main reasons I think he could be a steal: he was a tremendous value at no. 159 (most pegged him to go in the late second-early third), and he’s a perfect fit in Jacksonville’s defense.
His size was one of the main reasons for his fall in the draft, as he’s only 6-foot 1, 266-pounds. He was, by most standards, too small to play on the line in an even front, and he didn’t have the coverage skills needed to play OLB in an odd front. He’s a classic example of a ‘tweener.
His size, however, isn’t as much of a concern in a defensive scheme like the one HC Gus Bradley employs. In his defense, the ‘Leo’ position is essentially a hybrid defensive end/linebacker that almost strictly focuses on getting up field and pressuring the QB. Sometimes they’re stood up, sometimes they have their hand in the dirt, but either way they’re in out in space to capitalize on speed and quickness, two elements highlighted in Smith’s skill set.
I like the package that Smith brings. He’s a guy that put up 18 sacks the last two years in the SEC (Jadeveon Clowney had 16 in that span), so he knows how to get to the QB. And concerns about his length are overblown. He’s still got long, 34-inch arms to help him keep bigger offensive linemen at bay. He has good strength (28 reps on 225), and his speed and explosion are equally solid (4.71 40-yard dash and 37-inch vertical).
Smith will be in competition with Jason Babin, who had 7.5 sacks as the Jags ‘Leo’ last year, and freshly signed Chris Clemons, who had 37.5 sacks the last four years with the Seattle Seahawks in a similar role. Smith may have a learning backup role this year, but could be the guy as early as next year (remember, Babin just turned 34 and Clemons will be 33 this fall). At the worst, he should learn a thing or two from the vets.
Regardless of whether he’s starting or not, the Jags will find a way to get him on the field if he proves as adept at sacking QBs in the pros as he was in college.